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Memory and hope (May 10, 2004)

Memory and hope (May 10, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Memory and hope

May 10, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0072}


An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**


We who live on this side of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are aware of the existence of a new phenomenon in human history, the Christian church. In the New Testament the Acts of the Apostles is placed after the Gospels because the church described in Acts is the result of the story of Christ told in the Gospels. The church exists because it is the gathering up of those of us who have faith in the crucified and risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As the church we are a people of both memory and hope. We remember what Christ has already done for us, and we hope for what Christ will do for us in the future. In the Revelation to John Christ says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Revelation 22-13).” Hans Urs von Balthasar said that we must cling to the Alpha while we remain open to the Omega. We can never forget the beginning of our faith, which is the apostolic testimony to Christ’s first coming, but we must always be open to the goal of our faith, which is the promised new future of Christ’s final coming.

Because we are a people of both memory and hope we embrace the paradox of tradition and change. The Greek word for “tradition” in the New Testament literally means “to hand on.” The church has to be traditional because it must “hand on” from generation to generation the testimony of the apostles contained in the Scriptures about Christ. At the same time the church has to be dynamic because it has to be open to the new future of Christ that is always emerging.

The life of the church is never dull because of the whipsaw of being pulled in two directions at once between memory and hope. Yet, the tension in the church between memory and hope is creative rather than destructive because it arises from our relationship to Christ himself, the Alpha and the Omega, who has come and who is coming, whose past we cannot forget and whose future we must not miss.

This is being written before the 2004 General Conference. Whatever has happened at General Conference I am sure that there have been reports in the media about disagreements between “conservatives” and “liberals.” It seems to me that it is inappropriate when these ideological labels are applied by the media or even by those in the church who disagree with each other. The church should be a community of faith and love in which these polarizing and simplistic labels ought not apply. Yet, the church will always include both those whose witness is to Christ the Alpha and those whose witness is to Christ the Omega. Both fidelity to the apostolic testimony to Christ in which the church is grounded and openness to the emerging future of Christ toward which the church is moving need to be integral dimensions of the church’s life. The true criterion by which we judge the validity of tradition or change to which members of the church appeal in their arguments is not some ideology but only Christ himself. Christ has given to the church “the Spirit of Truth” who will guide us into all truth and declare to us “the things that are to come,” and we shall know that the spirit in the church is “the Spirit of Truth” if what is declared to us is Christ’s (John 16:12-15).


This commentary relates to Christian Beliefs.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Annual Conference.