Have you ever thought of yourself as a pilgrim? We use that term to refer to people who left England on the Mayflower in 1620 and came to Massachusetts searching for religious freedom. You may also remember that John Wayne called some people “pilgrim” in his westerns. I think he meant it as a derogatory term about people who came from the eastern part of the United States who were soft and timid, not ready for the harsh realities of frontier living. I am thinking specifically about our Christian pilgrimage.
The idea of taking a pilgrimage is ancient. Fifteen of the Psalms are called Songs of Ascent. It is believed that these Psalms were sung by people on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Folks sang these songs as they ascended to Jerusalem some 2500 feet above sea level.
Christians have taken pilgrimages to holy sites for centuries. The most famous of these is Camino de Santiago or the way of Saint James through northern Spain. Martin Sheen made a movie called The Way which is about that path to Santiago de Compostela. He learned things about himself and about his relationship with God on that pilgrimage.
Our gospel story today is about a pilgrimage. The story takes place in Jerusalem during the Passover. The city may have grown by six or seven times its normal population during Passover. I am sure it was a spirit filled time for them. Jesus and his followers came to Jerusalem from Galilee. In fact, Jesus was somewhat of a celebrity because he had just raised Lazarus from the dead. We read that some Greeks came to Jerusalem as well. It would have been a long trip. Those Greeks must have heard the buzz surrounding Jesus. They asked Philip if they could see Jesus. Whether they wanted a sign, to just be able to see someone like Jesus, to get his autograph or perhaps to hear his preaching we are not told. Of course, Philip was one of the apostles, called by Jesus at the same time he called Andrew and Peter. Eventually Philip and Andrew told Jesus about the Greeks. I wonder if they understood the response Jesus gave them.
Our whole life can be a pilgrimage, a journey to bring us closer to God. But today, let’s consider the journey we have taken during this Lenten season. Lent is a pilgrimage to bring us to the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and the glorious resurrection on Easter. Maybe on your pilgrimage you have fasted or given up some kind of food. You may have entered into a time of study. Perhaps you have attended in a different way to your relationship with God in prayer.
But all of us have also taken a journey in Scripture. The gospels of this Lenten season take us on the journey of Jesus, preparing us for the upcoming events. We have studied the baptism of Jesus, his temptation in the desert and the beginnings of his ministry as he proclaimed the good news that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus told people in Galilee that he would undergo great suffering, be killed and raised in three days. Peter rebuked him for saying that. It brought to mind times that we refused the words of Christ. We journeyed with Jesus to Jerusalem where he threw the money-changers and the vendors out of the Temple. We heard that God sent Jesus to redeem us that we might be saved through him. Today, we once again are reminded that Jesus will die and be raised from the dead, all to glorify the name of God. We join Jesus on his journey.
I remember a time when I visited the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. While I was there, I went on a short pilgrimage on the grounds of the cathedral. They took us out into the gardens and we couldn’t see the cathedral for a time. When the enormous cathedral came into view again, I had the sense of excitement and joy that real pilgrims must feel. They know that the journey is near an end and they look forward to visiting a special place. We are getting close to the excitement of Easter. Perhaps you even imagine that your journey is at an end.
How has the journey through scripture prepared you for the sadness of Good Friday and for the revelation of Easter? Let me encourage you to think about it this way.
Last week, in my sermon, I asked you to feel this overwhelming message of God’s forgiveness and mercy, found in every lesson. In the Old Testament, God forgave the Israelites when they sinned as they followed Moses in the desert. God’s forgiveness was found in the Psalms. Later, we read about God forgiving the people Paul wrote to in Ephesus. And we listened to John tell us about God’s love for us which is so strong that he sent Jesus to save us from our sin.
I know you have been through these events many times in your lives. Still, I wonder if it is possible for you look forward one more time to what is about to come. Can you be excited that you can see it in the distance? Can you look forward to experiencing one more time the love of God in Jesus?
Jesus offered us compassion and forgiveness. Jesus said that he would do what God the Father asked him to do. Jesus gave up his life that we may be united with God. We are called to follow Jesus and to live our lives in the spirit of what Jesus taught us. Let’s dedicate ourselves to following the example of Jesus in our own life through compassion and forgiveness.
Jesus showed compassion often. In Matthew “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Matthew 4:14 In Mark, “‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” Mark 8:2 And again in Mark, Mark 6.34: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
We show compassion for those who are sick and suffering, for those who are lonely, for those who are depressed, for those who have lost loved ones, the list goes on and on. I hope that you are inspired to have compassion because Jesus showed his compassion.
And the other trait that Jesus showed is forgiveness. Luke’s gospel speaks of the forgiveness Jesus offered, “they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. In Matthew, we read “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matt 18:21-22.
Forgiveness is something easy to preach and hard to do. I would suggest that we forgive others who have wronged us and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have been separated. The Peace we have each Sunday is about reconciliation, an effort to be united with others before we come to the communion table. Forgiveness is something we offer to those who ask for it. Forgiveness is something we give to people who are trying to change their behavior. Forgiveness is something we look for when two people may have misunderstood each other or simply forgot how to treat each other. But forgiveness does not mean that we should make ourselves vulnerable to being hurt again. So, forgiveness may not come with the reestablishment of a relationship. The Amish people are an amazing group for their communal ability to forgive those who have harmed them. We could learn from what they do. May you find forgiveness in your heart this season.
We are coming ever closer to the end of Lent. I hope that you can see the end in sight, not because you are tired of the work of Lent. Rather, I hope that you look forward to the experience of Holy Week. And I invite you during Holy week to all of the experience that our robust liturgy offers. We all have the chance to experience the mystery of Tenebrae, the humility and servanthood of Holy Thursday, the sadness and the gift of Jesus on Good Friday and the joy of Easter Evening and Easter day. Come and share in the time when Jesus glorified the name of God and join Jesus as he continues his journey of compassion and forgiveness. Amen.