In Good Faith: On a pilgrimage
For most Americans, even those of us living close to Plymouth, Massachusetts, it’s hard to hear the word “pilgrim” without devolving into stereotypes. The word immediately conjures up images of somber men wearing black clothes with funny hats, big white collars and silver belt buckles. While a quick trip to Plimouth Plantation quickly shatters these quaint yet misguided notions, when it comes to pilgrims, we can’t help but default to thinking about the men and women who came over on the Mayflower.
Those original settlers didn’t necessarily refer to themselves as Pilgrims — the name only became synonymous with them in the 18th century. But 20 years after they arrived, the Plymouth Colony’s governor, William Bradford, reflecting on that journey to a new land in search of religious freedom, did reference the 11th chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews saying, “They knew they were pilgrims.” The word originally meant “foreigner” and for Paul, it was intended to convey that the true home for followers of Jesus was heaven and that they were all just passing through this world as strangers in a foreign land.
This week, Christians throughout the world mark the central events of their faith. In the liturgies of Holy Week, we immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection — the very story that forms our identity as people of God.
And in a very real sense, we all become pilgrims during Holy Week. Not the stereotypical pilgrim who eats turkey on Thanksgiving (it was actually lobster!) but a pilgrim who yearns for a deeper relationship with God. A spiritual pilgrim who seeks to join his or her fellow sojourners on the collective journey of life and faith.
When you enter into the heart of the the Christian story with profound intention and loving commitment, you do become a stranger in a foreign land. You embark on a pilgrimage of spiritual discovery. One fraught with highs and lows, opportunities and temptations, tears of joy and tears of sorrow. It’s a journey that draws believers closer to God; a journey that exposes our human weakness; a journey of discovery about ourselves and the God revealed to us in Jesus; a journey that demonstrates, above all, the power of God’s love for each one of us.
Wherever you worship — or even if you are only tentatively thinking about walking this journey with a community of faith — I encourage you to immerse yourself in this pilgrimage. Here at St. John’s, we travel from the Upper Room and Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist (communion) and foot washing at the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday to the agony of the crucifixion on Good Friday to the passing over from death to resurrection at the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening to the full-on joy of Easter Day. If you take these steps, I guarantee you will emerge transformed and renewed.
Unlike Plymouth Rock, which is the most anticlimactic tourist destination this side of the Alamo, you won’t leave disappointed or unfulfilled. As with everything, you get out of your faith what you put into it — and this is the time of year to jump in with both feet. Even if there are no yams on the other side.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is author of “Father Tim’s Church Survival Guide” (Morehouse) and Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts. Visit his blog “Clergy Confidential” at clergyconfidential.com or follow him on Twitter at @FatherTim.