“The Pilgrims came in search of you know what. When they landed they gave thanks to you know who. Because of them we can worship each Sunday, you know where.”
– 4th Grader’s Politically Correct Thanksgiving Report
They stand as one of the central components of this uniquely American holiday. With the stereotypical, elementary school play images in our minds of a big black hat with a silver buckle, puritanical dark suits with white shirts, women in long dresses one scarlet “A” away from Hester Prynne’s closet – these are the pictures we think of when our thoughts drift toward pilgrims.
But the word pilgrim wasn’t coined by this group of freedom seeking Puritans, they merely became the next in a long line of individuals that to be tagged with the title. The definition of the word is simply “a traveler or wanderer; someone who journeys, especially a long distance”. So really, a pilgrim, by strict definition, is really just a person who has been on or is on a pilgrimage (“a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place; or any long journey).
I’m grateful this morning for those tough-as-nails, at-any-cost, stick-their-guns Puritans that could envision in the geographical and chronological future a place where they could worship in a way that would simultaneously satisfy the burning of their hearts as well as cause that conflagration to grow stronger and hotter. It was their ability to see what hadn’t been seen (we call it faith) that drove them to step into less than reliable boats and take a trip that would certainly include hardship and even death. That pilgrimage made them pilgrims, or as we say it, Pilgrims. We capitalize the word when we talk about this band of separatists, William Bradford is actually the one that began referring to the group as pilgrims in his work “Of Plymouth Plantation” (based on a scripture in Hebrews), but he didn’t capitalize the word in the moment, it was over a hundred years later, in hindsight and in honor, that we began to identify this group as a proper noun. They were not just pilgrims, they were Pilgrims.
Today I am grateful for those that have gone before me. Not just the Mayflower crowd, but all of those that have chosen to walk a different path, break new ground, and do what their souls demanded regardless of the consequence. I have members of my family that have done things, endured things, and sacrificed things because they saw their own pilgrimage not only as the years that they would walk this earth, but in the life of their blood in future generations.
I am grateful for the fathers of the church who risked, and in many cases lost, life and limb to perpetuate the Gospel message, to protect the Scriptures for distant eyes and ears, and to make a way for my heart to have been stirred and saved by the power of that same good news.
Most of all I am grateful for Jesus, the most storied pilgrim of all time. If it’s the journey that defines the pilgrim then certainly a pilgrimage from the expanses of Heaven all the way to our blue planet in an unimpressive solar system is a story in itself. He came not seeking freedom but bringing it. In fact, in the way that the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims were looking to get away from oppression, Jesus actually came knowing that when He landed He would be placing Himself squarely in the face of oppression. He is the ultimate sojourner, and it is His own return home that makes all of us who have been to the Cross pilgrims as well.
We as followers of Jesus have a new goal, a new land that we are in search of and journeying toward. A distant country where the promise of liberty and joy and love and beauty are so overwhelmingly robust that we can’t help but set our gaze firmly ahead and trace the footprints of our Savior. We have all become pilgrims, we are all on a quest, we already count our citizenship in the new world. Someday, in our own Plymouth Rock experience, we will land on the shores of a land more vast than we could ever had imagined, and yet more accessible than even the small world we know right now. We will not find strangers on those shores, leery of contact and concerned for their own safety, but we will find our family members, our friends and loved ones, those men and women that we have only read about. We will meet pilgrims like Luther and Wesley, Paul and Timothy, Polycarp and Augstine, Amy Carmical and David Livingstone, and so many more, even William Bradford and the Plymouth Pilgrims themselves. How many stories will we be regaled with? How many harrowing adventures and heart swelling testimonies will fill our new and perfect ears? And the feast that we will sit down to eat will be unmatched and unrivaled in the history of feasts.
But at some point all of this will fade. In a moment,who knows when, every other story will begin to look lesser as the Pilgrim Lamb steps toward us and begins to weave the tale of His life. The yarn He spins will be like a star-song that grows ever more intense, ever more inspiring, and causes us to want to listen to it repeatedly forever. The story of His great love and His great sacrifice all wrapped up in a “once upon a time” pilgrimage that He made to rescue His own is what I absolutely cannot wait for. Respectfully, you can have the gold streets, you can have the crystal seas, I don’t need money or mansions, all I really need is to sit at the feet of the Master Storyteller and listen the story of life, as told by the Author.
I am grateful for pilgrims, Pilgrims, and The Pilgrim today. Without them I would not only not be here, but I wouldn’t have a “there” to look forward to. So, to my fellow travelers, journey on, and know that we will find the country our hearts long for at the end of this pilgrimage. As sure as the Mayflower ran aground on our American soil, we will come into port one day soon.
“All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”
– William Bradford