• Keith Mathison

A Poor Wayfaring Stranger


Depending on which sources you read, the old folk song "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger" originated either in the late 18th century or early 19th century. It has been sung and recorded by many artists over the years: Burl Ives, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Natalie Merchant, Ed Sheeran, Neko Case, and more.


Somehow, I made it through fifty years of life without ever hearing any of these versions. Then I went to see the 2019 film 1917.


The film is set during World War I, and in one of its most moving scenes, a group of soldiers are sitting in a grove of trees as they wait for orders to attack. One of the soldiers is singing "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger" as the rest listen in silence. The actor who sings it is Jos Slovick and his version is truly beautiful. If you need a few minutes of light and beauty today, take a minute to listen, and read the lyrics below as you do.



I am a poor wayfaring stranger

I'm travelling through this world of woe

Yet there's no sickness, toil nor danger

In that bright land to which I go

I'm going there to see my Father

I'm going there no more to roam

I'm only going over Jordan

I'm only going over home

I know dark clouds will gather 'round me

I know my way is rough and steep

But golden fields lie just before me

Where God's redeemed shall ever sleep

I'm going home to see my mother

And all my loved ones who've gone on

I'm only going over Jordan

I'm only going over home

I'll soon be free from every trial

My body sleep in the church yard

I'll drop the cross of self denial

And enter on my great reward

I'm going there to see my Savior

To sing his praise for evermore

I'm only going over Jordan

I'm only going over home


As Christians, we are wayfaring strangers and exiles (Hebrews 11:13) because our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). We live in a world of woe, a fallen and broken world that groans (Romans 8:22–23). Pestilence, violence, war, famine, it's nothing new. It's as old as sin.


But God did not leave us in this plight. In the Person of the Son, He entered this world of woe. He willingly walked into the valley of the shadow of death. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, humbling himself to the point of death on a cross (John 1:14; Phil. 2:5–11).


He was despised and rejected by men,

a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3–5)


As we walk through the darkness of this world of woe, let us remember that we are going home. And the risen Lord Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us.

Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

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