Jubilee Year 2000 is a regularly occurring Jubilee Year or Holy Year. Every such year is rich in significance, brimming with activities which help us to be more aware of the graciousness of God.
This jubilee year is receiving more attention than other jubilee years ever have. The world, having adopted the anno Domini ("year of our Lord") chronology as its "common era," is watching for the moment when the numbers tumble and we move into a new time.
The world is watching for a visual signal -- when all the digits change. This would signify to most observers that a new millennium, or period of one thousand years, has begun.
There are some in our midst, however, who would have us be aware that January 1, 2000, strictly speaking, does not mark the beginning of a new millennium. It must be kept in mind, we are told, that the monk Dionysius Exiguus, who devised the chronology of the "common era," set it up so that the year designated as 1 B.C. or 1 B.C.E. (before Christ or before the common era) is followed by the year A.D. 1 or 1 C.E. Two thousand years are not completed until the end of the year 2000.
Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, in his 1997 book Questioning the Millennium, asserts that it is possible to have it both ways. He points out that the "common era" chronology, which Dionysius devised only in the sixth century, did not come into use in European civilization for a long time after Dionysius had died. No one at the time, obviously, was aware that, at some time in the future, the years in which they were living would be designated in exalted fashion as 1 B.C. and A.D. 1. So we can justify celebrating the millennium at the beginning of 2000 or at the beginning of 2001, as we please.
I find it possible to take Gould's thought one step further. I find myself thinking about the day of the week of the pivotal transitional days, from 1999 through 2001. Consider:
December 31, 1999, is a Friday: the regular Muslim holy day. A Muslim friend has explained to me: "Friday is a sacred day to Muslims. Prophet Adam was created on Friday. He entered paradise on Friday. He was brought to earth on Friday. He died on Friday. The day of judgment will be on Friday. Allah (God) opens the doors of heaven on Friday while the doors of hell are closed."
January 1, 2000, is a Saturday: the Jewish Sabbath. Sabbath and jubilee are concepts coming out of Israel's keen awareness of human creatureliness and the need for mercy. God himself set an example for his people by taking a sabbath rest after the six days of creation. The people were to remember that, as creatures of God, they had to observe the sabbath as a time of necessary rest and the consequent ability to lift up mind and heart in contemplation and prayer. The concept of jubilee has to do with pausing to set human relationships in order -- particularly in regard to the merciful practice of forgiveness of debts.
December 31, 2000, is a Sunday: the Lord's Day, the day of Jesus' resurrection. Christians hold that all of history is rewritten because the risen Christ has set humanity free from our bondage to sin and our subjection to death. Christians give witness that time, however it is counted off, is always an opportunity for new, surprising, healing, upbuilding events to take place.
January 1, 2001, is a Monday. Monday is the day which, in many cultures, best signifies the concept of secularity: a return to work and participation in the community of the world. If the years beginning with 2 are to be better than the years beginning with 1, people of every religion and no religion must draw upon their particular philosophies of life and develop a common reverence for the mystery of being human.
I have to admit that I am one of the sticklers for 2001 being the beginning of the new millennium. Several years ago, when I discovered by means of my computer appointment book that January 1, 2001 is a Monday, I developed a personal slogan -- "The millennium begins on a Monday" -- and a philosophy to flesh it out. On Monday we go back to work. The people of three great world religions have enjoyed their own special days for communing with God. In the community of the world, on Millennium Monday, we are entrusted with the opportunity to live in a time which prophets have longed for. People of faith will be people of prayer and people of work as we cross a threshold and respond to a common call to human maturity.