We do not ‘make up the future’ because what the future looks like is given shape by the person of Jesus, who comes to announce its ‘arrival’, and in his own person actually to be what this future looks like. This is the meaning of ‘Zukunft’ in German and ‘Avenir’ in French: their words for the future!
Learning languages other than English heightens my sense of the meaning of words in both German (which I learned as an adult) and English (my mother-tongue) and now French.
When I was learning German we paid particular attention to the way that some verbs can become nouns, and some nouns are derived from verbs. Take for example the German word for ‘Information’: ‘Auskunft’. This is the noun that comes from the verb ‘auskommen’ which means of course ‘to come out’. So ‘information’ is stuff which ‘comes out.’ True! The same goes with ‘ankommen’. That means ‘to come to or ‘arrive’. So on the same principle, ‘Ankunft’ means arrival. But what about the word ‘Zukunft’?
By now you can do the logic yourself. ‘Zu’ in a similar way to the English sound means ‘to.’ The ‘kunft’ part of the word is the noun form of the verb ‘kommen’. So the ‘Zukunft’ is something that ‘comes to’ us. True! But what is this thing that ‘comes to’ us? Well the common meaning of the German word ‘Zukinft’ is…wait fo it… Future!!
When a German person unconsciously thinks of the ‘future’ they are thinking of something that ‘comes to’ them. I recently discovered that the French language has the same conception. The French word for ‘future’ is, as many of you will know, ‘L’Avenir’ which looks like it is also derived from the words ‘to come to’. (venir, to come) So I am wondering, ‘Is this picture of the future useful?’
The idea of the future is related to the idea of the past, and how the process of change relates the one to the other. The first thing to say about this is that the idea of change is at the heart of this relationship. There are people who want to talk about ‘the end of history’ like Hegel and Fukiyama, but in this context I think that Karl Marx is right. When Hegel said ‘There can be no more history, because I have understood the process by which history works’, Marx answered ‘But you forget that it is human beings that create history!’ (This is to say nothing about Eastern views of history as a ‘wheel’ in which ‘everything old is new again’ and nothing changes, in essence.)
In Marx’s picture the future (history) is conceived of as totally open. ‘There is’, as T.E. Lawrence famously said in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ ‘Nothing written, unless I write it!’ The way that the future goes is a product of the actions of human beings and because we have ‘free will’ we can create whatever future we wish. Some people want the future to look like their past. That is, they want to stop change altogether. They say ‘The world as it was in “X” time is the way I like it, no nobody move!
Other people do not care what the future looks like, but try to ride the waves that they see generated by the activity of the present so that they may ‘catch’ them early, and take advantage of the ‘trends’.
Other people develop a ‘vision’ for the future and try to make that ‘dream’ come true by their actions.
But the thing that these three responses have in common is that they all see the future as being generated out of the present or the past. The ‘arrow of time’ goes forward from now.
But the picture of the ‘future’ in the words we have in French and German are more Christian pictures in my view. Here the future is seen as somehow already existing ‘out there’ and that the events that happen ‘now’ are the result of that already existing future ‘arriving to’ us.
This exactly describes the picture we get from the Bible. The future is described in various metaphors ‘The Reign of God’, ‘The Heavenly Jerusalem’, ‘The Wedding Feast of the Lamb’, ‘The New Heaven and the New Earth’ or ‘The New Temple’. This vision is given to us in revelation. We do not ‘make it up’ because what the vision looks like is given shape by the person of Jesus, who comes to announce its ‘arrival’, and in his own person actually to be what this future looks like.
One of the meanings associated with the resurrection is that the ‘general resurrection of the dead’ has begun in Jesus, so that the coming of the Reign of God, and the transformation of the old Heaven and the old Earth into the ‘New Heaven and the New Earth’ has already begun. We sing ‘Changed from Glory into Glory till in heaven we take our place.’
So from the past we have the beginning of this new future in Jesus. In the present we have the Spirit reminding us of these things about Him. We have the future of God as secure in principle, but not yet come in power. Our job then is not to create God’s future, but to anticipate it!
This is what we do in Church every Sunday. As best we can, by the participation in the Liturgy, we anticipate the future of God whose shape is given to us in Jesus. That is why we have a certain ‘shape’ to the Eucharist. As the hymn says ‘Those dear tokens of his passion, still his dazzling body bears. Source of endless exaltation, to his ransomed worshippers.’ The way of Heaven (the future) is the way of the cross because Jesus, who now reigns, still bears the marks of the cross. So in Church we learn to follow this way. We learn to be ‘broken’ and ‘rebuilt’ through the love of God in the Eucharist, because this is the process of transformation that is called ‘changed from glory into glory’.
The way that we do the Eucharist is not a product of the past, but a product of the future which ‘arrives’ at us. The closer we are at anticipating God’s future in worship, the less steep will be our ‘learning curve’ when that future arrives in power.
In my sermon of two weeks ago, I offered a brief picture of how I see this happening here.
‘I see a congregation gathered: joyfully celebrating the Eucharist all together because there is no where else they would rather be than in the company of Jesus around his meal table where forgiven sinners are welcomed. I see a congregation that knows who is coming and going because we love one another and who meet in small groups to support each other during the week.I see a congregation whose witness to Christ is so vivid that others will want to join us and that those whom we ask will have their lives transformed by a regular engagement with the reality of God in Christ. I see a congregation that can recognize and stand against destructive structures in its own life and in the world and be known because of it.’
To the extent that this picture matches the coming Reign of God we will be ok!