A fresh start

Mark Stephens on Paul Kelly's ballad "If I Could Start Today Again", and how the Easter story speaks to our longing for a fresh start.

Though I lack all relevant expertise, I’m happy to declare Paul Kelly one of Australia’s premier poets. Many of his tracks make me misty-eyed, but none more so than his 2001 ballad “If I Could Start Today Again.” In language both simple and profound, Kelly laments the burdens of guilt and shame. And he finishes with these lines:

I only want one day
One lousy day, that’s all
Of every day that’s been before
Since time began

I know my prayer’s in vain
But for a second, I’ll pretend
That I can start today again.

We usually associate hope for a fresh start with New Year’s Day. There, in the middle of long holidays, the impossible seems possible, that somehow this year I’ll be a better me. By February, most of us have come undone.

Easter might not first appear as an opportunity for a new day. In the Australian calendar, at least, it comes in the middle of the rush, the year half underway, with the messes and mistakes of life already well-formed. But as Kelly reminds us, what the human heart truly longs for is not a relaxed moment where we can will ourselves into greatness. We long for an intervention that meets us in the mess of life, something which can carry away the failings of our past and our present.

Kelly feels acutely that his prayer is in vain, and that we can only pretend. Many of the people we meet in the Bible voice similarly honest questions. Yet what they find, despite their fear, and even their outright scepticism, is something that utterly surprises them. That a new day is possible not because of our conscientious effort, but when God acts to take upon himself the costs of our mistakes and the burden of our shame.