“Stand at the crossroads and look,
and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies;
and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)
As we near the beginning of Lent, we have been following the Israelites, in our Daily Bible readings, as they leave Egypt and make their way toward the Promised Land. Because this land has served such a central role in the Judeo-Christian history, the Holy Land (and Jerusalem in particular) has long been a pilgrimage site for Christians. When it got to be too dangerous to walk to Jerusalem, people still practiced pilgrimage by walking labyrinths, or found other ways to take an internal journey even as their bodies moved toward an external destination as well.
While the idea and practice of pilgrimage has changed over the years, today we can understand pilgrimage basically as a sort of “prayer with your feet,” an opportunity to seek personal and sometimes communal transformation. In short, pilgrimage is an opportunity to take a journey toward a place and in a way that brings you closer to God.
To that end, during this Lenten season, we will be following the footsteps of the Israelites as well as generations of Christians, and taking a pilgrimage toward the proverbial Promised Land. And so, I’d like to reflect with you on why pilgrimage matters, especially during Lent.
Traditionally, Lent is a time when the Church prepares to receive and celebrate the new life that comes with the resurrection on Easter. Over the centuries, people have done this in various ways – generally through prayer, penance, almsgiving, and self-denial – but whatever the method, the goal remains the same: to let go of the things that keep us from right relationship with God, and move instead toward the life God envisions for us.
Pilgrimage is a powerful tool for this effort. Just as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land, we, too, will consider, as we prepare to embark together this Lent, what wilderness plagues us this season, and what Promised Land we hope to find at the other end of our journey. Is it reconciliation with a loved one? Is it acceptance of a situation? Is it a healthier way of living and caring for the body God gave you? Is it living each day with a deeper sense of gratitude? Is it simply growing closer to God? Whatever it is, let this Lenten pilgrimage be a time when you will focus on that destination, even as you take intentional notice of the journey to get there. Consider prayerfully what you need to leave behind in order to reach that Promised Land, what you need to bring, and whom you’d like by your side as you “travel.” Even as we are each on our own journeys, we will also work together to get to Jerusalem, the original Promised Land, by keeping track and compiling our miles, as a reminder that we are never alone as we journey!
Guardian of my soul, guide me on my way this day. Keep me safe from harm. Deepen my relationship with you, your Earth, and all your family. Strengthen your love within me that I may be a presence of your peace in our world. Amen. (“Pilgrim Prayer” by Tom Pfeffer and Joyce Rupp)
Moving Toward the Promised Land: How it Works
If we worked together, could we make it to Jerusalem? This Lent, we’re going to try! If we could walk on water, the distance from Webster, NY to Jerusalem would be 5,730 miles. So throughout Lent, we will be encouraging everyone to get out and walk a mile or two each day. Not just your usual steps (though you can include those, too, in your total), but rather, some intentional time each day where you get out and move, and at the same time, focus on your relationship with God, and the “Promised Land” to which God is leading you. Each week, send in your miles, and we will compile them, and hopefully make it to the Promised Land by Easter!
If you can’t walk – don’t worry, you can still participate. Count 15 minutes of dedicated Bible study as one mile “walked” on your pilgrimage.
Join with other travelers on Wednesday evenings for soup, fellowship, and Holden Evening Prayer. Soup is at 6pm, and Holden Evening Prayer begins at 7:15.
Feb 17 and Feb 24 @ St. Martin (813 Bay Rd)
March 2, 9, and 16 @ Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1767 Plank Rd)