For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8).
The Christian pilgrimage is a paradox. At one end, when we begin the race, the journey is intimidating. We have such a long journey ahead of us. So many miles to cover. So many years to travel. And we will pass through so many strange towns and cities, side-streets, crowded freeways, and deserted highways on the way to our hoped-for, longed-for destination. It’s a daunting prospect.
On the other hand, when we begin the race, we’re young and strong. Fresh and vigorous. We have energy to burn. Snappy reflexes. Brimming with optimism. In the very prime of life. There’s so much to do, but we have so much in reserve.
At the other end is the aging runner. He has far less ground to cover. So many miles behind him. So few ahead. His destination is so much closer than when he began. And that’s encouraging.
On the other hand, he’s bone-weary. Every step is effortful. He’s fallen down so many times. Been injured so many times. Where he used to sprint, he limps. He’s hot and dry and breathy. His feet ache. His knees ache. His eyes are bleary.
The remainder of the journey is brief, but it takes more effort to cover less ground. Every hill may be the last, or every hill may be the next to last. He only knows by going.
Some of his fond old companions have gone ahead. Disappeared over the distant hills and ridges. Others fell behind. Dropped out of the race. Settled for a way station.
At that sparse stretch in the race he is far from the verdant valleys of his earthly home, yet he hasn’t arrived at the outskirts of his heavenly destination. There’s no going back, but he can’t skip ahead to the finish line. He’s learned from sad experience that short-cuts take longer. So mile-by-mile and day-by-day he must press ahead, one step at a time. Yet whenever he feels on the verge of collapse, something unexpected keeps him going. A spring rain. A sudden breeze. A cooling stream. Wild blackberries.
Then one morning he gets up, just like any other day, only this day is not just any other day. As he heaves and pants his way up another interminable hill, he catches a glimpse of the heavenly spires, gleaming in the everlasting dawn. And as he rounds the hill, a cloud of witnesses is standing at the finish line to welcome him home.