St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Sunday Sermons

Sunday 20th August - Café Eucharist

The theme for this Cafe Eucharist is as I hope  you have realised, pilgrimage and this theme came to mind when I was recently at an event with our previous Bishop of Reading, Bishop Stephen who, when talking about pilgrimage told us that his recent Sabbatical had been spent walking the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James.  This pilgrimage is to the shrine of the Apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, north-western Spain.  Tradition has it that this is where his remains are buried.

James spent  time preaching in Spain,  after which he returned to Jerusalem where he was martyred.  Legend has it that his bones were mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula and buried there. Scallop shells are found in huge numbers on the shores in Galicia, and is has become the symbol of the Pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago.

The scallop shell can also be seen as a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand guides the pilgrims to Santiago. 

I have never done the pilgrimage and the full journey of about 800 kilometres would be a bit beyond me now, although I do have a dream of perhaps one day doing the last 100 Kilometers.  A couple of months ago Brian and I were on holiday in the Dordogne, and the friends we were staying with set us on a treasure hunt around  the city of Perigoux.  One of the clues was to find a brass scallop shell on the ground in one of the narrow streets. We eventually found it and our friends later explained that  Perigoux was on one of the routes of the Pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago and the scallop shell was there to point the way for the pilgrims.

Many pilgrims follow one of the routes as a  path or retreat for their spiritual growth, and Bishop Stephen spoke of his powerful experience of following this path himself.    Many clergy and religious seem to do the walk as part of their sabbatical, but not everyone who does the walk does it from a religious perspective, Franciscan Brother, Sam who I also met recently described someone he'd met in one of the hostels along the Way who in all seriousness remarked, 'this hike would be fine if it weren't for all the religious stuff'!

Pilgrimage can be an actual physical journey like the one to Santiago Compostello, or to Jerusalem, or to Canterbury, but in can also symbolise our personal journey through life.  And I would like us to think about five aspects of our personal pilgrimage,

First of all, just as if we were walking the Camino Way our personal pilgrimage starts afresh each day.   First thing each morning we arise to a new day and we can offer the day to God praying that we use it as best we can.

Secondly on our daily pilgrimage we can take great comfort in that someone has always been ahead of us or beside us on our journey.  At dinner in the house in Emmaus, the two friends who had just been walking in a mood of sorrow and despair suddenly realised that they had actually been walking along with Jesus their risen friend and guide.

We know that Jesus himself lived on earth and experienced life with all its joys and

sorrows and is still with us now.  On the Camino Way there are sign posts to guide the walker,like the one in the slide,.  Most pilgrims carry books and maps.  We too have a guide book, the Bible as well as guides such as mentors and friends who help us on the way.  I have a Spiritual companion, Sister Maureen who is a Franciscan Sister and I very much value the time several times a year that I spend with her as she listens to my story and through discernment and prayer, helps me to continue on my journey.

Third, as we journey on, we must accept that we can't always choose our companions.  We may be very lucky and have good companions  who encourage us and give us joy.  For example our families.  We have our challenges but also moments of great enjoyment, such as last Monday when after a sun filled Sunday together at the miniature railway in Polgate, East  Sussex, we had a wonderful, joyful family breakfast at the local Premier Inn, sharing fun and laughter.

Sadly sometimes our companions are not so much to our liking. A great friend of mine who has Parkinson's disease, has to rely on live-in carers who she doesn't always find easy.   However, it is possible for us to learn important lessons even from the people we don't get on with. 

Last week I watched the DVD of the film 'The Way' which tells the true story of an

American man who walked the Camino Way in memory of his son who was killed in a storm while on pilgrimage.  Over the seven hundred plus kilometers the grieving father  linked up with a random group of pilgrims. Initially they disliked each other intensely, but by the end of the film  they had bonded and had learnt to value each other through their shared experience of journeying together.

The fourth aspect that may help us understand our personal Pilgrimage is something else Bishop Stephen told me. He said that before he set off on his pilgrimage, he was advised to make his back pack as light as possible; he convinced himself that he had done that; and it only contained what was really essential for the journey.  However he still found his pack was too heavy and he thought about what else he could leave behind.  On our daily pilgrimage, maybe we need to think about whether we are carrying too much baggage; our possessions, our thoughts, feelings, worries and our 'to do lists' that maybe are weighing us down we miss the opportunity to step lightly on our daily journey enjoying the moment? .

Maybe like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who were so heavily burdened by the events of Good Friday and were so preoccupied with their own worries that they failed to recognise that the stranger walking with them was Jesus who could immediately take the weight off their minds.

The fifth and final aspect of pilgrimage I'd like us to think about is what happens when pilgrims reach the end of their journey.  The pilgrims on the Camino Way finish their journey with a massive sigh of relief and a celebration in  the Cathedral in Santiago.  

And what about the disciples on the Emmaus road?  How did they end their journey? When they realised that it was Jesus who had walked with them on the road and who had broken bread with them, they couldn't wait to return to Jerusalem and to celebrate with their friends.

Our daily pilgrimage may seem small in comparison with an 800 kilometer walk or an encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus road. And yet both have so much to teach us about our journey through life. Time spent in reviewing the events of the day, in recollection, is time well spent.  It is a time when we can say sorry to God for the things we regret but also say thank you to God for the things we can celebrate and for what has been good in the day.  

Pilgrimage in all its forms is an opportunity to travel lightly, to meet people, to make friends, to enjoy and celebrate God’s creation. An opportunity, too, in the travelling, the conversations and the silences to reflect on the journey of our lives and on our journey homewards to God.

Meet us, Lord, on the road to Emmaus,

Guide us on the path toward our destination, and renew our strength as we continue to walk in company with you.

Open our eyes, so we see the signs of your presence around us;
Open our hearts, so we may receive your peace and love; and empower us to pass on to others the grace you have shared so freely with us.


Hazel Berry