Tomorrow morning we will begin our final day of the journey and by the grace of God we will arrive at and conquer Signal Hill. It has something of an ominous ring to it. Some of you are much more accomplished cyclists and you are looking forward to the challenge. I am approaching the end of my 6th decade of life and I don’t want to embarrass myself. Okay, I don’t want to embarrass myself any more than I already have.
Tomorrow will mark the end of an amazing journey, the completion of a challenging and sometimes extremely intimidating ride. When we arrive at the top of Signal Hill we will have achieved a status as elite athletes. We will be part of an exclusive group that has cycled from the west coast of Canada to the east. And for many of us, we will look back on this ride as the most authentic expression of Christianity that we have ever experienced. When we gather on Sunday mornings we can fake it. We can put on a brave face and pretend that everything is just fine. We can find a spot on the other side of the sanctuary so we won’t have to sit beside some brothers and/or sisters that we can’t really stand. We can smile, shake hands with them and pretend that they didn’t cause a lump of anger or resentment to move up our throats.
On this ride, for 64 days we have been together and most of that time we have been sleep deprived and we have had pain in parts of our bodies that we didn’t know existed. We slept so close to each other that we could almost reach out and touch the person on the mattress next to us.
Somewhere in northern Ontario Iona and I were assigned a spot on the platform of a church. I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep only to be awakened by a rather violent punch to my right shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a young woman standing beside my bed. Her arms were crossed and she had a look on her face that made me very glad that looks can’t kill. When she saw that I was awake she said in a very annoyed tone “You were snoring!” Then she turned her gaze to Iona and with disbelief on her face she asked “How can you sleep with his snoring?”
Iona looked rather puzzled. She took her ear plugs out and asked “What did you say?” We couldn’t get away from each other. We were like a gigantic chain gang cycling through life and across Canada. And we began to see whose Christianity was genuine and whose wasn’t and maybe in the process we became more genuine in our own faith expressions.
But it is coming to an end! In less than 24 hours we will arrive at our destination and over the next 2 days we will go our separate ways. We will never forget what happened. For better or worse we will bear the marks of the ride for the rest of our lives. And before we leave I want to share a couple truths with you.
The first is that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It cannot be repeated. Oh, you can cycle across Canada again, it may even be a much better experience, but it will not be a duplication of this ride. It will be with other riders and the dynamics will be different. Even if you are able to assemble exactly same riders you shared this journey with, they will all be different. I will never be 59 years old again nor will you be the age you were when the trip began. We are all different people than we were 2 months ago. We may have reunions, and they will be enjoyable but they won’t bring back what we experienced together on this adventure. It will be a wonderful memory, not a repeatable experience.
The second truth I want to share is a little more subtle. When you try and tell people about the ride there will be some things they just won’t be able to fully understand. They may marvel at the stamina that allowed you to cycle the 6,000+ kilometres from Mile 0 on Vancouver Island to the summit of Signal Hill. They may laugh at some of the humourous incidents that took place during our journey, but when you begin talking about some of the deeper spiritual truths you learned they may nod understandingly, but you will know they are just being polite. They may try and understand but because they hadn’t been there with you, they don’t really understand. We will be something like the Pevensey children in the Chronicles of Narnia when they returned to their rather mundane lives in England. They knew that in Narnia they had been kings and queens, but in England they were just ordinary children. There was nothing at all special about them.
Let me extend the metaphor as I talk about some of the rather mystical things I experienced on the ride. Some may want to suggest that I had spent too much time in the hot sun or that my helmet had been a little too tight or that my bicycle seat had finally made me completely bonkers. But you won’t because your hearts will resonate with my remembrances.
Do you remember those days when you felt like you could ride forever? The wind was on your back and the sun was pleasantly warm. As you sped along the highway out of the corner of your eye you could swear that you had caught a glimpse of Aslan loping beside you in the ditch, almost a smile on His face. You felt blessed by that smile and invincible. Nothing could reach you without first going through Him. There was a joy in your heart that you couldn’t explain.
And there were days in northern Ontario when we cycled on those roads that were packed with gigantic logging trucks. As they passed us we could feel the lowered pressure along the truck begin to suck us in. I recall cycling on the narrow shoulder as two trucks met mere inches away from me and I could almost feel Aslan’s warm breath as He gently exhaled and kept the truck from sucking me under its wheels.
It was a magic time. It was a time I shall never forget. Nor will you. We are now part of each other’s’ lives. We may never duplicate the experience. It doesn’t matter. No one will be able to fully enter and understand our experience but they don’t have to. We had been touched by God and we will never again be the same. And if there is anything we can take from this ride it might be a willingness to be open to every new adventure God has mapped out for us and to immerse ourselves in it and to learn everything we can, because the chance may never come again.
I close with thoughts from Father Thomas Ryan former Director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal. It is appropriate as some 20 denominations were represented on the ride.
“When God puts us back together again (with the help of our willingness to co-operate) the great church will be marked by the dignity and scholarship of the Anglicans, the order and sacraments of the Roman Catholics, the warm fellowship of the Methodists, the Presbyterian desire for good preaching and the Lutheran respect for sound theology. There will be the Baptist concern for individual salvation, the Congregational respect for the rights of lay members, the Pentecostal reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, the Quaker appreciation for silence. We will find the Mennonite sense of community, the social action of the Salvation Army and the Reformed love of the Bible all wrapped in Orthodox reverence before the mystery of God.”