Sometime last year, as Mairwen and I were driving, we saw a signpost for a historic church we had both heard about, and having an hour to spare we decided to call in and see it. Following the lane from the main road we soon came across it and went in. Inside all was dark and musty, the walls covered with plaques commemorating the great and the good of years gone by. There was a history sheet to explain who all these people were, and at some point in the past there had been an effort to refresh the decor with a new carpet, although it was now looking decidedly past its prime. Was this really the significant building we’d heard about?
Actually no, we were in the wrong church. A quarter of a mile further on we found the one we had been looking for, and the contrast could not have been greater. No plaques on the wall, just plain whitewash. No carpet but plain flagstones. The altar with fresh flowers, glowing in the sunlight. There was a history sheet here too, explaining the medieval stonework, but also the faith that inspired people to build such a place. Here you could pick up a copy of Mark’s Gospel ‘Free with love from the rector and congregation‘. Here was a place with a sense of love and care for others.
So two churches, one a mausoleum commemorating long dead ancestors, struggling to keep that memory alive. The other with a passion to tell out the story of the living Christ and using its historical significance as a cue for that story. One focussed on death, the other on life in all its fullness. One looking back, the other looking forward.
In the book of Exodus we see the Jews come out of a long period of cruel slavery in Egypt, escaping through the waters of the Red Sea which then flood back and drown their Egyptian pursuers. But after that, they are homeless, wandering through the desert looking for their promised homeland. And what do they do? To Moses’ great frustration, they are always looking back, wishing they were still under the slavemasters. Jesus himself says
No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.Luke 9.62
Our vision is always to be forward-looking, listening for where God is calling us to go next. The Jews were of course instructed to remember those events of the past, the annual feast of Passover being a re-enactment of that dramatic escape. But it is as a reminder of God’s love, power and promise, not a wishing to go back there. Listen for the voice of the shepherd and follow Him. We may not know fully where it will lead, but the way is onward!