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Thursday, 30 April 2015

as strangers and pilgrims

The Epistle. 1 St. Peter 2. 11.
DEARLY beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the King.
 
I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims
 
What does this phrase mean? Strangers and pilgrims? It refers to those who do not truly belong to the place the are in, but are only passing through, on a journey to another place, possibly alienated from their true home. E.g., Mediaeval pilgrims, exiles, homeless travellers. And that is us, according to St Peter.
 
Because this world is not our home, it does not belong to us and we do not belong to it. Which is why the Apostle connects our abstaining from carnal desires to our status as pilgrims. We have no right to be overly attached to the possessions or pleasures limited to this life, and no right at all to sinful ones. They are not our destiny, they are distractions from or stumbling blocks to reaching  our destination. This is why they are said to war against the soul.
 
But there is more to it than that. Our position as pilgrims and strangers reminds us that we do have another home, that we are on a journey, and that we are travelling towards that home.
 
Our home is with God, in eternal happiness and complete fulfilment. We belong to Him. No matter our circumstances here and now, we have a place where we do belong, a family, an identity. We are not nobodies, we are not adrift.
 
Our present circumstances are not the be all and end all, they are merely part of the journey, and the journey is finite. This finitude is both reason for sombre reflection and great rejoicing.
 
The rejoicing is justified because of where the journey ends. It is often said that it is the journey that matters, not the destination, but the Scripture disagrees. The journey matters precisely because of the destination and how it leads us there, and the journey is endurable only because it does.
 
Do or rest your hopes and dreams on what is fleeting. Do not grasp tightly on to the temporary. Instead, see yourself as a pilgrim. And like the pilgrims of old, you will find that even before the sacred destination, there are many holy and beautiful places to pause at along the way.

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