The Ridgeway

 “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5-7 (NKJV)

My friend Will Evans has recently finished walking the 87 mile (139km) long Ridgeway through ancient landscapes, woodland and secluded valleys. Often described as Britain’s oldest road it begins at Overton Hill, near Avebury, up through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.

Will has been walking the route in parts over evenings and weekends and has finally come to the end of his journey.

Wikipedia says:
“The Ridgeway passes near many Neolithic, Iron Age and Bronze Age sites including Avebury Stone Circle; Barbury Castle, Liddington Castle, Uffington Castle, Segsbury Castle, Pulpit Hill and Ivinghoe Beacon Hill, all Iron Age and Bronze Age hill forts; Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chieftain burial tomb; the Uffington White Horse, an ancient 400-foot (120 m) chalk horse carved into the hillside near Uffington Castle; and Grim’s Ditch, a 5-mile (8 km) section of earthwork near Mongewell created by Iron Age peoples as a possible demarcation line. Other points of interest include the Blowing Stone and Victory Drive, the private drive of Chequers (the British Prime Minister’s country retreat).”

Will completed the last 60 miles of the journey over a long weekend and I know that for him this was a pilgrimage of sorts. It was the start of something new and the ending of the old. It is a mile stone that he can look back on knowing what he has achieved. There is no better place to think than on the road.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Pilgrimage and the Christian Life

“And Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah. He even wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they come to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel.” 2 Chronicles 30:1 (MEV)

Passover was one of the three festivals of pilgrimage in ancient Israelite religion. Jesus himself travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover. Pentecost and Tabernacles are the other two festivals of pilgrimage. The church began at Pentecost and Peter preached the Gospel to the pilgrims who had arrived in the city from all over the known world.

In Exodus 23:17 it says:

“Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.” (MEV)

This command is mirrored in Exodus 34:23:

“Three times in the year all your males must appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.” (MEV)

It also appears in Deuteronomy 16:16:

“Three times a year all your males must appear before the Lord your God in the place where He will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles, and they must not appear before the Lord empty.” (MEV)

Pilgrimage it would seem was at the very centre of Israelite life and worship. In 2 Chronicles 30 we find King Hezekiah trying to revive this lost tradition that had grown dormant. He sent out runners all over the land calling on the Israelites to take up the pilgrimage and come to Jerusalem for Passover. In 2 Chronicles 30:10-11 we read:

So the couriers ran from city to city in the land of Ephraim and Manasseh and up to Zebulun, but the people laughed at them and mocked them. However some men from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and journeyed to Jerusalem.” (MEV)

There were some who chose to drop their farm tools and go. 2 Chronicles 30:13-14 says:

And many people assembled in Jerusalem to have the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. There was a very large assembly. They went out and removed the altars that were in Jerusalem, and they took away all the incense altars and threw them into the Kidron Valley.” (MEV)

The pilgrimage was also a renewal of the worship life of the country.

In Britain pilgrimage was once the most popular expression of spirituality and leisure. That is until the Reformation when Henry VIII banned pilgrimages in 1538. There is however according to the British Pilgrimage Trust a modern resurgence. They say:

“Today, there is a global renaissance of pilgrimage – 250,000 on the Camino to Santiago, 2 million on the Hajj, 20 million on the Arbaeen and 100 million to Kumbh Mela. It is time for Britain to take part.”

To that aim they have begun resurrecting the 350km journey from Southampton to Canterbury that used to be the main pilgrimage route in England. They have named it “The Old Way”.

I love walking and I love the message and idea of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

All of us are on a pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. We have our Sloughs of Despond to pass through as well as Hills of Difficulty. We have the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the Doubting Castle to travel past but we must set as our goal the Celestial City and turn to no other path.

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 says:

For a multitude of the people—many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun—had not purified themselves. For they ate of the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed over them saying, “The Lord is good, and may He pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, but is not pure according the rules of the holy sanctuary.” So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (MEV)

We might not have said and done all the right rituals but if we hear the call of the Lord and answer it he will heal us from all our sins. The Bible finishes with an image of the Celestial City, the New Jerusalem and we are shown the pilgrims streaming into the city from all over the world. Revelation 21:24-26 says:

And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall never be shut by day, for there shall be no night there. They shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (MEV)