They risked their lives, many of them dying in the process, for something I often take for granted – freedom to worship.
Yes, more than men with funny hats and women in bonnets, these were radically courageous people joined together by one passionate, all-encompassing pursuit: freedom to worship their God in the way that believed was best.
The Faith of the Pilgrims
While the Church of England in the early 1600s said that no one could worship God unless it was in their prescribed way, some Christians in England responded by seeking to purify the Church from within – these were called Puritans. Others believed they could not stay with the COE and decide to separate themselves altogether from them. These were called Separatists. The Pilgrims were some of these Separatists.
As noted on Plimoth Plantation’s web page, “Faith of the Pilgrims,” upon preparing to leave England for Holland, Governor William Bradford wrote that Reverend John Robinson:
“…spent a good part of the day very profitably and suitable to their present occasion; the rest of the time was spent pouring out prayers to the Lord with great fervency, mixed with abundance of tears. And the time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their brethren out of the city, unto a town sundry miles off called Delftshaven, where the ship lay ready to receive them. So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.” (This passage from Bradford’s manuscript Of Plymouth Plantation)
Those on a Spiritual Journey
Hebrews 13:13-14 says, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”
These pilgrims were just that – those on a journey. They didn’t allow their feet to sink too deeply into the soil of the earth, but their eyes stayed fixed on Heaven, their eternal home. And they lived for their Lord in spite of the great costs involved.
In fact, the first pilgrim child born on the Mayflower while it was docked at Cape Cod was named Peregrine White. Peregrine means “pilgrim, alien, wandering, coming from abroad.”
Something about their story has drawn me in to research and find out more about them this year. Something about what they endured – the great suffering, fears, trials, losses, and then…triumph and establishment of a new colony – it is just a beautiful story, screaming to be told and re-told again and again.
Because I want to live like that – eyes on things above.
I shuffle breathlessly into my church on Sunday morning, usually a few minutes late due to a child not finding their shoe or sippy cup. I enter and calm my mind to engage the Lord and His people as we worship Him together. And lately, and I hope more often now, I stop to bow my head and thank God for the freedom I have to worship Him in this country – realizing that freedom came with a cost – it began with the cost of 102 courageous yet probably scared men, women and children who sailed across the ocean to settle on the land which I live in today.
Thankful in Plenty or in Want
This Thanksgiving I remember them – those brave souls – and I dream, I wonder, what that first Thanksgiving celebration was like.
Many of them came to the table that first year bearing grave losses – losses of mothers, fathers, siblings, and children. Many of them were sick and tired and famished from the cruel winter they had just endured. But they had endured. And harvest had come.
I can imagine the tears flowing as they broke bread, sang hymns, prayed prayers of gratitude to the Lord.
What do you bring to the table this Thanksgiving, my friend? Perhaps you have suffered great loss this year. But you have endured. You are still alive. Maybe your future doesn’t seem bright – maybe you only have a glimmer of hope left. But you can choose to endure as the pilgrims did in spite of the difficulties you face.
Maybe you are full of joy, gushing out for all to see…your cup runs over. Bring your cup of thanks and pour it out with celebration this year.
Wherever this Thanksgiving finds you, we all have something to be grateful for. Take the time to find it, and you may be surprised at the joy that is unlocked in the process.
And, surrounded by your blessings, perhaps take a moment to pause and thank God for the freedom you have to Worship Him.
This post was originally published on November 19, 2013.