Every lifetime is filled with pivotal moments – things we are either subjected to (events beyond our control) or things we subject ourselves to (choices we’ve made) – that come to define who we are. These pivotal moments can happen at any time, and can be something as simple as the moment your parents signed you up for hockey (or not), to the tragic loss of a loved one, the first time you ignored your conscience and did something you knew you shouldn’t do, or the moment you dared to try something new and be something different. Looking back, you’ll see how that moment acts like a hinge, pivoting your life in a wholly new direction.
When I look back on those “hinge” moments in my life, there are many (going on a first date with my wife, picking the guitar back up again, deciding to go to Bible school…) – but one of the most memorable was one of my most embarassing moments. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know there’s no shortage of embarrassing moments to choose from: trying to run through a plate glass door at age ten (and breaking my glasses); my first day of grade 7, when I walked into the girls washroom, then tried to explain to a pair of grade 10 girls that THEY were in the wrong washroom (the pink tile & lack of urinals should have been my first clue); or the day Deacon (now Father) Jim Corrigan caught me sleeping during his Sunday homily, and proceeded to announce it to our entire congregation.
No, this particular embarrassing (hinge) moment occured on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, in my first year of parish youth ministry (2002-03). Youth ministry Sundays were predictable days, when I’d need to arrive at my parish with copious amounts of potato chips or duct tape or spam, at about 4:00pm. I’d open up the Church, tune up my guitar, and wait for my leadership (core) team who would roll in about a half hour later. Together, we’d get things in place for whatever youth night we were going to pull off on that particular Sunday.
On one particular Sunday in the spring of 2003, I arrived at the Church and parked my 1997 Pontiac Sunfire in staff parking. I headed inside to unlock the Church building, but a few minutes later, I realized that I had forgotten something on the passenger seat… but when I headed back outside to get it, my car was gone. My heart skipped a beat as I wondered who steals a Sunfire? …then as I looked across the parking lot, my heart sank as I realized my car was now sitting right beside one of the concrete light standards in our parish parking lot. I walked across the parking lot hoping that the car was ok… and this is what I found:
It was bad. But to make a bad situation even worse, every person (my pastor, my core team, every teen in our youth group, and a significant number of adult parishioners) who came to church that evening saw the busted up Sunfire – “Mike’s car!” – sitting in staff parking, and asked me “What happened?!!?”
“I forgot to engage the parking brake.”
“No, I didn’t leave it in gear.”
“Yes, it really is amazing how much momentum this thing got heading across our parish parking lot!”
I was shocked and embarrassed, but what made this a hinge moment is how this one decision (not putting the parking brake on in my car) affected the rest of my life. I mentioned already that 2002-03 was my first year as a youth minister. It was also my first year living on my own, being paid a salary that was determined not by the hour or the week – but annually. I’d gone a little overboard on a few things that year – buying furniture, eating far too much McDonald’s, and this car which I had probably spent too much money on in the first place. Needless to say, I didn’t exactly have a whole lot of cash or credit my disposal to deal with this crisis… in the end, it was almost $3000.00 worth of damage – damage to a car I had barely owned for three months – but it wasn’t exactly damage I could ignore: (the bumper was essentially making contact with the tire, the left hand brake light/turn signal was gone, and the trunk had to be tied down. In the end, the car was fixed (thanks, in no small part, to a friendly loan from my parish priest & secretary) – but it forced me to grow up a little bit.
To pay for the repairs (and pay back those who’d helped me out) I wound up having to refinance a loan – and give up my credit card. For the first time in my life, I had to work off a monthly budget, considering where my money needed to go (and conversely, where it didn’t). I’ve also made sure, since that day, when parking a manual transmission automobile without double checking that the parking brake was on AND it was left in gear. The damage to my car on this day was a hinge moment for the rest of my life… as my responsibilities have grown (house, family, kids), I’ve got more tools to help look after them.
While clearly a broken down car and a lesson learned on financial responsibility fall woefully short, if you can understand how this moment changed me, you might start to grasp the incredible mystery of Easter.
We often refer to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the “hinge” moment in human history. Since at the very beginning of our story, we broke something, something far more precious than the rear end of a car. By our own free choice, humankind rejected a deep and meaningful relationship with the creator of the universe (see Genesis 3). This damage was absolutely beyond our ability to make right – we needed help beyond ourselves. If you look at the rest of the Old Testament as prophets, priests, and kings all try their hand and restoring this relationship… you’ll see how each one falls dramatically short of making the necessary repairs. What we didn’t realize was that God was using each one of these moments – from the Garden to the flood through Egypt and back – to set us up for a pivotal “hinge” moment. This moment does not merely impact a single human life (like my incident with my Sunfire), nor does it concern a particular group of people (as each of the covenants in the Old Testament do) – rather, this “hinge” moment marks a difference in the fortunes of the entire human race. Our debt was beyond our means and growing every day – so God did His part to set things straight. He enacted a rescue mission, a mission that would not only restore what was broken and cover our debts, but a rescue mission which would leave us proclaiming in the great Exultet of the Easter Vigil:
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
as well as:
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection leave our human condition irreversibly changed. The truth is that with the gift of the Holy Spirit – which we’ll celebrate in about seven weeks time – we are actually closer to God than were Adam and Eve who walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. We have an intimacy and closeness with God that our first parents never could have imagine: we have the knowledge of the way God works with us, we have the person of Jesus to help us know and understand the mind of God, and we have the ability to discover His will for our lives. No longer does God speak to a select group of mouthpieces (the prophets), and no longer is righteousness reserved to a chosen people. Instead, closeness to God in this life – and the chance at eternity with Him in the next – are available to all people at all times in all circumstances. We’ve just recognized in this Easter weekend the lengths to which God is willing to go to restore His relationship with us. It is on a universal scale – the ultimate “hinge” moment, but it ought to also be a hinge moment in our own individual lives. The debts we couldn’t pay on our own have been paid for by God – and our response may invite us to a new spiritual maturity. Can you consider (as I was forced to in the spring of 2003) what needs to change in your life? Ask yourself some questions:
- Where is God asking you to grow closer to Him?
- What sorts of bad habits, both sins and weaknesses, do you need to leave behind?
- What sorts of things (virtues) do you need to take on?
- How is your prayer life?
- How active have you been playing your part in the life of the Church?
- Are you living a life of service to others?
There are certainly more questions that one could ask – but the point is to start asking them. Recognize that God is offering you an opportunity to move forward – without the need for an embarrassing moment (like my wrecked car) – because our Lord has allowed Himself to die the most embarrassing death on our behalf. May it be an incredible hinge propelling you into a spiritual maturity you’ve not yet experienced.