Turns out they originally left in July, but had to turn back twice. Their sister ship, the Speedwell, leaked! Eventually they went on without her. In addition they were headed for Virginia and were blown off course by stormy seas. All in all, this led to a disastrous winter, with over half the colonists succumbing.
It was the next fall that they celebrated that first Thanksgiving meal with their new Native American friends. All of us know about the pilgrims, and can even recognize their dress. I always have the famous Publix Pilgrim salt and pepper shakers on my holiday table with their buckled shoes, and brown clothing. And that reminds me…
Thirty years ago I saw a dress in a catalogue that I adored. My style tends to be plain, tailored, and dark. I generally like a blousy waistline because it makes me look like I have one, which I haven’t had since I was about two years old. Every time that catalogue came, I salivated over that dress, a black shirtwaist with long button-cuff sleeves and a broad, white collar embroidered on the edges. At that time we just couldn’t afford it. Feeding two teenage boys and paying a mortgage on a state salary and music studio tuitions was almost more than we could handle.
A couple of years ago I was wandering through a second hand clothing store. You would be surprised the bargains you can find if you are careful. I have bought name brands for literally one-tenth their original price, some of them with the original price tags still on them, the extra buttons still sealed in plastic.
That day I saw the black arms hanging out from the press of the rack; I saw the white collar. Could it be? I checked the neckline for the label and found the old catalogue name. So I pulled it out and felt a thrill. This was the dress I had wished for. Twenty years ago it was a $45 dress. This store wanted $6.00! Then came the moment of truth: I checked the size. Yes! Just to make sure, I tried it on, and then quickly shelled out my $6 and change for tax. It almost made me believe in fate.
This dress is long sleeved and a fairly heavy knit so it was just after Thanksgiving before I could wear it here in Florida. I wore it to church that Sunday. One of the first people I saw, a sweet five year old, came running up and exclaimed, “Mrs. Dene! You look just like a pilgrim!” I laughed a little, gave her a hug and thanked her. Before I was halfway down the hall, another child came running up and said the same thing, word for word.
Okay, I thought. I look like a pilgrim. Maybe it’s too close to Thanksgiving to wear this.
In the middle of January I wore it again. A third sweet child gave me the same compliment. It was enough to make me wonder, do they teach this phrase in the Bible classes these days? But I suppose what capped it all was a good friend who came up to me and laughed, saying, “You look like a pilgrim!”
I donated the dress to another thrift store. All I could see when I looked in the mirror were the missing white cap, buckled shoes and white stockings. It certainly isn’t what I thought of when I used to moon over that catalogue.
I wonder if Abraham and Sarah had in mind the pilgrim life God had planned for them when they answered the call to “Go to a land I will show you.” That doesn’t necessarily sound like they would always be nomads. It doesn’t sound like they would never have an earthly home again. When someone tells me to go, usually they have a specific destination in mind.
Even if they didn’t understand that in the beginning, they finally did. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God, Heb 11:8-10. Eventually they knew they would never have a home on this earth, that the real one was waiting beyond the border of physical life and death.
We must eventually, and as soon as possible, learn the same thing. Our culture is too caught up in the here and now, in instant gratification, in “if it feels good do it.” We think this is what matters. That’s why we let it bother us so much when things do not go right. That’s why we become angry over the inconsequential and throw away the truly valuable, including our hope. They made me mad and they are going to know it! They took what’s mine, and I have a right to take it back. They hurt me and now I am going to hurt them—usually in exactly the same low way they hurt me.
If I know what it means to be a pilgrim in this world, none of that matters. I don’t need to throw a tantrum. I don’t need to get even. I don’t need to have more and more and more because everyone else has it. I don’t even need an easy, carefree life with no trials. It will never compare to Heaven no matter how wonderful it is, and it certainly isn’t worth giving up Heaven for.
Maybe I should have kept the “Pilgrim” dress. Maybe it would have reminded me of things I need to remember, when I need to remember them most. Maybe you need to wear it, too.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city, Heb 11:13,15.