To be a Pilgrim

We listened to and sang in our hearts, guide me o thou great redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land?…Do you think of yourself as a pilgrim on a journey?

As Christians, I think we should all consider we are pilgrims and our lives a pilgrimage, but there are specific times when we put aside time to travel to a special sacred place and look and listen for signs of God seeking to teach us something new, during the journey as well as at the destination.

Let’s consider our reading from Acts. We can think of Paul’s whole life as a pilgrimage, and by the time he summoned the Ephesian elders to him, Paul has been away for many months but he had set his heart on returning to Jerusalem, a most sacred place, in time for Pentecost. This, for him was a special journey, a special pilgrimage but he was in a hurry to get there at the right time. However, travelling from town to town he also had so much to teach and tell the disciples on the way. He hadn’t planned to be in Troas at all but ended up there for a week. On Sunday, his last day, he still had an awful lot to say….I’ve asked Marian to read a story that we missed out between last week’s and this week’s reading- what happened when everyone crammed into a third storey room. It would have been hot, stuffy, smoky from the oil lamps and young Eutychus had probably been slaving away all day in the fields…..

Acts 20: 6-12 Paul’s visit to Troas (Living Bible)

 As soon as the Passover ceremonies ended, we boarded ship at Philippi in northern Greece and five days later arrived in Troas, Turkey, where we stayed a week.

On Sunday[b] we gathered for a Communion service, with Paul preaching. And since he was leaving the next day, he talked until midnight! The upstairs room where we met was lit with many flickering lamps; and as Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, went fast asleep and fell three storeys to his death below. 10-12 Paul went down and took him into his arms. “Don’t worry,” he said, “he’s all right!” And he was! What a wave of awesome joy swept through the crowd! They all went back upstairs and ate the Lord’s Supper together; then Paul preached another long sermon—so it was dawn when he finally left them!

It’s a special story on all sorts of different levels, but, for me, that story is an important reminder at the beginning of the new stage of my earthly pilgrimage…not to talk too long….especially as it is not safe to walk back down the Tor after dark!….and I don’t think you would be happy waiting until dawn!

No, I don’t want to talk for too long, but I would like to tell you a bit about my journey to ordination and it includes another story about another Pilgrim-Christian in  Pilgrim’s Progress, or at least the contemporary retelling of the classic tale, by the Christian evangelist speaker and broadcaster J John – Pilgrim- has been to me during my journey of transition from Licensed lay minister- Reader to Ordained deacon. The journey takes a long time and is full of uncertainty.

I was due to start discussions with the Diocesan director of ordinands at the end of August 3 years ago to assess whether I might be a suitable candidate for ordination, despite my age. Earlier that month, a friend and lay minister, who knew about the planned meeting, and had been praying for me, sent me a email saying she felt she had a prophetic message for me. She quoted Rev3:8 ‘An open door is set before you and no one can shut it.’ An open door was certainly what I was hoping for, so this was delightful but there was a long way to go.

 During August, still before the meeting, we had a week on our shared narrowboat. It was moored just outside Oxford and I had an afternoon to myself. I love reflecting and praying as we cruise the canals, but sometimes the Lord speaks even more clearly as I walk the tow path. I decided to walk along the tow path towards Oxford. A short pilgrimage back to where I had been licensed as a Reader 4 years earlier but keeping alert to what the Lord might show me during the walk.  On one of the arches of a bridge over the canal there was some beautiful artwork of wildlife of special interest in the area. I was particularly inspired by a picture of a butterfly labelled: gatekeeper butterfly, the picture you have in front of you. I wasn’t familiar with it but as I photographed it I realised that I had seen one like it before. I had been walking along the Aylesbury canal, at the end of my cancer journey feeling tired and a bit wobbly but I was alive and the treatment seemed to have been successful. I was contemplating the future and whether I was being called to ministry, but would I manage it? As I strolled along the canal an orange butterfly landed on me. I thought it looked tired and noticed it was mildly disabled- it was missing 2 legs, but after a short rest it got its strength back and flew off, there was life in it yet. I knew then that although I was also mildly disabled following the cancer treatment, I was still alive, in fact I had been given my life back. That day I made an important decision- I offered the Lord my time- those bonus years I had following my cancer treatment, whether 2, or 42, to be used as he desired. The wounded gatekeeper butterfly inspired me.

In addition Gatekeeper reminded me of Pilgrim’s Progress- This is a modern retelling by writer and broadcaster J John

Christian is told by Evangelist to travel towards the wicket-gate at the beginning of his journey from the city of Destruction to the Celestial city:

Christian got to the gate. Over the gate there was written, ‘Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ So he knocked, more than once or twice, saying,

Christian: Can I come in here now? Will whoever is inside open it for me, even though I’ve been an undeserving rebel? If so, I won’t fail to sing his lasting praises on high.

At last, a grave person came to the gate. (I think of him as the gatekeeper) His name was Goodwill, and he asked who was there, where he’d come from and what he wanted.

Christian: I’m a poor burdened sinner, I come from the city of destruction, but am going to Mount Zion…..Sir since I’ve been told that the way there is through this gate, if you’re willing to let me in.

Goodwill: I am willing with all my heart.

And with that he opened the gate……

When he was inside, the man of the gate asked him who’d sent him there.

Christian: Evangelist told me to come here and knock, as I did: and he said that you Sir, would tell me what I must do.

Goodwill (the gatekeeper): An open door is in front of you, and no one can shut it.

The DDO asked me to see one of her assistants.  Although he had seen a lot of paperwork on me, I knew little about him. He said: ‘let me introduce myself and tell you what my role is. I am the gatekeeper. I decide if and when to open the gate and let you though to see the bishop and so on, but it is not a journey we undertake in a hurry, it takes time.

Co-incidence you might say, but for me each little incident was encouragement, a signpost on the way, reassuring me I was going in the right direction, I was being led by God in the right direction, the sort of reassurance I needed to keep going on the long slow path to ordination. I would not have got to the beginning of this new journey without the support of family and this lovely church family too. Thank you.

Reference: J John (2012) Pilgrim: John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. A Contemporary retelling Rickmansworth: Philo Trust

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