Happy New Year!  The new year is a time to both look back and look ahead.  That raises the question of how we can do both these things in ways that can help us live lives that reflect our better selves.  As with most things, looking back and looking ahead can be both positive and negative.  We can look back and see what we have done which is helpful for us and for others.  We can also look ahead and see possibilities that hold the promise of the same.

Looking back at the past year and even further can enable us to learn from our mistakes and failures.  Looking ahead, we can make those New Year’s resolutions about how we hope and even pray we can live differently and better.  If you are able to do these things, more power to you.  However, it seems to me that these are honoured more in the breach than in the observance. 

The challenge that new year can bring brought into focus for me by the sermon preached by Rev. Shery DeJonge yesterday at my home parish of St. John the Evangelist Anglican, Strathroy.  The sermon drew on the bible passage Luke 9: 62, “Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”  It struck me that there can be something positive in looking back to see if you are ploughing a straight furrow.  However, I believe that Jesus was making the point that we cannot dwell on the past, we have to look ahead or we won’t get where we want to go, which for Jesus and Christians’, is summed up in the Kingdom of God. 

That brought to mind a definition of sin that I heard many years ago – unfortunately, I don’t remember the source and Google didn’t help in locating it.  As I recall, sin was defined as, ’those things which chain us to the past.’  For me, that sums up the message from Luke.  If we look behind us, we won’t reach the Kingdom - whatever Kingdom you are hoping and praying for.  Those things which chain you to the past can keep you imprisoned and prevent you from living a full life that we are intended to live.  These are the things – the events in our lives that haunt us at 4:00 in the morning – the regrets and what we did and didn’t do; the anger at what was done to us; the lost opportunities and wrong decisions.  These all seem to outweigh the positive things that we have done and accomplishment in our lives and right decisions we made.  Those are the things which are the ghosts that visit me in the early hours.  I am on a first name basis with many of these old frenemies. 

These are the chains which hold us back and enslave us.  I found this quote on-line which expresses it well:

Things in the past can enslave us. Mistakes we have made, experiences we cannot forget, things that have been done to us. Bitterness and disappointment can consume our thinking, robbing us of joy and hope. Images burned into our consciousness, like pornography or sexual perversion, can cause us to relapse into patterns of sin. Anger over the harm others have done to us can overcome us in quiet moments, long after the events have passed. We can find ourselves trapped by the past, unable to find the freedom we desperately need. We become blocked from the life we want to have, the life that Jesus means for us to have: The abundant life in Him. https://www.onesteadfast.com/Blog/ScriptureStudy/Chains-of-the-Past.

Breaking those chains is not something that is easily accomplished.  It takes work to begin to saw through those chains a bit at a time.  This journey being with the first step in acknowledging that we can’t change what is past so these is no use dwelling in it.  However, we have to acknowledge that life is not perfect and neither are we.  We are going to make mistakes and mistakes are going to be made to us.  The key is in forgiveness.  This is the great gift of Jesus – he showed us by word and deed that forgiveness is possible.  If he could ask his heavenly Father to forgive those who were executing him so cruelly, then it is possible, not easy but possible, to forgive others and, yes even forgive ourselves.  That is the mystery of love which was born at Christmas.

Blessing on your journey in 2024.  May you forgive and be forgiven.