I’m then intending to ramble the area a little, or try a local pub, with my husband, so exciting wildlife sightings or other reflections will be offered in the comments!
On Monday of this week I spent the day with some Year 6 children from our church school in Old Basing, helping to take them on a journey, something we call ‘Pilgrimage Day’. A pilgrimage is a journey, and should be a prayerful journey. People go on pilgrimage ‘to’ somewhere; in other words there is a physical destination in mind.
But, it is not actually the destination that should be the most significant thing about the pilgrimage. What is important is commitment to the journey itself, the purpose that is chosen for it, whether that be to give time to coming closer to God through getting out in his creation, or following in the footsteps of saints, or relying on generosity of others, or a myriad of other reasons. Some Bishops take pilgrimages around their diocese; to meet with people and thus listen to what God is doing in their patch. Pilgrimage can take us to the heart of what really matters, so that we can find joy or healing, or perhaps a homecoming into God’s presence. For the Year 6’s Pilgrimage Day was marking the end of their time at the school, the beginning of their journey to pastures new, and offering them some tools to use along the way.
The activity that I led on their Pilgrim journey was focused on prayer, giving them a hopefully fun, memorable, tangible and helpful way to have a conversation with God, which is after all what prayer is, a two-way conversation. After all, the idea of pilgrimage teaches us among other things that prayer is not just about words said to God, and that for many of us a physical and creative activity gives our prayers a stronger sense of purpose, and helps us to listen to the other side of the conversation. So we made a small set of prayer beads*, that they can hold in their pockets, based on the liturgical seasons of the year – something they already know through the Acts of Worship we have shared in the school.
In our Gospel passage this morning, the disciples ask Jesus how to pray; the inference being that they want to be given words. Jesus takes their question seriously, and gives them words, words that have been treasured down the centuries and generations since, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer. They are words addressed to our Father God, an image which yes some, sadly, find difficult, but which goes back to a time where the people of Israel needed rescuing from slavery in Egypt: he spoke through Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh saying “Israel is my Son my firstborn” and freeing them to journey to a new land.
At the time Jesus was teaching this prayer, he was in effect completing that journey, a journey to the Promised Land of a Kingdom of God that is for all people, not simply those chosen by God in the years of the Old Testament. Jesus’ was journeying to Jerusalem to break the bread of his body as a sign of God’s presence and bond with all who would follow the journey of faith in him.
This Father God to whom we pray, is a God of liberation, who was releasing his people into a journey to a new Kingdom. This prayer tells us that it is a journey that feeds the hungry, forgives the sinner, delivers people from the powers of darkness. This prayer is in itself a pilgrimage.
But for Jesus, the words he taught were not enough; they were not everything that his disciples would need for the journey. For the journey with Jesus to the cross, and beyond to new life in God’s Kingdom, needs more than just words of prayer. It needs a commitment to the task, the journey, a passionate willingness to step out, a sense of tenacity that means we, his disciples, will stick to the idea. We will be the ones that seek help and assistance when we need it, from God and from our neighbour. We will ask when we’re unsure, seek the right routes on the journey God calls us to, and knock at doors that seem closed or blocked, because if we don’t we may miss the way.
On Pilgrimage Day, the beads that I had selected were at times a little temperamental, the varnish blocking some of the holes, and the thread unravelling so that at times we had to get it wet or cut a fresh end to push it through. Whilst the activity had a destination, i.e. the completion of the prayer beads, there was something appropriate about the difficulties faced along the way; the journey of creating the prayer beads, the problem solving, the patience and time required, was as important as the prayer beads themselves.
As we consider this Gospel story, and join together in praying the Lord’s Prayer this morning, let us remember as we do so that we are Pilgrims with Jesus, sharing his journey towards the fulfilment of the Kingdom of our Father God. We are equipped not simply with words to say, but with the persistence and commitment to keep praying, not just the words, but also constantly remembering those who need our prayers most, knocking at God’s door on their behalf and ours, and looking and listening for the answers, the next step on the journey.