Remembering the Future: A Word from the Archdeacon for Ministry and Training

This shot was taken during the 50th Synod, held at Redeemer Lutheran in November 2023.
By on November 29, 2023

Advent is a season of beginnings and endings.  As you know, Advent is the beginning of the Christian year, but in some ways, Advent is also about endings.  The first Sunday of Advent asks us to celebrate the second advent, or second coming of Christ.  The question is – how exactly are we supposed to commemorate something that hasn’t happened yet?  

In the classic movie, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews, in the guise of Maria Von Trapp, sings that we should “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”  With all due respect, when it comes to Advent, quite the opposite is true!  If we want to enter fully into the story of the Christian year – the story that takes us on a journey from Jesus’ birth to life to death to resurrection, his ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we must begin at the end.  This is exactly why Advent and our Christian Year begin with the promised future of Jesus returning to make all things new.

It’s kind of a big ask though, this remembering the future.  We know how to remember and commemorate the past, in fact, we are liturgical experts at that!  We know how to worship and pray in the present moment, that’s completely natural.  But commemorating the future? That requires us to know something about the promised future!  Now, I admit, our Advent readings for the first couple of weeks are pretty daunting with the fire, and stars falling from the heavens, and the earth passing away – it’s a cosmic shake-up that can leave us confused at best, terrified at worst. But we must read on and know that this upheaval is leading to the ultimate goal of the re-creation of the heavens and earth and the eternal reign of Jesus who has defeated darkness, sin, and death. We get glimpses of this future in the Hebrew prophets, Jesus speaks of it, and John’s tries his best to describe it the Revelation:

I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

(Revelation 21:3-4, CEB)

This is the future we are to remember.  A future with the resurrected Christ at its centre, where the glory of God is the only light needed, and where the nations bring their in their beauty to honour the Creator (Revelation 21: 22-26).  

This future needs to be as real to us as anything that has happened in the past or the present. Some scholars call this “prolepsis” and it is usually defined as anticipation.  But much like our spiritual commemoration is no mere fond remembering of the past, our spiritual anticipation is not a wistful hope for the future.  Rather, anticipation should be understood as drawing the future into the present.  So, we integrate the return of Christ into our lives in the present, though this event has yet to occur in time as we experience it.  We live our lives on the razor thin edge of the present, remembering that the future is actually part of our experience right now, because it describes our hope, our expectations.  And our hope and expectations form and inform what we do in the present.

Remembering the future requires us to live in confident hope. This means we anticipate with certainty the victory of Jesus and his ultimate return to make all things new. We draw that reality into our present. Remembering the future also means that we are not fooled or swayed or taken off track when the world around us seems to be coming apart at the seams. As the Apostle Paul writes, 

“We are under all kinds of pressure, but we are not crushed completely; we are at a loss, but not at our wits’ end; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are cast down, but not destroyed. . .because we know that the God who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us with Jesus.”

(2 Corinthians 4:8-14 CEB)

This anticipation is more than a fond daydream, and this is where we get to the heart of the matter.  Remembering the future involves our present commitment to living and worshipping in such as way that we reflect the future reality, in the here and now. It’s about actions and attitudes.  As the reality of Christ’s reign on earth in the future becomes infused into our present, it should cause us to live and work and worship in ways that are both contextually meaningful and eternally significant.  

Continued on page 4…

Our Diocese is in our own season of beginnings and endings.  We’ve elected a new bishop and we celebrate and anticipate a new beginning with the 8th Bishop of Brandon, with new vision, new energy, and new ideas. But of course, we have experienced endings as well, de-consecration of buildings, deaths of beloved members, and lay and ordained ministers moving onto various other ministries.  These endings are hard for us, as they require us to shift our ways of being.  We might even question what kind of plan God has for us when we experience these endings or losses. This is exactly when we need to remember the future! Jesus has called us to walk in his ways, to the glory of his name because we know the ultimate future – Jesus has conquered darkness, and sin, and death.  As we seek to live holy and godly lives, we are living in the reality of Christ’s return.  We don’t need to know the day or the hour, knowing that the event will occur is enough to shape our future.  When Peter writes “so, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace” (2 Peter 3:14, MSG), it is as applicable to us today as it was 2000 years ago.   Living holy and godly lives and watching our actions and attitudes makes so much more sense in the here and now if we understand the future that already is.  

So, as we journey into a new season in our Diocese and through this Advent season, take some time to start at the very ending, also a very good place to start.


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