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Clive writes...

Looking back, looking forward

November is something of a Month of Memories. We look back on the quickly fading traces of summer: are there going to be any leaves left on the trees this November? In the church year, we commemorate the faithful departed, while nationally we gather solemnly to remember: Remembrance Day, Remembrance Sunday, the poppies, The Silence, the poignant trumpet calls and those well-known words of rememberance. There is much to look back upon, for sure. Earlier this year, many of us gathered together (on a lovely sunny August day as it turned out) to remember the terrible conflict that was the Battle of Passchendaele, 100 years ago this year.

But what about looking forward? Is that something you find yourself doing? Perhaps you say, Well, actually, I haven’t much to look forward to in my life. I only look back: on what has been. Nothing wrong with that. We all have plenty of really happy memories which we love to share.

As we go through the month of November, we approach the season of Advent. Far from being a time of countdown to Christmas (liberally laced with any excuse for chocolate these days!), Advent is The Season of Looking Forward: looking forward to the coming of Jesus as the tiny baby of the Christmas story but also, and in fact far more, looking forward to his coming again to this world of ours.  For me, this is perhaps the greatest challenge of all to my faith: believing that one day Jesus Chris will come again. It’s a challenge because it is a promise made by him which is as yet unfulfilled. It still lies ahead: in the future.

Christians look forward to the return of Jesus. But this wonderful hope is only one part, a big part, of even bigger story. Actually, we could rename ourselves “the people who look forward”. So much of the Bible is not about the past, or even the present. It’s about the future. For example, it may surprise you to learn that a great deal of Jesus’ teaching was about the future. He spoke of what lies ahead on many occasions.

Currently, at St. Peter’s, we are reading the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. It’s a book which many people have never read; which others find disturbing, even frightening. Much of it seems the stuff of Hollywood horror not the usual church stained glass windows! This is a great pity. To me, it’s a wonderful book, written in amazing language which speaks about things which are unspeakable and inexpressible. It’s all about the Real World now and as it will be: the world which we cannot see with our eyes or experience through our bodily senses. But it’s a very real world nevertheless. Revelation describes what is really going on: we get to peep behind the scenes. Most of all, we learn about what is going to happen and it is truly wonderful and awesome. We have so much to look forward to. In short, the message is this: God wins.

Revelation tells the story of life with the ultimate Happy Ending! We all like stories with happy endings but too often our experience of life is that things don’t seem to end happily. This always makes us sad which, I believe, is because you and I are ‘hard-wired’ to look for that happy ending which God has planned not only for each of us but for the whole of his creation.

For Christians, to look forward in this way is not as some cynics have said all about ‘pie in the sky when you die’. However good life has been, however dear our memories of the past, however much we are enjoying the present moment, there is something much better ahead of us.

Let me leave you with one of my favourite hymns:

One the object of our journey,
one the faith which never tires,
one the earnest looking forward,
one the hope our God inspires:

One the gladness of rejoicing
on the far eternal shore,
where the one almighty Father
reigns in love for evermore.

Looking forward with you, this November.

Clive Evans, St. Peter’s Church.

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