Jesus spent the last years of his life as a pilgrim. He said of himself that he had no place to lay his head. He sought out hospitality wherever he went, for him and for his friends. Sometimes he sent scouts ahead to find out if the communities in their path would be welcoming. Everywhere, they walked, sometimes barefoot, sometimes shod with simple sandals. Their cloaks did dual duty as sleeping bags.
The journey we have taken through Lent this year has been along the pilgrim’s path, exploring what it might be like to live as a pilgrim in this life. Today we look at Easter as a pilgrim might look at the arrival at their destination.
The Pilgrim’s Credo, by Fr. Murray Bodo, has been our guide:
I am not in control.
I am not in a hurry.
I walk in faith and hope.
I greet everyone with peace.
I bring back only what God gives me. And we added:
I walk with you, we journey together.
The concept of the Christian life unfolding as a pilgrimage is nothing new. The European settlers of the Plymouth Colony were called “Pilgrims.” In their governor’s journal, he referred to his fellow immigrants as “saints and pilgrims.” This spiritual community had been on the move, leaving the oppressive religious culture of King James, trying to find a place where they could settle and practice their faith in safety. They believed that America offered them that. Yet, for them, arrival was difficult at best. More than half of the settlers died the first winter and their colony eventually failed. But they gave us the story of the Thanksgiving celebration. Their story is remembered and lives on.
Jesus, too finally arrives at Jerusalem, after his long journey of teaching and healing. As he rounded the Mount of Olives, Jesus caught his first glimpse of his destination. Jerusalem. And its central gem, the Temple, glistened before him. He could see the Temple courts spreading over the top of Mt. Zion. The gleaming limestone, blazing white in the sun. The gold accents flashed like fire. If anything could swell the heart of God, it would be this glory!
I imagine it took his breath away. He paused. His disciples, too. Rendered silent in the awe of the moment. That first glimpse of the holy destination is breathtaking for any pilgrim. All the long hard work. And it is almost done. Slowly the pilgrim prepares for the last sacred steps, to touch the holy place, to feel God’s presence. As the company of pilgrims pause, they are not taking selfies posed with the view. The only camera is what the pilgrims hold in their hearts. The home of God!
In the silence, the disciples hear Jesus begin to weep. Many pilgrims have tears of joy streaming down their faces as, exhausted, they behold their destination. It is more wondrous than could possible be imagined.
But Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem was painful. He wept over the city, which was still full of violence and deafness for the messengers of God. For the pilgrim, “arrival” is not always easy.
Jesus knew that this city was not his destination. He had not yet arrived. Unknown to his company, at this stage, Jesus’ pilgrimage was only beginning the last impossible climb. Could he make it?, I am sure he wondered.
We have told the story this week. Jesus goes to the Temple and sees not glory, but corruption and drives out the noise so that people can pray. He engages in rabbinic battles of will and logic with the powerful leaders of Jerusalem. For his disciples, he simplifies the law. There is only one: love one another as I have loved you. Moses gave ten laws, but just this one will do to live this journey of life. And even they do not understand. He is betrayed by his friend. A victim of injustice, he dies on the cross. In his last words he submits to God: Into your hands, I commit my spirit.
The end of his pilgrimage? His arrival?
No! Not yet!
Arrival for Jesus came on Easter morning. Walking out of the tomb, back into the city of God, he reconnects with his friends, showing them his hands and feet, trying to teach them that the pilgrimage of life does not end in death. Life wins! Jesus has arrived to life with the glory of the angels, standing watch at the tomb.
Today, Jesus arrives at his destination. We arrive with him. To Easter, the day of life. The day when death has finally met its match. When Jesus rose, a couple of obscure verses in Matthew tell us “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52, 53). Death had met its match! Life had arrived!
In seminary, I read a book called, The Presence of the Future, by George Eldon Ladd, one of my professors. The title has stayed with me. The pilgrim’s arrival at the destination, is this kind of moment. The presence of the future. Time stops. All the glory of which life is capable explodes the moment, opening all the places which death tries to hold. And it is enough. It is arrival.
The surprising thing, which the presence of the future hints at, is that arrival is followed by return. The journey continues. When pilgrimage reaches its destination, the moment of glory and enlightenment, we find, is not the end. We return. Jesus returned to his disciples and finally to God. The disciples returned to their lives, beginning a new pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
But they return changed, for they have encountered life, in all its abundance. They have been given truth, light and love. They have had the Holy Spirit breathed into their lungs. They return with power, with life to share. They return to the pilgrimage Jesus began – to proclaim good news to the poor, to offer freedom for the prisoners, sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed.
When we return from this pilgrimage to Easter, we do not return empty-handed, or unchanged. We have encountered the light of life. Its spark has been given to us. We are alive. And that is enough.
Returning from pilgrimage, let us remember that life is a pilgrim journey. A simple way, with one rule: love each other as Jesus has loved us. Slow down a little. Take a bit more time to do things, be gentle with yourself, take care of the body, spend more time with everyone who crosses your path. Remember that life is the gift of this pilgrimage at the journey’s end. It is the place where we arrive and it is the place to which we return.
As you return from the wonder and mystery of Easter –
May you feel release from
tombs of doubt and despair,
paths with dead ends and shattered dreams.
May you know a strong and gentle turning toward
new hopes, renewed energy and clear direction.
May your Easter
be beautiful, soul-expanding,
life affirming and world changing.