The Pilgrim Way of Lent
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to them all, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?
In recent months the concept of pilgrimage has been close in my heart and mind. In large part that can be explained by my own pilgrimage experience in July walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago, a series of ancient pilgrimage routes across the Iberian Peninsula all leading to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. My fascination and interest in pilgrimage goes far beyond my own rich experiences as a pilgrim, though. There is something about the idea that connects with a core part of my own spirituality. A pilgrim is someone on a journey—a journey away from a place of comfort and familiarity on the way toward unknown places of both possibility and challenge. That idea resonates deeply in my soul.
Pilgrimage is not an abstract concept useful for only those who set out for some exotic holy place, however. It is also a deeply fitting idea for this time of Lent. One of our Lenten hymns puts it this way: ‘Eternal Lord of love, behold your Church walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent’ (The Hymnal 1982 149). Lent is fundamentally a journey that calls us from the familiar and comfortable—ways of living, patterns of sin— toward the possibility of new life revealed to us by God along the way.
We make this journey not only with Christians around the world, but also, of course, with our Lord Jesus Christ, who teaches us that those who seek to follow him must ‘deny themselves and take up their cross daily’ (Luke 9:23). We must remember that this journey is one we recommit to every day, as we struggle and grow, fail and try again once more. Daily we take up our cross and follow our Lord all the way to the foot of his own cross at Calvary, that place of profound mystery— of sorrow and death, of triumph and transformation. Come, let us walk this pilgrim way.
Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 29)