It is funny how words change over time. Recently, Jacob has been saying, “That’s really epic!” My youth pastor side wants to tell him that using the word “epic” was cool about 3 or 4 years ago, but that might make my 6-year-old cry. A word commonly used long ago was “pilgrimage.” When I hear pilgrimage, I think about pilgrims in black suits and white hats. I never use the word “pilgrimage” today, even though I know what it really means (per dictionary.com: a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion). Instead, I tend to use the word “journey.” Yet, the essence of pilgrimage is hard to reach without using that exact word.
Scripture uses pilgrimage to talk about going to Jerusalem (the holy land for the Jewish people), or about going to heaven. Back then, making a pilgrimage was very important to the people because they had a certain holy place, or holy land. Today, we don’t have such a place, so we make that connection when talking about heaven. We certainly know the importance of our journey to heaven, and we look forward to that new home.
Think about your earthly home for a minute (your home now or your childhood home). What feelings do you get when you think of going home? Are there markers along the way that let you know you’re getting closer and the journey is coming to an end? I know when I take my kids back to Kansas City (my childhood home) I point out places where I have memories. It may be the high school where I had track meets in Concordia, Missouri, the place where a turkey hit my car, or the place where I used to work. Along the journey, though, my goal is to get home.
Rev. Shauen Trump will be visiting Mt. Calvary this Sunday. He is a missionary we have supported ever since he completed his Seminary fieldwork here. Shauen makes the trek home to the U.S. about once a year to help people see where the journey has taken him and how he uses their support. For Shauen and his family, I am sure it is a shock to be home, as the people and culture here are very different than in Africa where they currently live and work. Yet, he and his wife probably have similar thoughts and memories of being home. The pilgrimage home is a long trek, but Jesus’ protection guides and helps them.
Shauen spends his ministry talking with people who do not have many of the comforts we are used to in our association with home, and points them to the great pilgrimage toward Heaven. He shares with them a passage that helps develop this idea of pilgrimage (Psalm 121), that as believers we lift our eyes to the hills, which he will also share with us this weekend. The hills are the place where we focus on what is to come when our pilgrimage is complete and we are finally home with Jesus. For people in Africa, with little money, diseases, and other struggles, this hope and pilgrimage is so important. Even though we are often more affluent in America, we still wrestle with diseases, the attacks of sin, and our lack of appreciation for all that we have. No matter what country we are in, we are all headed on the pilgrimage home to heaven.
Psalms is a book of the Bible that often expresses deep emotion, and how through that emotion God moves us to see and experience the Gospel. Psalm 121 is a psalm of hope and promise, as God promises to provide, protect, and forgive all our sins. That grace is so important as we face challenges and look to the hills, or focus on the journey to heaven, and what God has given us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.