The Holy Land. I led a tour there in 1995, and in 2020, I had planned to take another group. That obviously didn’t work out as planned. There will be another one planned at some point in a safer future.
But the question is why we are drawn to the Holy Land in the first place.
People are drawn for various reasons. It could be the ancient history or culture. For most, however, the motivation is religious. That is what pilgrimage is all about. It is a religious journey that is intended to enrich, not just the mind, but the spirit, as well. It certainly was a pilgrimage for me.
It makes sense that Jesus’s disciples would have thought that any journey to Jerusalem from Galilee could have been for spiritual enrichment. Even as they sensed the tension that existed between Jesus and religious leadership, I can’t help but believe that they may have hoped it would not be too dangerous journey.
Then Jesus laid it out for them. He was walking into the darkness … into the place of his own brokenness … to the place of his death. In Matthew 20:17-19, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are on the journey to Jerusalem when he tells his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
This doesn’t sound like a pilgrimage for spiritual enrichment. In fact, it sounds suicidal … why would we walk toward our own death.
In some sense, I think this is the genius of the gospel message. Jesus comes to stand in solidarity with us and to acknowledge that we are all on the road to our own death. When we have lived long enough, we will be faced with our own darkness and brokenness. Jesus, as the central reference point of our faith, gives us the pattern for this journey. It is one that requires honesty and courage. It requires compassion and love. Above all, it requires faith and trust.
The tendency here is to look at this narrative only from the side of brokenness, but we are reminded that the Christian story is told by those who are on this side of resurrection.
The wisdom espoused in the gospels is that Jesus was the one who showed us the pattern for holding both darkness and light … brokenness and wholeness … and death and resurrection in tension with each other (a theme I have shared before in this season).
So ultimately, this is a pilgrimage, but it is not the pilgrimage we have in mind. As we make our way this week to Palm Sunday, may we be reminded that our pilgrimage is the journey through brokenness that leads us ever closer to the heart of God. Hidden in death itself is the gift of life.
To hold onto our life is to acknowledge, with honesty and courage, that we must hold onto our death. To hold onto our death, in this way, is also to hold onto the hope of life that is eternal and abundant.
God, we follow you and trust that you walk with us in our darkness. May we find within that darkness, the light of life. Amen.