The address to Youth Peace Day pilgrims given by The Rev Andrew Hedge Vicar of St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Cambridge, New Zealand today, Friday the 11th of July 2008.
A story is told of a New Zealander who once went on a pilgrimage to France, to visit the historic battlefields where our grandfathers and great grandfathers had fought. He was not alone in the pilgrimage as he was traveling with others in a group, as so often happens in pilgrimages. A part of the pilgrimage took them to a small village in France, to Le Quesnoy, and for this New Zealander, as well as countless other New Zealanders, to a particular part of Le Quesnoy. They gathered on the spot where the New Zealand soldiers, led by Lt Leslie Averill had scaled the walls of the town in the liberation of the villagers from the occupying troops.
The pilgrimage was, eye-opening, informative, transformational, but incomplete. The completion came when this New Zealander walked into this church and stood over in this corner and made the connection between head, heart and spirit. As this New Zealander stood looking at the picture of the New Zealand troops scaling the wall and in the midst of this place of holy worship, the spiritual aspect of pilgrimage became real, became known. What had begun as an adventure into the past, had developed into an adventure into the soul and rediscovery of the spirit.
In a recent lecture on the topic of Gospel in Community, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams had this to say about faith.
“…one of the tests of actual faith, … , is whether it stops you ignoring things. Faith, is most fully itself and most fully life-giving when it stops you ignoring things, when it opens your eyes and uncovers for you a world larger than you thought–and of course therefore a bit more alarming than you ever thought. One difference that faith makes is what more it lets you see, and how successfully it stops you denying, resisting, ignoring aspects of what’s real.
How much more do we see fully with our eyes opened by faith through the experience of pilgrimage. As the story of this common New Zealander shows, the learning offered through the study of history does not enable full expression of understanding and inner learning, without the experience of inner reflection, of spiritual learning.
The venue for the pilgrimage, Le Quesnoy, held special historical meaning for this New Zealander because of the connection with the past. What made the journey to this far-off town in France important was the knowledge that someone else had already been there, with purpose, that some of his ancestors had been sent on a journey along that road that led to sacrifice and ultimately liberation.
When we make pilgrimages now, and think of how pilgrimages have been a part of Christian formation throughout all our history, we realise that all our journeys are only of interest because someone else made a significant other journey first. If we were to travel to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, a pilgrimage might have meaning for us because we walk the journey that Jesus has taken. If we walk the pilgrimage of a labyrinth in a Cathedral, we’re reminded of too of walking at least virtually, the steps that Jesus trod, but at a distance. Perhaps often our pilgrimages take shape in Lent as we walk our way through the Stations of the Cross, and remind ourselves of the journey that was taken for us, on our behalf, so that life itself might be ours in all its fullness.
Wherever our pilgrimages take us, they must become more than just the walk, more than just the destination to which we move, they must involve something of the journey within. The travel we undertake then is sacred, sacred travel as, in a way, sacrament. The outward expression and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace – as sacrament is often described – also offers for the pilgrim a description of how we can be drawn closer to God, inwardly, deeply, profoundly through travel and journeying.
Perhaps it is also true that along the pilgrim’s way, events unfold to provide testing, difficulty, discomfort, not for the sake of these things alone, but perhaps to deepen the inward journey of self-knowing, or of knowing God within oneself. It is also true that from these pockets of discomfort, we pull treasures of life to be lived with joyously following the pilgrimage.
In the Psalm we heard today we are reminded of the passion for peace expressed by one who is journeying on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We hear too of their distress of feeling alone in their thoughts as those around them choose not to hear what is spoken in the name of peace, but will speak instead of war. What joy then must fill the heart of the pilgrim whereupon they find God speaking to them and filling them with resolve for peace. This is the place of pilgrimage as well. The destination is only part of the journey and the journey itself becomes the fulfilling activity, of taking time aside from life, to find peace, or whatever it is that God’s Spirit is calling us to find.
From a New Zealand perspective, and I’m sure it is different from the perspective of those from Le Quesnoy, the gift that is given to us by the journey that our soldiers made over the walls of the town, is the opportunity to walk the path they walked for others in our name, but to take from it a deeper understanding of what it means to be human, and to listen to how God speaks to us in this experience today. To live with the discomfort of what those soldiers faced for the sake of human love, and to learn from that discomfort more about our own life in God’s love. When the path of discovery within a journey, is complimented by faith, by sacred reflection and inner yearning for God, then a pilgrimage has begun.
I rejoice that you are here today, joining with us, allowing a pause, a step, along your journey, because it offers us the opportunity to reflect once more, to celebrate, to deepen our inner learning from faith and to consider the close bonds of affection in the midst of a relationship which hold two countries, two towns in peace across the world.
Now I invite you to take time as you rest in this place today, to light a candle, for your pilgrimage, for peace, for Cambridge, for Le Quesnoy, for whatever God’s Spirit is drawing you toward this day along your pilgrimage.
While the candles are lit, I invite you to join together in singing some of the music from Taize – another example of a community which invites pilgrims to inner understanding.
So, please come forward and take a candle, light it and pause and make space for others to do the same all the while holding one another in the words we sing together …
Ubi caritas, ubi caritas, deus ibi est.