Christopher McElroy

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Looking towards the future

Have you noticed how much we do looking towards the future?  We save money for holidays, new cars, to pay the bills.  We buy our shopping for the week ahead.  All of these decisions are of course made in the present, and we reserve the right to change our decisions, or our reasons for those decisions on a daily basis.

As a musician (or as I have discovered, as a runner!) one can spend many days/ weeks/ months working towards one big event, be that a concert or race.  The big day arrives and all the preparation pays off.  We bask in the glory and rejoice in the success.  But then what?  Often we feel deflated, unsure of the point anymore.  But usually, with a short period of time some new aim piques our interest and we once again have a focal point.

On a daily basis I am privileged to work with Cathedral choristers.  Rehearsing and performing for up to three hours each day, five days a week means that we see a lot of each other and sing a lot of music!  Motivation of a group such as this takes on a different slant to one’s individual motivation.  In the the case of the team, one has to (subconsciously or otherwise) surrender one’s own motivational aims to the good of the communal goal.

I often recall to the boy choristers the story of Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge of Manchester United (nb. As an Everton fan I have no special love for Manchester United, but the example is very clear!)  What was the motivation that kept Sir Alex and his players going day after day, win after win, season after season in what has been clearly the most successful premier league management of the last twenty years.  I suspect the answer was twofold.  A desire to win, and a desire to be better the next days than the day before.  The point I make to the boy choristers is that I am sure that when Manchester United won a game that Sir Alex would focus not on how good they were today, but one what they needed to do to be better the next day.

What these examples I have outlined all have in common is a focus on the future, which guides us in how we should live the present.  None of these examples however really has an ultimate ending.  Holidays come and go.  Football managers and teams come and go.  There can be no ultimate end.

Another institution that looks towards the future is the Church.  Indeed one could go as far as to say that this is indeed the point of the Church.  Jesus came to earth, as an act of love and obedience to the Father, to die for our sins, so that we might all share in eternal life.  This eternal life is our future.  The book of Revelation describes what the eternal banquet will be like through the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (Rev 19.)

In perhaps the most famous prayer of all, the one Jesus himself taught us, the Lord’s prayer, we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom: ‘Thy Kingdom come.’  The Lord’s prayer also recognises that our biggest struggle as Christians is between good and evil, but that we ask for the Lord’s guidance and forgiveness so that we may partake in the coming Kingdom. (We wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Kingdom..’)

Many of our liturgical and eucharistic texts exhibit similar eschatological traits.  However, I would argue that much of our liturgical practice over emphasises the rational, here and now aspects of our celebration.  Liturgical music, both in its texts and its musical compositions particularly demonstrate this.  There is a danger that our worship today is self enclosed and not orientated towards the future promise of eternal life.  Today we are just as likely to experience a liturgy that is primarily influenced by the local culture and political trends.  The primary culture of the liturgy is the paschal mystery – the reality that Jesus Christ died and rose again so that we may have eternal life.

Like a team sport or activity, the liturgy is a communal activity.  We must surrender our own wants and desires to the will of Christ and his Church, to receive the gift of Divine love and offer in return our lives to the Glory of God.  All of the examples I have highlighted are focussed towards the future: each is inwardly and outwardly motivated and drawn towards their ultimate culmination (whether that be a cup final, a concert, the end of time) but equally exists in the here and now, and therefore draws inspiration from the future hopes to motivate itself in the present.

In the examples highlighted earlier of choristers, runners, footballers the future aim (be it a concert, race, final) is in reality only a medium term goal.  Once achieved a ‘post event’ blues can develop.  The finite end ordinarily would not occur with death, but earlier.  We retire as a footballer/ athlete or we take time out as a chorister once our voice changes.  The future life promised by Christ through his Church however is the ultimate.  It lies on the other side of death.  It is both our long term goal and our present reality.  It motivates us to live a Christian life, sure in the certain hope of eternal life.  Being a Christian is not a choice, but a way of life.  We are called, but we must respond and choose to follow.  Our role is to prepare for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth, a role that does not allow for post-event blues.  It is the promise of eternal life that differentiates the Church from my earlier examples.  The path is not a simple one, but like the manager of a football team, or athletics coach, we have someone looking over our shoulder encouraging us and orientating us to the end game.  Lets not loose sight of the future!


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