The Pilgrim’s Journey

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Sunday, March 25, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 121 & Luke 19:35-42
Rev. Jill VanderWal

The journey of lent begins with Jesus in the desert for 40 days preparing for his coming season of intense ministry. During these 40 days of Lent we have taken a journey to discuss and practice fasting, prayer, silence and meditation – what Dallas Willard calls the “disciplines of abstinence.”  You may think, “Well, I missed that…” – let me assure you this is a life-long invitation.

The journey of Lent begins with Jesus’ baptism and 40 days in the wilderness, and ends as he travels to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with his disciples.  There were two main reasons people would go to Jerusalem, one to enthrone a new king and to pay him homage, or the other to meet God, to offer sacrifice in the temple, to celebrate God’s love, salvation and covenant. Jesus and the disciples, with other religious pilgrims, travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover – but this year would be unlike any other year -there would be no celebration as this year the road to Jerusalem would lead to a trial and crucifixion. Jerusalem, NT Wrights says, is a place that, “embodies the Joy of the World, and the Pain for the World.”  Joy and pain, live side by side, intertwined. Each year I feel this joy and pain intertwined acutely on Palm Sunday.

The journey to Jerusalem is one of JOY and PAIN. What do you see in the picture of what it means to follow Jesus in his journey and in each day of ours?

NT Wright in The Way of the Lord shares his story of a journey to Jerusalem. “And as I thought and prayed in that spot, a few yards from the place where Jesus died, I found that somehow, in a way I still find difficult to describe, all the pain of the world seem to be gathered there. In the previous days I had seen and heard on the streets that anger and pain of the Palestinians. I had seen on the other streets the paranoia and painful memories of the Israelis….  So much pain; so many ugly memories; so much anger and frustration and bitterness and sheer human misery. And it was all somehow concentrated in that one spot. And then as I continue to reflect and pray, the hurts and the pains of my own life came up for review, and they to all seem to gather together with clarity and force and that one place. It was a moment- actually two or three hours – of great intensity in which the presence of Jesus the Messiah, at the place where the pain of the world was concentrated, became more and more the central reality.

I emerged eventually to the bright sunlight feeling as though I had been rinsed out spiritually and emotionally and understanding – or at least glimpsing- in a new way what it could mean to suppose that one act and one place at one time could somehow draw together the hopes and fears of all the years. I had become a pilgrim.” The Way of the Lord, NT Wright p6

Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, enters as one of thousands of pilgrims who have made the journey to the Holy City for the Passover. He is celebrated as the long anticipated king, “they praised God with joy, ‘saying blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace and Glory in the highest heaven.’” This is JOY. (Luke 2:14 at the birth of Jesus, and the disciples join in the same song of praise as the angels “Glory to God in the highest”)  There is PAIN. Luke tells us that Jesus looks out over Jerusalem and weeps.  Does Jesus cry for what is to come; for his own suffering, or for others?  Jesus’ grief is over two things: “you do not know the things that make for peace” (on earth); and “you have not recognized God with you.”  His words are, “if you had only recognized this day those things that make for peace. You have seen the way of peace and yet do not turn from war.”

Jesus wept, looking out over this city for there is no peace. The peace that Jesus offers, shalom, is the not absence of war, but it points to that which makes all of life worthwhile. Remember multitudes of angels who announced “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” This is the child who brought the promise of Peace on Earth. Here, Jesus’s heart breaks, for there is no peace on earth. Luke writes this account at the end of his life. He has seen the Great Revolt, a war between Palestinian Jews and Romans. Oh Jerusalem, a city at war.

It is in the journey of this week…a journey of Joy and Pain,  that embodies the great contrasts of our own faith journey. The invitation is to journey with Jesus in this holiest of weeks and in all our seasons of life. Beyond Christmas and Easter- there is a long journey, and an invitation to live life as a pilgrim on a journey.

What is it about being a pilgrim that helps us encounter God, and to know the way of peace?

We leave home and all that is familiar – our place of comfort (bed, refrigerator, shower), routines, and attachments. We set out with the bare minimum, to face the unknown.

Pilgrimages, have been a central aspect of not only Christian faith but many of the world religions. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem, to Rome, and to Santiago de Compostela are 3 of most important Christian pilgrimages undertaken. El Camino de Santiago, in English “The Way of Saint James,” The Camino has existed as a Christian pilgrimage for well over 1,000 years. The route is some 500 miles along the northern coast of Spain and last year some 300,000 people traveled this as pilgrims.

After college a young woman named Marlene walked the Camino “in order to give myself some courage, in order to walk into my future.” Her uncle, inspired by her journey, wrote the poem on the front of the bulletin. Post-Camino, you can go three days from Santiago and come to a cliff edge. And there you go through three rituals: the first ritual is to eat a tapas plate of scallops because the scallop shell has been the icon and badge of your walk, and every arrow that you have seen along that way has been pointing underneath a scallop shell. So really, this first ritual is saying: How did you get to this place? How did you follow the path to get here?

The second ritual is to burn something that you’ve brought. Marlene said “I burned a letter and two postcards.” They represented a love no longer alive.

The third ritual: between all these fires are large piles of clothes. You leave an item of clothing that has helped you to get to this place. Marlene, said, “I left my boots — the very things that I walked in, actually. They were beautiful boots, I loved those boots, but they were finished after seven weeks of walking. So I walked away in my trainers, but I left my boots there.” (Story from David Whyte’s Ted Talk, A Lyrical Bridge between the past, present and future @

To eat a meal that reminds you of the way, to let go of the past, to leave something you have traveled with. Jesus, the pilgrim, walks the way of Joy and Pain, breaks bread, leaves the past, and is stripped of everything. This is the way of the pilgrim, in this we learn about God and the way of peace.

The sign of the Camino is the shell, and the sign of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem is the palm – both hold an imprint of sorts, both roads lead to the same place – the way of peace, of love. Let go of all you cling to and follow him.

While I found myself dreaming of hiking the Camino de Santiago someday, I have come to appreciate that the disciplines are a doorway to the pilgrim’s life without needing to hike 500 miles. We can live simply and practice the disciplines today as a way to seek God and the way of peace.

My prayer then is that our pilgrimages, both outward and inward, may bring us face-to-face with the one in whom we see the love of God turned towards us, and sends us on our way to serve him afresh in his world. This is the way of peace.



The road seen, then not seen, the hillside

hiding then revealing the way you should take,

the road dropping away from you as if leaving you

to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,

when you thought you would fall,

and the way forward always in the end

the way that you followed, the way that carried you

into your future, that brought you to this place,

no matter that it sometimes took your promise from you,

no matter that it had to break your heart along the way:

the sense of having walked from far inside yourself

out into the revelation, to have risked yourself

for something that seemed to stand both inside you

and far beyond you, that called you back

to the only road in the end you could follow, walking

as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice

that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,

so that one day you realized that what you wanted

had already happened long ago and in the dwelling place

you had lived in before you began,

and that every step along the way, you had carried

the heart and the mind and the promise

that first set you off and drew you on and that you were

more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way

than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:

as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city

with golden towers, and cheering crowds,

and turning the corner at what you thought was the end

of the road, you found just a simple reflection,

and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back

and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:

like a person and a place you had sought forever,

like a broad field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;

like another life, and the road still stretching on.


— David Whyte

from Pilgrim

©2012 Many Rivers Press