Last week I returned from a wonderful journey through the Holy Land with a wonderful group of friends–some [not so] old and some brand new! It was my first time to experience Israel and I have already encountered how it so profoundly changes those who have the gift of that adventure. How can I ever read Scripture the same again? How can I ever read accounts of vast groups of people journeying through the desert or waves being calmed on the [Lake] of Galilee during a storm or Jesus traveling from town to town teaching and healing without seeing and hearing and touching what I have once again? I am profoundly and forever changed. How can I be part of a Palm Sunday processional without feeling the uneven pavement beneath my feet and the way it slopes at a somewhat precarious angle as it winds above the city of Jerusalem and ends at the Garden of Gethsemane? I am profoundly and forever changed. How can I ever take the bread or serve the cup without remembering the old city in which that last meal was held, without imagining Jesus and the disciples winding their way through it in the dark trying to reach a quiet place of prayer on that dark and desperate night. I am profoundly and forever changed. Thanks be to God!
One of the questions that we were asked was what made the difference between a “trip” and a “pilgrimage”. I have been thinking about that since I’ve been back as the memories and the feelings make their way deep into my being. I think that one difference is that a trip takes you to somewhere new and a pilgrimage takes you to somewhere that is already a part of you. A trip is temporary as you return to your same existence from which you left; a pilgrimage stays with you and becomes a part of you. A trip allows you to be someone you’re not, if only for awhile; but a pilgrimage…a pilgrimage pushes you into becoming who you are. This trip was definitely a pilgrimage. Oh, sure, I brought pictures (some of them I’ll try to post over the next couple of weeks) and souvenirs and various mementos. But more than anything, I brought a piece of who I am home.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4: 1-13)
This last Sunday, the lectionary Gospel passage was Jesus’ 40-day encounter in the wilderness. I’m pretty sure that Jesus was not just trying to “get away from it all”, as attractive as that may have been to someone who worked the hours he did! He was not escaping; he was becoming. He was on a pilgrimage to find out who God meant for him to be–to find out who he was. It is our quintessential model for this Lenten season. Lent is not merely a time of self-denial. It really has little to do with giving up chocolate, or soft drinks, or your nightly glass of wine. Lent is a pilgrimage, a holy pilgrimage. It is, of course, about clearing one’s life to make room for God to work. But, I think, more than anything else, Lent is about becoming who you are, who God intended you to be. It is about finding yourself and when one finds who he or she is truly meant to be, it is there that one will finally know God in the way that God desires to be known.
In this Lenten season, I wish you a Holy Pilgrimage…Go…become who God means for you to be. It is there that you will finally know that you are home.
Peace on the Journey,
Picture: Judean Wilderness, Israel (February, 2010)