Lenten Pilgrimage

"Pilgrimage is wandering after God" - Phyllis Tickle

The word “pilgrimage” conjures up for me the Mayflower with a bunch “pilgrims” journeying to the Massachusetts Colony in 1620. While these puritan pilgrims journeyed to find a place where they could worship freely from the eyes and financial obligations of the Anglican Church, Christian pilgrims all over the world have made many journeys to sites of religious and sacred meaning since the time of Christ.


In Lent one of the early disciplines of the Christian Church was to take a pilgrimage. Ian Bradley, author of Pilgrimage: A Spiritual and Cultural Journey, says pilgrimage is “best defined as a departure from daily life on a journey in search of spiritual well-being.” Phyllis Tickle, in the foreword of the book, The Sacred Journey, simply says that “pilgrimage is wandering after God.”


The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness occurs early on in his public ministry. In a sense, Jesus’ baptism and temptation become the departure point of his call and ministry.


It is fascinating, and comforting, to realize that Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of his pilgrimage began in such raw vulnerability. He persisted in his wandering after God in the face of hunger, the temptation of power, and idolatry. Jesus’ pilgrimage began basically in exile.


This “wandering after God” is a paradoxical sort of thing. We know oh so well those places of vulnerability that Jesus experienced in the wilderness.

“Pilgrimage is wandering after God.” Phyllis Tickle


A number of people believe that setting off on their own pilgrimage will bring new life. Somehow, they believe if they leave behind all they know and wander after God, they will be transformed, renewed, and invigorated.


This is all may be true. But we sometimes forget (or more likely deny) an essential part of the journey that Christ participated fully in: death. In order for that transformation, renewal, and invigoration that we long for to be realized, something must die.


We all know death so well, don’t we? We’ve lost our loved ones to disease, accidents, and old age. We’ve lost our friends over irreconcilable differences or betrayal. We’ve our lost jobs, our houses, our fortunes, and our faith. We’ve lost our marriages, our children, and our hope. We’ve lost our dignity, our trust, our ambition, and our humility. We’ve lost our confidence, our grace, our courage, and our ability to love well. I haven’t been able to get the phrase “in shadow of death” out of my head. We have all kinds of shadows, or might I say shades of death, not always physical death.


What does it mean that we are living in the shades of death? I believe American culture sanitizes death. We give it other names like “sleep” or “eternal rest.” When we do talk about death and grief, we usually only talk about it in regards to physical death. We fail to see or acknowledge the hundreds of other deaths we experience in daily life.


Living “in the shadow of death” captures—the whole spectrum of death and loss that is so intimate a part of human experience. Though we are all on the same journey, we experience our deaths and losses in different degrees for different lengths of time.

Perhaps in our own pilgrimages during this Lenten season as we “wander after God,” we might dig deeper, journey just a little further, asking ourselves:


What are the vulnerabilities and shades of death I am experiencing in this particular season of life? How might I engage those vulnerabilities and shades of death in my Lenten practices this year? What are the vulnerabilities and shades of death that bid me, call me on a journey “wandering after God?”


Be on your way, as you journey through Lent and the deaths you encounter, until we come finally to a place where God would want us to be: a new, fresh, resurrected life in Christ as we awaken from two years of Pandemic darkness.


Join us Sundays as the Church worships on Sundays at 8 AM and 10:30 AM. Remember if you cannot make it one week, we are streaming our 10:30 AM service on YouTube. Just go to YouTube, and click on subscriptions, then search St. John’s, Hopewell. Or you can find the service on our website www.stjohnshopewell.org. May God in Christ fill us all with his grace enlightening in us the darkened parts of our lives now and in all our days. Blessings for an informative and blessed Lent, Fr. Bill+

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