Archbishop of York: No turning back on Easter journey with Christ as the perfect guide

SINCE the start of Advent on December 1, I have been walking from Cleveland to the East Riding, six days a week.

The Archbishop of York visits Tickton School during his Pilgrimage of Prayer.

And I’ll keep on walking in North Yorkshire until May 22 – Trinity Sunday.

I believe that’s what God wanted me to do and I don’t regret a step.

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The vision for my pilgrimage lies in the roots of our Christian heritage.

As I have prayed and waited on God, I have taken courage from the great northern saints, such as Paulinus, Aidan, Cuthbert and Hilda who took to the road to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Each weekday will find me walking with some companions throughout North Yorkshire, from the A1 to the coast and the Humber to the Tees.

Every time I spot someone we stop for a chat and often for a prayer, too.

So far, we’ve held prayers in 189 churches on the way, visited 73 schools, six FE colleges, seven hospitals, three hospices, five care homes as well as visiting many people at their homes.

And we’ve been fed and watered wonderfully along the way, just like the pilgrims of old who depended on the Christian generosity of others to keep going.

We have been given a reet Yorkshire welcome everywhere!

Groups of Christians of all denominations have gathered at churches on the journey to pray with me and my Pilgrimage companion, Canon Joanna Udal.

Normally bishops and archbishops spend most of their weekdays at meetings, writing letters, conducting interviews.

Instead of doing all that, I’ve 
sent my apologies for absence and 
if a real emergency happens, well, 
those at Bishopthorpe do get in 
touch.

Some unexpected things have happened: I had the privilege of praying with Susan who was in an end of life bed in a hospice and not expected to survive the evening.

Having not spoken much for several days, I started saying the Lord’s Prayer and she joined me with a very clear voice and then thanked me for coming.

Her whole face became radiant and joyful and there was peace and serenity all around her.

Susan, a beloved lover of Jesus, died 13 days later, and her family have said how much my prayers meant to Susan and her whole family.

I have baptised baby Amelia Florence in a brook at Rushton and baby Rosie in St Helen’s Well in Great Hatfield.

I happened to bump into a family at a fish and chip shop at Hornsea, where a woman was due to have a major operation at hospital the following day.

I was able to pray with her and her family and they have since let me know that all went well.

In Jesus’s ministry, we hear of people reaching out to him in unexpected moments and it is in the unplanned conversations of people I have met which have led to genuinely transforming experiences.

We have prayed with 11,000 people saying the ‘Our Father’ with the aid of prayer beads (made for us from the Anglican Diocese of Egypt) as well as cards with pilgrimage prayers. We’ve given out just over 17,500 prayer/bookmarks.

And there are still two more months to go. I’ve stayed for a week at a time in 16 homes.

All this has helped me to imagine what it was like to be a bishop in England in medieval times; they would have travelled on foot or on horseback, often accompanied by a group of monks and engaged in telling the amazing Christian story to people for the first time.

Until then, their listeners would not have known that God their Creator loved them, wanted to be their friend and had sent His Son to show them how to live and lead them on the way to heaven.

Then they would have been taught how to pray and worship in their homes and market places. Later there would be a few makeshift churches, but it would be a while before more substantial buildings were constructed.

One of the oldest, according to a recent discovery, is St Peter & St Paul’s near Stamford Bridge. Part of that church may be 1,100 years old, but that’s hundreds of years later than the first witnesses to God’s love in Jesus Christ.

My pilgrimage through Cleveland and the East Riding has taught me to be more attentive to God moment 
by moment and to expect the unexpected.

Although each day’s route has been planned, there are lots of unknowns.

The weather for a start! It has poured with rain and snowed, but there have also been those sharp cold days when the brilliant winter sun has thrown long shadows over the landscape.

Throughout all this, I have felt buoyed up, strengthened and encouraged by the presence of God on the road.

A verse from the Bible comes to mind. It’s in the New Testament, but refers to the Old Testament people of God who were sustained on their journeys by the God whom they believed in but could not see. Here it is: “They drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).

That’s what grammarians call a mixed metaphor, because rocks don’t move! What it means is that although they did not know it, God’s people had a companion on their journey who was looking after them.

Today, in other parts of the world, hundreds and thousands of people are on the move.

Some have escaped death or persecution, others are economic migrants; all are walking into an unknown future in the belief that what lies ahead must be better than what they have left behind. There is no easy solution to their plight, for there are also millions who lodged in temporary refugee camps.

You and I can be grateful that our futures are less precarious. We must continue to pray for them and do anything we can, both as individuals and as a nation, to support them. May they also know they haven’t been abandoned.

You may know these verses from a children’s hymn, written by the late Sydney Carter:

One more step along the world I go,

one more step along the world I go;

from the old things to the new

keep me travelling along with you:

And it’s from the old I travel to the new;

keep me travelling along with you.

Give me courage when the world is rough,

keep me loving though the world is tough;

leap and sing in all I do,

keep me travelling along with you.

And it’s from the old I travel to the new;

keep me travelling along with you.

That applies to all of us, young and old.

Every one of us is engaged on a once in a lifetime journey.

There’s no turning back, for the past is the past. And we don’t know exactly how the future is going to pan out. What we can do is to choose a companion for the journey. It is my deepest hope for you that you will choose Jesus Christ, who promised his friends: “Surely I am with you, to the end of the age.”

God bless you this Eastertide and for ever.

Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York. His Pilgrimage of Prayer, Witness and Blessing can be followed via http://pilgrimage.archbishopofyork.org