The Journey of Life
John Bunyan (1628-88) author of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ illustrates the Christian life through allegory, portraits of various human lives and the way in which he travels from this world to the next. Like Bunyan, Christians regard life as a journey through which they travel, seeking the right path and making both themselves and others around them better in the process.
As Christians believe life is a gift from God, the birth of a baby is a time of great promise and thanks are given for the start of a new life. Many Christians, but not all, agree with Infant Baptism or christening which brings the new baby into the membership of the church and so starts that child on the path along which Jesus has already gone. The Baptist Church leaves baptism until adolescence so that a person may decide for themselves whether to commit. By the time a child reaches adolescence, Christians hope that they are growing in the faith and are ready to participate more actively in worship.
The central act of worship in many churches is the Eucharist (Mass, Liturgy, Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper) and, in order to participate and show commitment, a young person aged about 12 or 13 will take part in a service known as Confirmation. Here, a young Christian takes on the responsibility for his or her own faith and prays that the Holy Spirit will work through them and strengthen their faith.
By the time a young Christian is ready to marry, he or she will believe that marriage is the joining of two people in a faithful and loving relationship. A Christian marriage ceremony takes place in the sight of God and is conducted by an ordained minister or priest. The couple make vows (binding obligations towards each other), rings are exchanged (a sign of the everlasting nature of the vows and the couple’s relationship) and prayers are said for the couple and their life together.
Life ends in death for everyone. For Christians however this is not the end. Christians believe that the body dies but the spiritual body will continue in some way, united with God and finding eternal peace. Jesus’ resurrection is the assurance of this. At death, Christians may be cremated or buried with a service conducted by a priest or minister who reinforces the message that God’s love is stronger than death itself.
Many Christians in the 21st century have a weak image of eschatology, both personal and corporate, and as a consequence, many Christians have an under-developed concept of death and the afterlife. Like the other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity concentrates on the importance of living life for improvement of self and others, in the assurance of gaining everlasting life through death – often explained as Heaven. Most eastern traditions like Hinduism and Theravadin Buddhism have developed concepts of the self and the place of death within a karmic, (good and bad deeds) system.
Life is an opportunity to learn about Christianity and grow into it. Christians also believe that God guides and supports them on this journey, in the same way as a parent looks after a child, and although there will be difficult times and joyful times, Christians have marked these times of transition with celebrations or ceremonies of passing.
Christians believe that throughout their own life they are following in the footsteps of Jesus. He is the example by which Christians should behave. Jesus’ example included time of prayer, giving help to the poor and sick. By showing commitment through rites of passage, a Christian is demonstrating their willingness to follow this example within their family, their community and the world as a whole.