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Remembering the Future

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Easter


Ah! The Good old days! Do you remember them? When life was simpler, people were more polite and you got proper food. When things didn’t break and, if they did, you could repair them yourself with a bit of wire and some duct tape. When the Church was full and priests taught good sense and things were done properly. Ah the Good old days!


Were they really that good? Has the world really got worse or does it just seem to have got worse?


Is modern technology to blame? Are modern attitudes to blame?


[PAUSE]


As they wander the wilderness, the Israelites often complain that what they had in Egypt was better than the life that they have now. Apparently, there was more food and drink in Egypt; they had homes and a sense of permanence; they had work to do and were too tired to be bored. Their present wandering in this vast expanse of nothing makes them put on their rose-tinted spectacles for Egypt. But why aren’t they looking forward to the land that the Lord Our God promises them? This land flowing with milk and honey? Why get all nostalgic about a life of slavery rather than live in the hope of a wonderful future?


[PAUSE]


It’s something we humans do because we have that rather odd ability to remember the past but not know the future. In the future, there is always the possibility of disappointment rather than hope whereas the past has happened and nothing can be done about it. We get all rose-tinted about the past and fearful of the future because the past is the one place where we can find some happy memories which can’t be dashed. The trouble is that we forget something quite important: the past and the future are connected by the present. They can’t really be separated.


We may lament about the way people are now, but it is because of how we were back in the day that people are how they are now. The flaws in our society, in the world and the Church have their beginnings in our happy, care-free past. Our society is broken now because it was broken then. Adam sinned and so we all have to deal with the consequences of that sin throughout time.


 In focussing on some “Golden Age” we can often make an idol of the past. We can worship a memory and seek to make our futures fit that memory. The fact of the matter is that the past is gone and cannot be reclaimed. Our Society will not go back to how it was in the 1950s, and neither will the Church. If we worship how the Church was in the “Good old days” then we are not worshipping an Eternal God.


[PAUSE]


Does that mean that the Church needs to update itself? Does it need to throw out organs and bring in praise-bands? Does it need to jettison lecterns in favour of interactive whiteboards?  Does it need to update its teaching to make it relevant to today?


No. That’s the other idol: the worship of being modern, the worship of progress.


Being a Traditional Christian doesn’t mean being stuck in the past: it means carrying the past with us into our present and into the future. We don’t live in the past – we live with the past, warts’n’all.


God is Faithful and Eternal. The same promises that He makes to Moses and the Israelites He makes to us. Our worship of Him must reflect that, for God has predestined His Church for Eternity. We are to stand shoulder to shoulder with all Christians of the past and the Christians yet to come and worship the same One God in Three Persons in a way that we can all recognise and cherish. The only way we can bring the past into the present is by being faithful to what the Eternal God has always taught us. To do otherwise is to make an idol of the god of the age.


The Israelites are always making idols to worship because they hate the instability of not knowing. They remember their past and idolise that. They remember the jewels and wealth that they bring with them, so they idolise them. They remember that the happy times in slavery to Egypt are better than the miserable times of freedom in the wilderness, so they idolise them. Their memory of the past is just as fallible as their expectations of the future and so their idols perish with them in the dust.


[PAUSE]


Our Masses look old. They use old words, old rituals, old ceremonies. This is because they are participating in that Eternal Sacrifice which we first encountered in our past on Maundy Thursday and yet we see glimpses of it in the Old Testament and see it in a future prophesied by St John. We must not idolise our locations in space or in time, but rather seek to be faithful to God. We might worry about the future, and this is right, but our fidelity to God as He has always been will ensure that we will have a glorious future with the same God Who always has been. That’s the benefit of Eternity – there is no time to idolise.

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