J Orr, of St John’s Presbyterian Church, Newtownbreda

MOST of us look forward to a New Year. It hasn’t been lived before and we look forward in the hope that things will get better. However, 2012 will also bring a looking back at what some call the ‘decade of centenaries’. The decade begins with the centenary of the Ulster Covenant and will lead on to the remembering of the Battle of the Somme and the 1916 Easter Rising and other significant events.

The future we look forward to depends very much on how we look back. The events of history can’t change, but how we understand them and use them today, can. If we are to have a shared future, then that suggests a shared looking back. We could have a series of unimaginative re-enactments of the past which simply bolster the self-confidence of one tradition or the other. However, an alternative is to share our looking back to gain a better understanding of each other which, in turn, would help us look forward to a new shared future.

The Queen gave a lead in this during her visit to Ireland by going to the Dublin memorials both of the 1916 Rising and of the Somme.

God, in Jesus, entered human history in Bethlehem. Later, the intrigue of religion and politics put him to death on a cross. However, Christian faith understands that God uses the history of the cross to set us free from the negative hold of the past, and in Christ’s resurrection, establishes the new community of his making. We remember the past in Christian faith, but in a way which releases us to find God’s future.

No one knows what a New Year will bring, but it will be good if lived in the company of Christ, and in the fuller discovery of the new community towards which he beckons us.