Remembering the past…
“If a spiritual community only points back to where it has been or if it only digs its heels where it is now, it is a dead end or a car park, not a way. To be a living tradition, a living way, it must forever open itself forward and forever remain unfinished – even as it forever cherishes and learns from the growing treasury of its past.”
Brian McLaren – ‘We make the road by walking.’
I’m challenged by these words. November is a time of remembrance: looking back over decades of war and conflict and giving thanks for sacrifices made. But what is the purpose of this act of remembrance?
Look around St. Michael’s and (like most churches of a similar age) you will find echoes of the past: pictures, memorials, plaques, records, documents etc, each speaking of times gone by. Why is this?
Well, remembering is important. I read the true story of a man who had a condition which meant that he could only ever remember the previous 15 minutes of his life. Imagine that! He had to constantly write everything down because in 15 mins he would forget it. He couldn’t remember family, friends, childhood, work, play, music, holidays, sport and so on. All the things that form us into who we are were lost for him and in many ways he found he couldn’t move on with his life.
Why remember? It has to be so that we can move forward.
Fit for the kingdom…
This is why the words of Brian McLaren challenge me. A trap that many church families (but also within any community or group) fall into is that of holding on too tightly to the past. How often do you hear people saying they wish church was like it was in those days? People look back with fondness to bygone times and want to be back there. But as is said, if that is all we do then our church becomes a ‘dead end’.
“No-one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62.
If all we do is keep looking back, then our church will never be able to move forward.
Why do we remember those who have died in conflict? Surely one reason is so that it will not happen again. I don’t know of many people who wish that we were still fighting the World Wars. On the contrary, we remember the past so that we can learn, give thanks and make those changes necessary so that war itself will become a thing of the past.
The purpose of the Church is build the kingdom of God: to continue to tell the Good News of Jesus so that more and more people can come into His presence and receive His gift of real life and salvation. That is our job ~ yours and mine ~ and for 2000 years our Christian ancestors have done this work. As Brian McLaren challenges us: we should continue being open to the future and what is to come whilst cherishing and learning from the past. One day in the distant future the Church will look back to us I hope it will do so with thanks for how we kept moving forward, building God’s kingdom.