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Seasonal Communion - July 2008
To come up here on to the gallery is to get a wonderful new aerial view of the church. The view brings into new focus the Pilgrim Way which runs through the landscape of the church from the font to the title ar. It maps out a route that many have trodden in the past. The people of Israel trod it on their journey from slavery to the Promised Land. Jesus trod it on his way from his Baptism to his Resurrection. Now we are treading it on our journey from Baptism to the Heavenly city. In this morning's service we remember those who have gone before us on this route and reflect upon the course of our own journey.
You have come to Mount Zion, to God the judge of all, to the spirit of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.
1: The Start of the Way
The starting point for the Pilgrim Way is here before the font.
As we stand here we stand where the Israelites stood when they reached the shores of the Red Sea. Behind them lay the hosts of the Egyptians, anxious to drag them back into the slavery from which God had just delivered them. Ahead lay the unknown. They faced the challenge to put their hands into the hands of God.
As we stand here, we also stand where Jesus stood when he came to the River Jordan where John was baptising. Behind him lay a form of religion which he had come to see as a slavish obedience to rules. Ahead lay the unknown. He was invited to put his hand into the hand of God and go where God's spirit directed him.
As we stand before the font, we are also challenged to break free from slavery. Behind us lies slavery to our own selfish desires. Ahead lies the unknown. We are invited to put our hand into the hand of God and to go wherever he leads us.
The Israelites accepted the challenge. Led by Moses, they crossed the Red Sea. Jesus accepted the challenge. He stepped into the waters of the Jordan. We too, accepted the challenge. We did so at our baptism and confirmed it at our confirmation, when we embraced the faith that is summed up in the words we share in now, the words of the creed.
2: The Way
The route of the Pilgrim Way lies through the body of the Church, along the Cross Aisle and down the Nave.
Walking the Way, we follow in the footsteps of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness of Sinai. It was not an easy journey. Often they were overcome by self-pity. Once they abandoned God title ogether, turning to the worship of a Golden Calf, but through it all, God was with them. He went ahead of them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. He instructed them in how to use their new-found freedom, giving them the Ten Commandments. He provided them with water to drink and manna to eat.
Walking this way, we follow also in the footsteps of Jesus. His, too, was not an easy journey. He faced temptation. He faced hostility. He endured the isolation that comes from being totally misunderstood. But through it all he felt that God, his Father, was with him, a fact confirmed on the Mount of the Transfiguration.
As we walk this way, we discover for ourselves that it is not an easy journey. It means facing temptations. We do not easily escape from the grip of self. It means making the sacrifice involved in putting others first. It means coping with the doubts that invade and undermine faith. But, through it all, God is with us, making himself known in the kindness of friends and strangers; in the beauty of the world; and in those moments of quiet when we feel that he is close to us.
Throughout their journeys, those who have gone before us needed to constantly renew their faith by prayer. The Israelites had to be called back to their allegiance and renewed their faith at Shechem. Jesus repeatedly went away by himself to pray. We have the same need. We need in prayer to acknowledge that we have gone astray and to ask from God the gifts we need to journey on.
3: Journey's End
As we stand at the front of the church, we stand where the Israelites stood when they htitle ed at the bank of the Jordan and looked across to the other side. We stand where Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across to the city of Jerusalem and to all that awaited him there. We stand, symbolically, at the point where we shall stand as the end of our life approaches.
But this is not journey's end.
The Israelites crossed over the river and entered the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus journeyed on via the cross to the resurrection and to effortless oneness with God. And we, too, will journey on to that perfect communion with him which we look forward to each week as we come to the title ar here to make our simple communion.
In our service this morning we have followed the Pilgrim Way as it is laid out in this little church. But before we end our service it would seem remiss not to recall that it was a man from this county who gave to the world the definitive guide to the Pilgrim Way. We finish therefore with the closing passage from Pilgrim's Progress which describes how, in his dream, Bunyan witnesses the entry of Christian and his brother Hope into the city of God:
"Now I saw in my Dream that these two men went in at the Gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured, and they had Raiment put on that shone like Gold. There was also those that met them with Harps and Crowns, and gave them to them; The Harp to praise withal, and the Crowns in token of honour: Then I heard in my Dream, that all the Bells in the City Rang again for joy; and that it was said unto them. Enter ye into the joy of your Lord. I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, Blessing, Honour, Glory, and Power, be to him that sitteth upon the Throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever. Now just as the Gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them; and behold, the City shone like the Sun, the Streets also were paved with Gold, and in them walked many men, with Crowns on their heads, Palms in their hands, and golden Harps to sing praise withal. There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord. And after that, they shut up the Gates: which when I had seen, I wished myself among them."