By Rev. Everette Chapman
In my little book of essays, Gentle Mountain Breezes, I wrote about a sweet little lady named Miz Cora Rodgers. She was in many ways the Matriarch of Farmville Baptist Church in Virginia. She wore cute but antiquated suits, each of which was complemented by a matching little tam. The one I remember best was burgundy and was made of velveteen. She always sat on Sunday mornings on the second row of the middle section of the sanctuary pews, on the aisle to her right.
On the first Sunday of January in 1968, I preached about Zacchaeus, the vertically-challenged tax collector who was so eager to see this Jesus about whom he had heard so many wonderful things that he climbed up into a sycamore tree. The title of the sermon was “The Redemptive Power of a New Beginning,” As the worshippers filed out of church after the benediction, Miz Cora lingered and spoke to me. She thanked me for my development of the theme, but then she added quietly: “I couldn’t help but wish that I had known of your theme. I have a poem that would have fit well, I think. Go home and look up Louisa Fletcher’s little poem, “The Land of Beginning Again.” Perhaps you know it; I will repeat only the first stanza.
I wish that there were some wonderful place, in the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heart-aches and all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a ragged old cloak at the door and never put on again.
The approach of New Year’s each year finds me remembering those lines. As the light ball fell in Times Square a few nights ago, there must have been millions of us who celebrated not so much the beginning of a new year as the ending of one of the worst years many of us have faced. Are we ever ready for The Land of Beginning Again!
The good news is that, even though we are still faced with many of the challenges we experienced in 2020, we have a great God who will go with us into the New Year, and He will keep us in His love and hold us in His hand. This doesn’t mean that we will all be safe from the virus or that nothing negative will come to us. It does mean that if we put our trust in Him, He will provide for our needs in either life or death.
Back in 1968, Miz Cora later sent me by mail another relevant poem she had remembered. It was Susan Coolidge’s lines, “New Every Morning.” Do you know it?
Every day is a fresh beginning, every morn is a world made new;
You who are tired of sorrow and sinning,
Here is a beautiful hope for you – a hope for me and a hope for you.
All the past things are past and over; the tasks are done, and the tears are shed.
Yesterday’s errors let yesterday cover; yesterday’s wounds which smarted and bled,
Are healed with the healing which night has shed.
Yesterday now is a part of forever; bound up in a sheaf, which God holds tight;
With glad days and sad days and bad days which never shall visit us more
With their bloom and their blight, their fullness of sunshine or sorrowful night.
Let them go, since we cannot re-live them, cannot undo and cannot atone;
God in His mercy receive and forgive them! Only the new days ahead are our own;
Today is ours, and today alone.
Every day is a fresh beginning; listen, my soul to the glad refrain’
And spite of old sorrow and older sinning, and puzzles forecasted
And possible pain, TAKE HEART WITH THE DAY AND BEGIN AGAIN!
As the action opens in the Old Testament book of Joshua, the Children of Israel stand on the banks of the Jordan River, with feelings ricocheting between elation and fear as they wait to cross. The word comes to them through their leader, as those same words come to us as we step boldly into 2021: “Sanctify yourselves, for you have not crossed this way before.” Maybe not, but God has, and we may confidently follow Him into the unknown future.