This Easter evening we resurrection-believing types are likely sitting down, basking in the power of today’s symbolism, while licking the stolen-from-our-kids’-Easter-basket chocolate off our fingers and pondering what to do with all those hard boiled eggs. Our Lenten journeys over, we are quickly back to sipping on our coffees, wine or whathaveyou’s, secretly grateful that that discipline practice is over and we can return back to ordinary life.
And here is where the ever ironic and paradoxical-pilgrimage ways of the Greatest Journey ever made continues to resound and clang, making that Lenten home-coming not as comfortable as we anticipated and certainly not what we thought it would seem. For the journey made by Jesus through Gethsemane to Golgotha didn’t end in darkness and death. This tormented trek didn’t return a man unchanged from his travails. No, this most sacred of all journeys ended in transformation, restoration and resurrection! Nothing in the universe would ever be the same again because God set out on the greatest venture ever beheld, journeying towards an end that really has only been The Beginning.
We set out on the pilgrim-path traveling towards transformation. All bets are in that indeed, this ancient mode of sacred migration will connect us to the divine and that we will return changed. And it most certainly does! For no one who has ever encountered the Holy remains the same, so how can we expect to arrive home, pull up the ottoman, pop open a beer and exhale, “Whew! Glad that is over! …Now, what’s on TV?….” Pilgrimage just doesn’t work that way. For you see, from the earliest recordings in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we witness a universal life force that is always on the move. Jehovah was a pilgrim-God, always walking, always moving, always going out towards the edges of society and calling to the least of these. Author Charles Foster in A Sacred Journey (2010, Thomas Nelson), says it fantastically, “[God traveled] in a box slung over the shoulders of refugees and worshipped in a tent.”
Pilgrimage is wandering after this nomad-loving God and seeking after a divine-kingdom whose powers are established on the periphery. And if we take up our cross and follow Him to these places, how can we expect to return home, content to put our walking stick in the closet and our souvenirs on the mantel? We were made to walk, hence our amazingly designed bipedal bodies. When we sit for too long, bad things happen, there is really no denying it. We develop physical issues that lead to chronic pain and poor health habits. We start to engage the world through screens instead of through touch, resulting in an apathy that is hardly characteristic of Jesus’ radical pilgrimage through Palestine. We get cozy and comfortable and no longer long for a quest that will transform and reform us. Content, we are happy to scroll through our iPad finding hints of God’s presence there.
Understandably, our technology indeed offers new and unique ways of engaging the world, and yes, even bearing witness to testimonies of God’s presence throughout the earth. However, there is something fundamentally changed that occurs when journeying after God outside, when the created elements are participating in the blessings and bumps that are experienced on the road. In the Celtic tradition, peregrinatio (Latin for “pilgrimage”) takes on a special meaning as it refers to a different kind pilgrimage. Instead of setting out to walk to a specific holy site or destination, the ancient Celtic monks would undertake a maritime excursion to find their “place of resurrection,” which is a place to which God is calling the wanderer to settle, serve and await death. The boats used at the time were called coracles, which were small vessels made of animal skins stretched across a wooden frame and sealed with pitch. These early Celtic saints would set off in a coracle without oars, trusting the wind and current to guide them to arrive where they are being called to go. They would literally cast themselves adrift to sea for the love of God, following only the direction the wind would take them. In this ancient practice of peregrination, the natural world was a critical element to the journey. The wind and waves interacted with and informed the wayfaring, ever obedient to the will of God.
These journeys were acts of complete trust and faith in God, and resulted in new monastic establishments, some of which would define the Celtic Christian world (Iona and Lindisfarne being great examples). The place of resurrection was one in which absolute assurance in God would become the new normal; this certitude would become the ordinary time in which these pilgrims now lived. And death, let’s say death to self, would come in the form of no more comfortable couches on which to recline until the next call came. No, the cross was borne and convenience was exchanged for connection with God through creation.
Our Lenten journey need not be over. Our Easter celebrations should not be checked off the list of this month’s activities. Because we set out to experience grace in the pilgrimage conditions of Lent, we were changed. And because we are changed, so will be our home-places. These environs of patterned thoughts, behaviors and lifestyle should be affected by the grace we experienced on the road, thereby causing even these familiar modes of being to be radically impacted, so much so that home no longer looks or feels the same. So much so that we discover that we are hoping more, living more, desiring for difference more.
Our pilgrimage didn’t end on Friday, nor does it conclude today in a dyed, candy coated frenzy. Today, because of the Resurrection, we are lit up with our Easter-people reality! And this awe, this grace initiates another inner prompting, to again leave behind the familiar (because indeed, it takes mere minutes for something to become familiar), to again engage the cyclical patterns of pilgrimage, and go where the Spirit now leads to continue to walk to the place of our resurrection!