The word Pilgrimage means "a pilgrim's journey, a religious journey, religious expedition, mission or an annual pilgrimage to the Holy City." I have been blessed to travel quite a bit in my life, but I have never thought of any of those trips as a pilgrimage. That is, until I went on a Holy Land trip.
Last month I was blessed to join with a group of clergy colleagues led by Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson from the North Georgia Conference on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I was really looking forward to this trip, though I will admit that before I went I was not able to pin-point exactly why I was excited. Don't get me wrong, I knew that this trip would influence my personal faith and my ministry, I just wasn't sure in what ways it would. I was helped with this process by the very first devotion that we had on the trip. My colleague, who is also a very good friend of mine, led us in a devotion where she asked us the question of "why." Why had we decided to fly half-way around the world to visit this sacred place? Sure we were on a pilgrimage to the land where Jesus was born, lived and taught, died, and was resurrected. But this pilgrimage is not a requirement of our faith, it is not something that we are told we have to do in our life time. So why did we make this journey? I struggled with this question. I wasn't sure how to answer it. At first I thought that I wanted to "walk where Jesus had walked" but then realized that felt like the answer I was supposed to give, rather than the actual answer. So I continued to discern what had brought me to this place.
And then it came to me. It was as we were standing on the banks of the Jordan River where Jesus had been bapatized by John the Baptist. Bishop Sue was leading us in a time of remembering our own baptisms and it was there as I remembered the covenant that was made at my baptism, a convenant that reflected the love and grace that God has freely given me that I figured out my "Why." I wasn't in the Holy Land to "walk where Jesus walked," Rather I was there to more fully understand "how is my walk is affected because Jesus walked."
Once this came to mind I was able to see sites in a different way. I grew spiritually and had moments of overwhelming joy when we went to Magdala and we remembered the women disciples of Christ. I was able to see the number of amazing women who have held me up in my own faith and ministry. When we went to Nazareth and remembered the announcement to Mary that she would bear the son of God, I thought about the joy and the fear that sometimes goes into any of us answering the call that God puts on our lives. When we visited the pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralytic, I was reminded of the ways that the Spirit of God is able to heal us in our lives. As I walked the Via Dolorosa, the road that Jesus walked with the cross to his death, I was reminded that the way I live my life, the way I walk personally, is important. My life walk can show God's love and grace to others. I was reminded that I am able to walk this journey of life because of Christ. I am still processing my trip, but I am glad that I went on this pilgrimage. I came home determined to be mindful of the divine around me, to commit to practices that make the holy more accessible, to never ignore the feeling of God nearer to me.
Now I know that not everyone can make the Pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine. But that doesn't mean that we aren't all on our own pilgrimage of faith. Our faith walk is a journey and we find ourselves closer to God at so many different points. It might be in worship on Sunday morning, or in a Bible study. It might be sitting on the beach or walking through the woods. During this season of Lent, as we journey together towards the cross, I encourage you to reflect on how your walk has been affected because Jesus walked. I encourage you to look at the world around you and see God's grace at work all around us. Lent is a time in which we engage in self-reflection, turn away from all the things that steal life and joy form us, take on practices that enhance our spiritual development, and look towards the cross and beyond to Easter morning. It’s a perfect time to engage in a pilgrimage of your choosing. Whatever you choose, I hope that it renews you, brings you a keener awareness of the presence of God, and helps you live out the divine image in you.
Rev. Cassie Rapko
Photo Credit - Bishop Sue leading us in a remebrance of our baptisms. Dominus Flevit Church overlooking Jerusalem. Lighting a candle at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre