My wife had a study day at a Cliffe College, in the beautiful Peak District and so, having dropped her off, I took the opportunity to spend some time alone with my thoughts and reflect on this time leading up to Easter.
What better place than to go for a long walk than in the “Wilderness” of the hills and dales though it was far from being quiet, there were many walkers around enjoying the early spring – and I certainly wasn’t contemplating spending 40 days and 40 nights there.
As I walked, I determined that I would seek to take lessons from the things I saw around me.
I set out to walk up the high hill known as Mam Tor (The Mother Mountain). Some 3000 years ago, a settlement was built on its summit, and remnants of pottery and tools have been found scattered around the area. Today, a stone pathway leads walkers safely to the top – stray from it, and you put yourself at risk of stumbling on the steep slope. As I walked along that path, I once again understood that God’s word serves exactly the same purpose; it leads us safely onwards, directing our footsteps. How easy to try and take a short cut and then stumble by the wayside. Of course, being made of stone, some parts of it were rough – just as life is, and, not being as fit as I used to be (or ought to be), occasionally I had to stop to catch my breath. Sometimes on our Christian journey, it is so important for us to take the time to stop and reflect. We can so easily get bogged down with the everyday concerns of church life (and our lives in general) that we need to stop and refocus our attention on Christ – take time to catch your breath.
When I reached the top, I gazed out at the scene below me. Hazy as it was, the view from the top was still breath-taking and my thoughts moved to the words of Luke 4: 5-7 where we read that the devil took Jesus up high, showing Him all the Kingdoms of the world in an instant and offering them to Him there and then if He would only bow down and worship him. So arrogant in his rebellion against God, the devil sought to draw Christ away from His mission and claim the world as his own. Christ though, refused to validate the devil’s claim by refusing to bow down – “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil tries to make a similar claim on our lives, he entices us with material wealth and possessions and makes false promises – but our lives belong to the one that gave it to us, the one that knows all our needs and meets them. Oh the devil continually points out our faults to us, he tells us how undeserving of God’s love we are, but it is by God’s Grace that we are saved, all our wrong-doings are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus – we need to worship the Lord and serve only Him.
Walking to the foot of the hill by a different path led me to the Blue John Mine and the remains of the road that used to run between Castleton and the road to Chapel-en-le-Frith until a major land-slide brought about its closure in 1977. The tarmac lies twisted and cracked and in some parts at different levels. It has been many years since I walked along that road and I came across something that I never knew about – The Odin Mine. A disused lead mine at the base of the Treak Cliff hill. On the opposite side of the road is the site of the “Crushing Circle” where the lead ore was ground down by huge grit-stone wheels in order to get at the valuable mineral trapped within the rock. I sat there for a while pondering on those that carried out this work and wondered what I might glean from this. Jesus, the man, contained within him a gift so valuable it was beyond price. That gift is eternal life for all those that accept him into their lives. But, just as the ore had to be crushed to get at what was inside, so too Christ had to be crushed. To pay the price for all our transgressions, he had to be whipped and scourged and taken to the cross, there to die; broken; crushed. And he did it willingly.
A little way along the road I heard the sound of a shepherd whistling instructions to his dog. It is lambing season, and the field was full of new-born lambs eagerly suckling, their tails bouncing as they tugged away at their mother’s teat. The shepherd placed food into the troughs and the sheep came to him. A simple image; Christ as our shepherd, tending his flock.
From here, I walked up Winnats Pass, a high-sided gorge that, as I discovered on this walk, was formed underwater and is actually the remains of a coral reef. It is certainly awe-inspiring walking up the steep incline surrounded by towering rocky outcrops. I even found a rock at the side of the road that showed the distinct veining of the Blue-John fluorspar that the area is famous for.
And then I found a cave-like opening. It was a natural formation and yet seemed almost like a doorway. I didn’t go into it, water was dripping from the overhang and the ground around was very soft and muddy, but, as I looked at it, I saw in my mind’s eye the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagined a great stone rolled over this doorway into the cliff and then again saw it moved away. I moved a little closer to try to see in; the cave was empty, just as the tomb had been almost 2000 years ago when the women went there early on that first Easter morning – and there was but a single thought running through my mind – JESUS IS ALIVE. I hadn’t been alone on my walk; He had been with me the whole time. It was Him that had spoken and revealed Himself to me in the wonderful things that I had seen around me.