Happy New Year Again!

The ancient Jews had two calendars, one civil and one religious. The religious one was reckoned to start in spring. The civil one in the fall.

Of course, our calendar starts, weirdly enough, in the dead of winter. The Jewish religious calendar started just as all of nature was coming back to life. Why the creators of our present calendar picked January 1 to be the first day of the year I will never know. I suppose you could say the winter solstice marks a turning point and so forth, but honestly: who really feels as though, on cold bleak January 1, a New Epoch has dawned? I’d be happier if April 1 went back to being the New Year as it once was. That’s why April 1 is now “April Fool’s Day” by the way: because the Official Calendar guys jerked us around, took the day of Bright New Beginnings from spring and chucked it back to the middle of bleak dark midwinter. Nobody ever checks with me on these things before running off and doing them.

Now the thing is, though it’s not exactly official, we do tend to imitate the ancient Jews by having a sort of secondary calendar that, like theirs, starts in the fall. It’s called “the school year” and I think it’s why September somehow always feels to us like a time fraught with promise, excitement, new possibilities, a fear of the unknown, and a general sense that I am about to embark on a new adventure. It’s a sensation that has stayed with me long after my departure from the educational system. And it’s a feeling I am grateful for—in no small part because it preserves the sense of renewal that ancient Jews felt in the arrival of their New Year.

The Old Testament, with its typical sacramental sense of a universe charged with meaning, sees not just matter, but time itself as a sacramental packed with meaning. So, for instance, it marks off the seven days of creation and sees the Sabbath as a sort of sanctuary in time, just as the Temple was a sanctuary in space. And the New Testament, picking up on these threads, traces both the Temple and the Sabbath to their fulfillment in the person of Jesus.

That’s why Christ is described as “tabernacling” among us by John. And the same evangelist also records Jesus saying “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” referring to the temple of his body. In other words, the Temple was the image and the reality is Jesus’ body. Likewise, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our Sabbath. Once again, the point is the same: the Sabbath was the image; the reality if Jesus. He is our Day of Rest.

This connection of Jesus with time is something Jesus himself makes when he links himself with another sacred moment in time, the Jubilee when slaves were set free and debts forgiven:

And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:16-19)

His point (and Luke’s), is not that Jesus is inaugurating a Mosaic Jubilee. It is that Jesus is what the Jubilee was always pointing toward: our liberation from the slavery and debt of sin. As the new school year starts, take that sense of adventure and new beginning you feel and link it to our Lord, who is newness of life Himself.

Copyright 2010 - Mark P. Shea