From Jim O'Brien
November 23, 2018

Thank God for Religious Wanderers

Hi Friend,

What would cause a group of people to forsake family, property and country, board a tiny boat at the worst time of year for sailing and leave for a destination about which they knew next to nothing?

Part of the answer is given in the first governing document in Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower Compact begins with the words, "In the Name of God, Amen." The second sentence following begins, "Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith..." revealing the first and foremost goal of the Pilgrims. The Compact was signed by almost every male passenger.

Governor William Bradford used the word "Pilgrim" to describe the group when he authored "Of Plymouth Plantation" in his written history of the founding of Plymouth Colony. Pilgrim means "religious wanderer." They had begun in England, moved to Leiden, Holland and then to America.

Of the 18 wives who made the journey 14 died during the first winter, leaving a predominantly male society of children and husbands. Some children lost both parents. In spite of the hardships, when the Mayflower returned to England in April of the following year not one person asked to go back. Freedom is that valuable. To celebrate the First Thanksgiving after such a difficult year is a remarkable testimony of the gratitude of the Pilgrims who came to America.

But the name Pilgrim means more than a wanderer. Bradford knew that such a voyage meant they would never see again, in this life, the friends and family they were leaving behind. He was aware of the dangers they faced and that some of them would likely die in the undertaking. In fact, his wife was one of the first to die. So Bradford writes that when they left Leiden their tears flowed like water.

It is reminiscent of the words of the Apostle Paul when he left Christian converts at Tyre to sail for Jerusalem where he knew he faced certain death. Luke writes, "When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray." (Acts 21:5)

Bradford's Pilgrims shared a common faith with Paul and 1st Century Christians. Those early Christians expressed their faith by celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles that emphasized the Kingdom yet to come. Bradford's Pilgrims recognized that this age is temporary and their hope was for eternity. This conveys a much deeper meaning to the word Pilgrim, a meaning that is lost in secular textbooks.

Pilgrims were people who spent days in humiliation and fasting in the spring, when planting was finished, seeking God's blessing on the crops, and then celebrated with a day of Thanksgiving after the fall harvest.

These were deeply religious people who put faith in God and rejected traditions of organized churches. The Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas. They said, "There's not a place in Scripture that authorizes the celebration of Jesus' birth. There's no scripture that tells us when it occurred."

The Spirit of the Pilgrims became a beacon for citizens of America. They did not consider themselves victims, but victors. People who suffered deprivation without complaint and looked to the Christian God to provide success. When their prayers were answered they celebrated the gifts of God with a day of Thanksgiving.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien