With Easter right around the corner, Lent and Holy Week draw to a close, and so too our Lenten devotions, disciplines and studies. Here at Holy Cross, we have just finished our Lenten study based upon the book “Prayer and Worship”, put out by Richard Foster and the “Renovare” group. This 12 chapter work book is structured and designed for individual or small group study. Every week approximately 20 of us gathered to discuss the week’s chapter, along with the challenges and exercises that were issued. This last chapter focused on the topic of Celebration. In this chapter, Foster quotes Psalm 84, which famously begins:
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
This Psalm, as Foster notes, is a psalm of Pilgrimage. As the Jewish people made their way to the Temple, Foster states that this Psalm would be on the lips of those two travelled. It beautifully captures the pilgrim’s joyful anticipation of entering God’s house and engaging in faithful worship. Yet Foster reminds us that true pilgrimage is not solely a physical journey. He states “It is also clear that the path to Zion is not just the physical road up to Jerusalem, but also the path of our lives toward God. The psalmist writes of this joy of the journey in both a physical and emotional sense.” (Foster; Prayer and Worship, pg 127) The physical journey to the temple mirrored the spiritual journey of the pilgrim’s heart and soul. It is this inner movement of the soul that lies as the foundation of any pilgrimage.
Now I have never been on a pilgrimage. I have never walked the Via Dolorosa or travelled the Camino de Santiago, but I do drive to church every Sunday. It’s a drive that I know very well. I leave my house and travel down Bermondsey Rise. As I pass my back alley-way, I check to see if the teenagers in the neighborhood have tipped over our garbage can again. I then journey up Berkley Drive were the traffic light blinks red, indicating that I can merge onto 14th avenue when the way is clear. There is a spot on the hill that I can see the entire down-town core. There is a place that slick when icy, and a place where photo-radar vans like to park. So goes the journey, time and time again, without thought or comprehension.
I am willing to bet that you have your own drives as well. I bet that if you close your eyes you can map out in intricate detail the path that will lead you to the church this coming Sunday. The temptation is to make the journey as we always do; to simply get in our cars and physically navigate ourselves to the church without any thought to an inner and spiritual journey.
But what if we changed focus? What if we saw our drive to church on Easter morning as something more than simply a drive to church? What if we saw it as a pilgrimage? What if we saw each passing stop sign as bringing us closer to the one who is risen? What if, while we fixed our eyes on the road before us, we fixed our hearts on Jesus just as much?
Within me there is unshakable feeling that to do this is to awaken a sense of awe and wonderment within ourselves, and within the church as a whole. I imagine that such as Sunday morning pilgrimage will render our cries of “Alleluia” deeper and our prayers truer. I imagine that our songs will reverberate with a depth of joy and peace undiscovered outside of immersion in God’s presence. I imagine that if we journey to our churches in anticipation of being filled with the loving presence of Jesus, we won’t ever be disappointed. I don’t know about you, but with these thoughts and feelings, I look forward to my morning drive this Sunday.
So, join me, won’t you, on this Easter pilgrimage. Instead of thinking about what time we need to leave the house, let’s think upon the good news of Him who has been raised. Instead of concerning ourselves with getting to church at the right time, let us concern ourselves with getting to church in the right space. And let us not dwell on remembering our tasks or duties of the day, but let us remember that “Blessed are those whose strength is in [Him], and who set their hearts on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:6)
May God bless your pilgrimage this Sunday, and every Sunday, and may the exuberant joy of the resurrection be with you all. Happy Easter!