Pharaoh said to Jacob “How many are the years of your life ?”
Jacob replied “The years of my earthly sojourn are 130; few and hard have been the years of my life…..”
In a recent re-read of Genesis I noticed that Jacob, one of the patriarchs, as well as his ancestors, used the phrase ‘my earthly sojourn’ when describing their lifespan, their age. Bear with me, it amuses me to write this week about Pilgrimage (another word for sojourn, for journey) tied as we are into stricter shutdown / lockdown once again but including this time a travel radius. But there is some higher purpose also I promise.
Specifically I want to explore pilgrimage in our liturgical life, in the sacraments.
- pilgrimage in the journeying from Baptism to Confirmation and Eucharist
- pilgrimage within the Eucharist as a service
Pilgrimage in the Eucharist Service
Many churches now have an Altar which is much nearer the congregation. The theology is along the lines of Incarnation – God with us, in the midst of us, among us, like us, understanding and close……. rather than ‘other’ and ‘distant’ ! The ‘distant’ altar however served a purpose now often lost altogether or at least reduced in effect and that is the symbol and ritual of pilgrimage or journey. The, in some churches and certainly cathedrals and minsters, long, and for the frail, arduous, journey to the High Altar, served a spiritual purpose. It was a regular (weekly ?) reminder of pilgrimage, that we, like Jacob and his ancestors, and therefore our ancestors in faith, measured their life span as journey. It acts as a reminder that life is temporary and fragile. Also that life has a ‘worth’ that is given not achieved or earned. So ambling up to receive communion is not a quick opportunity to catch up with some chat, but as part of a spiritual discipline, in this case journeying in stillness, reflecting on ‘our sojourn’. And as in all communal activities we model such things to our children and our young people.
We have in these past now more than ten months all been deprived of participating in that mini pilgrimage to gather around the altar. Because even those few who have received communion, have had it brought to them in the pews. Perhaps like so much else, the deprivation of something gives us a greater appreciation of what might otherwise be taken for granted.
Pilgrimage from Baptism to Eucharist via Confirmation
What do you see in the picture ?
In the very foreground ? then just a little further in ? and then finally in the far distance ?
We have a font Before you get to the door – Baptism pre-entry into the body of Christ, the church family, the community of believers (choose whatever terminology is ‘home’ to you).
We have an altar in the very distance the place the mature in faith receive communion and are thus both nurtured and also equipped for the vocation that baptism bestows upon them. For those churches that practice Confirmation, it serves two functions.
It used to serve as the official entry point to becoming a communicant member of the church and some of you will have personal memories of that. These days, with parental consent, we receive children at the altar by way of including them (alongside teaching the meaning of communion in our Sunday School Programme).
Confirmation also served as an update (as opposed to an upgrade) where those who had been baptised as infants (de facto without consent) now articulate those baptism promises made on their behalf by parents and godparents, for themselves.
So here too is a pilgrimage. A spiritual journey or sojourn that runs parallel to our life journey.
So all of this, in part, because it’s been a while since I put other versions of this on our website for those who look for such things. But also this, because we have this year a Confirmation service booked – we hope Covid-19 permitting, on Sunday 11. July 21 time tbc Bishop David will travel from London for this occasion (only bishops can do confirmations)
So far, I have 3 young people to be confirmed and one to be blessed. (ages 18, 17, 15, 15)
Feel yourself invited to join them if:
- you were baptised as a little person and have never made those promises for yourself
- you come from a different tradition / denomination and this is a way of being received into the Anglican Church (though a welcome can also happen on that day without you being confirmed)
- you are a parent or godparent and have made those promises on behalf of your child(ren) but not for yourself
- you have never been baptised in which case both would usually happen on the same occasion but because of C-19 we may have to split these events
the oldest person who I prepared for confirmation was at the time 93
so anyone – Welcome – email me and I shall have conversations of what and if and how and …….