Keep me travelling along with you
Early start today. Breakfast in Aughton; lunch in Copenhagen. At least, that’s the plan. Not that our plans always work out. You can always tell a seasoned traveller by their reaction when things don’t go to plan. As most of us start to panic or plead or even pray, they simply hunker down in the bar or coffee shop resigned to this particular arrow of outrageous fortune. My brother-in-law is a frequent flyer. In that situation he simply writes down his flight number for the bartender or equivalent, sits down and goes to sleep until they wake him. Nerves of steel. Occasionally he misses his flight, and so he takes the next one. Mind you, Al Gore – who must have travelled considerably more that most of us – concluded that “airplane travel is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo.” Myself, I love travel, as an end in itself. Any excuse. I even get a thrill from taking the train from Aughton Park to Central. That’s how sad my life is. Much of the Bible, of course, is written on the move. The formative part of the Hebrew scriptures is designed for a people in transit. Even when the people Israel settled in their promised land, strangely God commands that the carrying poles for the ark of the covenant, now installed in the Jerusalem temple, are not to be removed. (Exodus 25:15). The result is that they stick out. So we read in 1 Kings 8:8 “These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today.” Clearly God wanted his people to know that even if they had stopped and were putting down roots, he was not. This may be a magnificent temple, built to last but “just look at those poles sticking out!” It’s as if, so to speak, God hasn’t unpacked his case. He enjoys being on the road – and invites us to grasp the poles and go with him. “Keep me travelling along with you” is what we sing to God each year at our school leavers’ service. But what does this mean? I guess when you are travelling, you expect to enter unfamiliar surroundings, to experience strange sounds and smells. You meet not just new people but sometimes people very different from us. You are on their patch; it is their territory. It can feel very different, even threatening. I always feel vaguely insecure for the first 24 hours of arriving at a strange destination, even this afternoon. You don’t have any bearings, you don’t understand the systems. Do you pay on the bus or do you need a travel card? Can I read the notices? (And more importantly, will I finish this blog in time?) It is all very unsettling. There is every temptation to stay on home turf or go to somewhere familiar. When the risen Jesus travelled with Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, they thought they were going somewhere familiar, possibly even going home. Once they arrived and recognised the scars, their whole world view was turned upside down. Same landscape, new meaning. An exciting but unnerving experience. Their plans changed 180 degrees as they returned to Jerusalem. This is why God wants the carrying poles to stay with his ark, even if they are too long. You never know when he wants us to travel with him to new territory, to lay aside our well-worn routines and to take the unfamiliar path (whatever that may mean). And it's from the old I travel to the new; keep me travelling along with you.