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Thornbury Parish


Psalms of Pilgrimage

4th August 2013

St. Mary’s

Psalms 84 and 122

The fifth in a series of sermons on Psalms

Mike Spiller.

It seems ages since we were last together at Evensong , and it is, because my wife and I have been on our travels ( not pilgrimage ) to see our grandson have his first birthday Down Under. But knowing that this sermon was due to be delivered soon after our return I became very aware of the pilgrim cultures of the countries through which we were travelling.

Starting in Thailand and through Fiji and Dubai we saw Shrines, Buddhist Temples, Mosques as well as churches. We heard of a Buddhist 33 mile pilgrimage trek on which pilgrims go round a Mt Kaila, clock-wise on their knees and prostrate themselves stretching out their fingers and using that point on the ground on which to stand and then begin their next prostration.One trek cleanses from sin. 108 circuits will lead to Nirvana in this life.

Hindus have many 000‘s of pilgrim sites throughout the country but the Ganges’ holy river sites are special Muslims, during the annual Hajj, gather in Mecca at least once in their life if they are fit and can afford it.They stand before the Kaaba praising Allah.

Christians might go to Canterbury, Keswick or Lourdes on a pilgrimage - a journey with special spiritual significance.

A place where they will expect a fresh, refreshing encounter with the living God. Jesus went up to Jerusalem and famously mislaid his parents so that they needed to retrace their steps and retrieve him.

Pilgrimages then have a universal appeal. Individuals seeking the transcendent in the process of a journey to a spiritually significant place.

Today’s post-communion prayer is apt, God of our pilgrimage, you have willed that the gate of mercy should stand open for those who trust in you: look upon us with your favour that we who follow the path of your will may never wander from the way of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jan, David, Tom and Michael have taken us through Psalms of Lament ( negative emotions violently expressed so that we can cathartically deal with them, leaving God to sort things out through the crucified and risen Christ). Psalms of Blessing in which, often through suffering, we learn to count our blessings , bless God and in turn be blessed.

Psalms of Praise calling us to praise God, telling us why He is to be praised and then exhorting us to renew our praise.

Psalms of waiting, longing and yearning ‘as the deer pants for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you O God’.

And finally, this evening, Psalms of Pilgrimage. We are referring to Psalms 84 and 122. You will all be familiar with; ‘ How lovely is your dwelling, Almighty Lord of Hosts!’ and ‘ I was glad when they said to me ,We will go to the House of the Lord.‘from Ps 84 and 122 respectively.

Psalm 84 for me reflects the excitement of the journey to a place. Are we nearly there? I can’t wait to be there!

Getting there I will be as happy and content as a bird safely tucked up in her nest. Even a touch of envy for those who dwell in the house of the Lord. i.e. the woman in the Temple. Images of a journey from dry valley to rain - from strength to strength.

The Temple is so wonderful the psalmist would prefer to be there for one day than spend 1,000 elsewhere OR just be temporarily outside the threshold than living permanently with wicked people. The Psalm ends with a flourish ‘happy the one who trusts in you’.

There is no doubt that this crowd of Pilgrims will be booking time off to go again next year!

Psalm 122 appreciates Jerusalem as the city of the Lord’s House - the place of Pilgrimage.The psalmist is clearly pleased to be going to Jerusalem and now he is actually there ‘ within your gates ‘.Better to arrive than to travel! A place to celebrate fellowship, to celebrate justice, peace and blessing. Definitely looks like a repeat booking next year!

Tom referred to Athanasius saying that Scripture speaks to us but that the Psalms speak for us.The Psalms cover every range of human experience, both positive and negative. They are universal. A meditating Buddhist, feet respectfully turned aside from the image of the Buddha, would empathize with the Psalms as would the prostrate pilgrim crawling his/her way round a mountain or the Muslim circulating round the Kaaba at Mecca. The Christian/We , like Everyman, journeying to Canterbury, Keswick or Lourdes will at some point in our life journey experience what the Psalms express.

In Christ Jesus we have someone who was immersed in the Psalms and whose volatile life journey was often perfectly expressed in the words of the Psalms.For the Christian it is the life of Christ and the triumph of the cross and resurrection which gives us reason to hope that our life-journey will end in the place of his presence where peace and justice flow like rivers. A journey ending in joy , not tears. A place of fellowship , peace , truth and justice.

Jesus’ journey from Heaven to Nazareth to the Cross and beyond the grave can be seen as a journey but also a parable of our journey to the Holy City and to God himself. He says, “ Follow me”.

I was glad when they said to me, We will go to the house of the Lord.