Hebrews 11: 13 – 22
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’ He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, ‘bowing in worship over the top of his staff.’ By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.
If there is one hymn we are bound to sing at least once during the coming year, it is ‘Who would true valour see’ (Rejoice and Sing 557), or a translation on the theme. It is a hymn dear to many, and is frequently sung at funerals, or at Remembrance-tide. It affects our psyche as we think of our forebears who were also travelling on a journey, on a pilgrimage of their own. Written by an imprisoned John Bunyan, the poem/hymn forms part of Part II of Pilgrim’s Progress.
The inspiration for the hymn came from Hebrews 11:13, our reading today. In the Epistle, the writer gives examples of the faith of certain historical Biblical figures: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses. It is within Abraham’s section that we hear the immortal words of the Authorised Version ‘and they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth’.
This is important, because we must remember and give thanks that this world is not all there is. At the heart of Christianity is the beating belief that, regardless of the apparent finality of death, there is something beyond, something still to come. For us pilgrims to understand fully would be impossible: as with so much of theology, it is trying to put into human terms things understood only by God.
However, we can take comfort from these lines of Scripture. It is these fellow pilgrims who built churches of which we are a part, it is they who inspired our forebears, and who inspired us.
We, in turn, will one day become the saintly building blocks on which others can build their faith.
In years and decades to come, when others look back on our lives, I hope and pray they will say:
They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… they desired a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Put thou thy trust in God,
so safe shalt thou go on,
walk in His strength with faith and hope,
so shall thy work be done.
Give to the winds thy fears,
hope, and be undismayed,
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God shall lift up thy head.
Paul Gerhardt (1607 – 1676) tr. John Wesley (1703 – 1791) Rejoice and Sing #550