Those of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy and safe will by now be facing the frustration of lockdown, the feeling of being limited and hemmed in, perhaps losing focus and lacking motivation. This is not over yet and often these days I find myself daydreaming about new adventures. However if you have ever been on a long journey you might recall that the romance of travel only goes so far. Of course there is the anticipation of a voyage and the excitement of getting up early, the exhilaration of railways stations and airport terminals, the joy of travelling hopefully and the freedom of the road. But there is also the anxiety about tickets and passports, the stress of packing enough but not too much, the difficulty of simple things like eating and sleeping. And once the initial excitement wears off, the hours and start to drag and tedium creeps in. And if things start to go wrong with missed connections or delays the experience can become a purgatory and you start to dream of the very home comforts you are escaping from.
Over Easter we have been reading the Exodus story of the rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their journey through the wilderness to the promised land. And one of the recurring themes is the grumbling of the people of God. And their ability to miss the point is sobering. Their response to the hardship they face is to assume that God doesn’t care about them. And they become nostalgic for how great things used to be in Egypt. And of course that is simply not true – they were slaves and terribly mistreated and the point of this journey is to set them free. So they hark back to something that never was, or at best an idealised version of history, and misunderstand the present; this journey is not the destination, of course the way through the wilderness is hard, bit it is unavoidable, and this is the road to freedom and a new beginning.
And of course the Exodus story is the primary metaphor in the New Testament for the life of faith. We too are rescued from slavery through sacrifice, we too are travelling to the promised land by way of the wilderness, and we like them are sustained with daily bread, and led by a new law giver.
And so that brings us back to the grumbling of the Israelites. They frustrate Moses time and again and it feels quite uncomfortable to read their short sightedness and ungratefulness. But my concern is that we may not be so different. Do we idealise the past and convince ourselves that things used to be so much better than they were? Do we find ourselves discouraged by the hardships of the present, and found ourselves doubting God’s care for us as a result? Do we struggle to live on God’s daily provision for us and get greedy for more comfort and security? And do we forget that this long road is not the destination but the essential and unavoidable road home?
Of course there are wonders to be found on this journey, profound things to be learned, amazing people to meet and peace and freedom to be discovered in this adventure of faith. Patience, and attention to the seemingly insignificant are really important. But never forget that we are only ever on the way, and if the road seems very hard right now, or the landscape flat and drab, or if we struggle to find motivation or joy and it just feels like a hard slog then learn from those who have walked this road before us. They say if you are going through it, for goodness sake keep going. Don’t stop. And the secret is not to be nostalgic for an idealised past or disillusioned by the difficult present. The secret is to set our hearts and minds on the goal, on the destination and remember that this is our Exodus, and we too are pilgrims on the road to freedom and a new beginning. Set your sights to the horizon, and even in the darkness reach out your hand to discover that you never walk alone.
Blessed are you, Lord God of our salvation,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As once you ransomed your people from Egypt
and led them to freedom in the promised land,
so now you have delivered us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your risen Son.
May we, the first fruits of your new creation,
rejoice in this new day you have made,
and praise you for your mighty acts.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.