Reflection for Rural Mission Sunday
Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” They went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place…. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them…. So he began teaching them many things. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, NIV.
Saint Melangell’s Church has been a place of pilgrimage for well over a thousand years….. Visitors and pilgrims come from throughout the Diocese of St Asaph, from the whole of Wales and from all over Britain and the world. From ‘A history and guide to St Melangell’s Church’ by John Hainsworth.
Today is Rural Mission Sunday, with its theme of pilgrimage. Here in this rural setting, for centuries pilgrims have been coming from far and wide to the Shrine Church of St Melangell and have found it to be a place of healing, peace and renewal. Who would ever have thought that the oldest Romanesque Shrine in Northern Europe would be found two miles down a single track lane in so a remote Welsh valley – yet here it is!
A pilgrimage being a special journey to a sacred place or shrine, Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela were the main Christian places for those who had the money and time to travel to them. For those who did not, nearer centres such as Canterbury, Walsingham, Lindisfarne, St David’s, Bardsey Island, Holywell and St Melangell’s were some of the more accessible places that still attract pilgrims today and any pilgrimage involved not only time and money but will and effort too. John Bunyan’s great pilgrimage hymn, originally written in 1684 as part of The Pilgrim’s Progress, warns of possible frights and fights along the way but also the “right to be a pilgrim”. It’s still sung today, a reminder of the adventure and experience of pilgrims gone before us whose legacy and wisdom can still serve as a guide for pilgrims today.
It’s clear from the ministry of Jesus that he travelled extensively with his disciples to be with those who would listen to him. As in today’s reading, Jesus seeks time and space for himself but is also pursued by crowds of people and responds to their needs though he later finds time to be on his own to pray (v46). Jesus needs peace and quiet to hear God’s voice and be renewed with so many demands being made of him – the same is still true for those who follow in his footsteps now.
Today, Covid 19 has meant that many people have found their journeys cancelled or curtailed, often at very short notice, with some having to walk very different paths from what they originally envisaged. Others have had to stay at home, but pilgrimage involves a journey of the heart as well as the body and it may be that God has been encountered in many different ways as the pandemic continues.
Tomorrow has been called Freedom Day for England but with headlines about the chaos of what’s been called the Pingdemic and the Prime Minister, Health Secretary and Chancellor all having to self-isolate, as well as rising numbers of vaccinations, confirmed cases, hospital admissions and deaths, it’s clear that the way ahead still has many risks. Desert places, as well as green pastures, are part of many journeys but the pandemic presents uncharted territory as its variants continue to cause separation and desolation as well as give reason for hope and trust. This creates many demands on our time and compassion, as it did for Jesus, but just as he taught the crowds many things, there is much to be learned from what is happening now. So Bunyan’s words, written in exclusive language then but applicable to all, have an even greater resonance as we consider the pilgrimage of our lives, those we encounter along the way and the influence of social media:
“Who so beset him round with dismal stories do but themselves confound: his strength the more is….. Since, Lord, thou dost defend us with thy Spirit….I’ll fear not what they say, I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.”
With my prayers; pob bendith,