Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Praying the Lunar New Year

We celebrate many festivities every year. Christmas, easter, new year, lunar new year, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, death anniversaries, feast days of saints. And the most common way of celebrating festivities for us Singaporeans, if we do celebrate them, is to gather together over a meal. New parents are most eager to throw a party for their child's 1st birthday. But it seems like as the years go by, the enthusiasm fades away gradually too. And I often hear the older folks commenting that there is no need to celebrate their birthdays because it is just another day. All of which makes me ponder a little more deeply why do we celebrate anniversaries, festivities?

For many years, my birthdays were about me. It's my special day of the year, when I become the center of attention, receiving gifts and well wishes. It's the day when everyone is particularly nice to me because it should be a day of happiness, not sadness. In recent years, if I'm not overseas, I will do the usual - go for Mass - and give thanks to God for my parents who brought me into the world and took care of me until now. My focus has been shifting away from myself and onto my parents. A day to remember and be grateful for God's blessings of my parents.

Yet what is even deeper and which I have not arrived at is a recollection of my life history, to see more intently how God has been there at every phase of my life. At every downfall and rising, in every moment of joy and sadness. To see the hand of God in the good and bad of my life so that I may come to a deeper interior knowledge of who He has been, who He is, and who He will continue to be for me. The focus of my birthday is rightly on God, from whom all my blessings, even the gift of my parents and family members, come.

Truly, we celebrate festivities to remember a significant event or person in our lives. This remembering is not simply to call to mind a matter of fact. Neither is it an emotional exercise to nostalgically reminisce an experience of an event or a person. Rather, we remember for the purpose of allowing these experiences to shape us in a way that brings us closer to the Giver of life and goodness - God. We remember so that we can recognise how God, through both the ups and downs of life, is making space in our hearts to welcome Him more fully. We remember so that we can recognise the God in our experiences; who He has been, who He is and who He will continue to be. Celebrations are occasions of remembering. A remembering of God.

Remembering then takes on a whole new meaning, a whole new direction. It moves us deeper in love with God because the more we recognise God in our lives, the more we come to know Him intimately. We encounter Love itself, who then draws us into a deeper relationship with Him. Our celebrations, when they direct our attention to the God in all things, will no longer be a superficially happy occasion that lasts for a few hours but a deep joyful encounter of love that contributes to our eternal life.

Mark 14:1-2 reads
It was two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death. For they said, 'It must not be during the festivities, or there will be a disturbance among the people'.
The Feast of the Unleaven Bread begins the next night after the Passover and celebrates Israel being delivered from bondage in Egypt. Lev. 23:6
A morning and evening sacrifice was offered. Only unleaven bread is eaten and meat of the sacrifices. Exodus 12:19 states the seriousness of the commandment from God. “Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.” Leaven is symbolic of sin and the Passover was a memorial to God’s delivering them from slavery in Egypt, but also a time of repentance and the putting away of sin. Galatians 5:9 says, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Leaven when placed in a lump of flour will begin to grow and spread until it permeates the whole lump. The picture is that of one diligently searching for and getting rid of sin even the smallest sin in one’s life. Even as a little leaven (sin) will spoil the whole of the lump, therefore any and all sin is to be confessed and put out of one’s life.

Leaven is yeast, which is added to flour for baking. This yeast refers to sin added to our lives.

At a time when the Jews were supposed to be preparing for the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread, what occupied the hearts and minds of the chief priests and scribes was not the remembrance of God's faithful love and goodness in bringing them out of their slavery in Egypt, not the remembrance of how God wills of them to be His faithful people. They had forgotten the goodness of God and thus, were unable to show charity, mercy, compassion towards Jesus. They were jealous, threatened by Jesus' authority and popularity. They had no space in their hearts to humbly acknowledge this Son of God who makes their evil, secret thoughts known publicly. The kindness God had shown to their ancestors, they had not interiorized in their hearts. And so, they could not recognize who Jesus is, that He has come from God, a truth that even the evil spirits that Jesus cast out of the possessed people knew and acknowledged (Mark 1:24 - 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.').

The commandments handed to them by Moses (Exodus 20:13,16) 'You shall not kill', 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour', (Exodus 34:14) 'You shall bow down to no other god'. The chief priests and scribes broke. They were scheming to kill Jesus, they were making themselves gods. They who always pride themselves as the holy ones who kept every law, making themselves perfect before God. If only they had not celebrated the festivities for the sake of keeping the laws for their own self-love and self-preservation sake. If only they had allowed their celebrations to point their hearts and minds more and more towards God, who truly is the point of the festivities. And if only we too allow our own celebrations to point us towards God.

Tomorrow, we celebrate Chinese New Year Eve, when we traditionally reunite with our families to deepen relationships. But more than this, and not so traditionally, it is a time to recollect the past year and give thanks, to recognise the hand of God in the past year, identify how God is calling us to imitate Him in those areas we fall short, and praying for the graces we need to rely on Him for in the new year to become better disciples.

As we celebrate tomorrow and in the days to come, how can you pray your lunar new year?