I am writing this on what seems like the first sunny day for ages, which has come as welcome relief from all the rain of the previous couple of weeks. So much for the great British Summer! Hopefully we will see plenty more sunshine before the shorter, colder, wetter days of autumn and winter draw in. I am often amazed at how weather reporters always seem to be able to say that we are experiencing the hottest, coldest, wettest or driest season since records began regardless of whatever weather we are experiencing.
However despite the climatic anomalies there is a cycle to our lives that matches the seasons of the year. For many September means the start of a new academic year bringing with it new classes, new teachers and for some new schools or colleges. Even though we aren’t directly involved in education ourselves many of our families and friends are and so the educational year has an impact beyond the school gate.
One of the clearest memories I have from my schooldays is the ritual at the start of the year of being issued with new exercise books. Colour coded by subject, I had to write my name and form on the front cover of each book. Now I have to confess that my handwriting has never been the best and I am grateful to live in the era of PCs and word processing. That said there was something special about a pristine exercise book that created a desire in me to pull out all the stops and use my neatest handwriting on the cover and first page. It rarely lasted and a few weeks into the term my writing would revert to a scrawl that would challenge my teachers’ deciphering skills.
The expression ‘Turning over a new leaf’ derives from a similar idea where a new leaf, or new page, gives the opportunity for a fresh start. Of course it has come to be used not just of school exercise books but any significant life change that people try to make for the better.
There are parallels between this and the Christian life. For many becoming a Christian is an opportunity for a fresh start. There are many accounts of ‘villains’ who have become ‘saints’ after a life changing encounter with Jesus. Whether our past is colourful or not the wonderful news is that Jesus always offers us a fresh start.
A weakness in this analogy, however, is that it places too much emphasis on ourselves and what we do. It is us who turns over the new leaf, or starts a new exercise book. It suggests that we now need to maintain God’s favour by consistent use of our best handwriting. Yet just like my handwriting we are unable to maintain our best behaviour for very long before we slip into bad habits again.
A better analogy might be drawn from the days when people’s debts were recorded on a slate. When the debt was paid the slate was wiped clean. Through his death and resurrection Jesus has paid the debt for our misdeeds and in the process he has wiped our slate clean with no record of the past to be seen. Our past misdeeds are forgiven and gone.
The most wonderful thing is that he is willing and able to forgive over and over again. He told his disciples that they should forgive each other 70 x 7 times, indicating there is no limit. In the same way he sets no limit on how many times he is willing to forgive us. We don’t have to wait for a new term, a new book or even a new leaf. We can have our slate wiped clean at any time if we just ask him.