The Wayfaring Stranger

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go
I’m going there to see my Father
And all my loved ones who’ve gone on
I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home
I know dark clouds will gather ’round me
I know my way is hard and steep
But beauteous fields arise before me
Where God’s redeemed, their vigils keep
I’m going there to see my Mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
So, I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home
I’m just going over Jordan
I’m just going over home

Yesterday, I watched the movie 1917. It was phenomenal but also very sad. I think it’s almost impossible to have a happy World War I movie. If you did, it would be inaccurate. World War I was such an awful war. The set really bring that to life in this movie. In my opinion, the sets were very accurate. As a historian, I’d be remiss to say that there were no inaccuracies. There are a few, but I’m not here to talk about that. One of the most moving moments of the movie is when Jos Slovik sings “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”

The song itself is an old American folk hymn about a plaintive soul on the journey through life. “I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” speaks of man’s journeying on this earth. Yet, from what and to what does man go?

From the moment Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, man’s journey has him wanting to return. Yet, this return requires passing through the looming, dark portal of death. We journeyed through life into death.

The song’s line “I’m just going over Jordan” evokes this death. In one respect, the line refers to Joshua, that successor of Moses who led the Israelites across the dry bed of the river into the long-desired promised land. Yet, in a deeper sense, the line refers to baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Our crossing is a watery plunge, a sign of dying and rising, a baptism.We journey through death into eternal life.

As we walk toward that dark portal of death, the baptized walk with Christ. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). In Baptism, we are changed at the deepest center of our being, we continue to walk in newness and with hope. We are on the way as wayfarers.

The song continues saying, “I’m just going over home.” This is a clear allusion to heaven. As pilgrims, we journey not just to death, but we pass on to more. “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Hebrew 13:14). The deepest and truest sense of our journeying is not about designation of place. Our journeying is about fulfillment, perfection, life, and the all-consuming vision of the beloved, face of God.

Upon rising from the waters of baptism, we follow Christ, who is “the way” (John 14:6). This following requires renewal and sacrifice. St. Paul exhorts us to put off the old man and put on the new man, even calling for our minds to be renewed in Christ (Ephesians 4:22–24). To put off the old man is a command to leave behind the sin and the corruption which came from Adam and Eve. To put on the new man is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). To be renewed in the spirit of the mind is to “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Therefore, we are poor because we need all from Christ. We are wayfarers because we are journeying from death to life in Christ. We are strangers because we have died to this world and seek those things above. “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). When our journey—that is, our perfection in the Son—is complete, we will see our Father. “No one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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