Jesus Temptation on the Mount by Satan Duccio di Buoninsegna
Tomorrow, I’m off to Glasgow.
Now, that’s exciting…. sort of!
But, more exciting, is where I’m going to at 7.00 the next morning, leaving from the airport.
I’m travelling to Trinidad where I used to work, way back in the late 70s/early 80s. I haven’t been back since August 1983.
This time, I return as a tourist… or do I? I think that it’s more as a pilgrim. Seeing sights and places that had a profound affect on me as a young Minister in my early 30s.
I know that probably makes more sense when one thinks of a visit to the Holy Land, and the experience of visiting, for example, Bethlehem… the birthplace of Jesus.
Or it could be a journey to the Spanish city and shrine of Santiago de Compostela.
The “Way of Saint James” has been a leading Catholic pilgrimage route from the 9th century, and a particular friend went there just last year, saying what a spiritually moving experience it was.
Some people whom I know, have travelled to Graceland, the home of Elvis, not so much as tourists, but as pilgrims to a musical legend’s “shrine”.
My late wife, Helen, visited Pella in Greece, effectively to pay homage at the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
I think that there’s a subtle difference between being a holiday-maker, and someone who is a pilgrim.
A pilgrim is someone who travels to a place of great personal importance; a tourist is someone who travels for pleasure, typically just sightseeing.
Usually, the pilgrim experiences something deeper, more profound, enlightening, life-enhancing on his or her journey.
I think the key word is “experience” – personal experience.
I travel a lot, and have been lucky enough to visit Buddhist Temples in Shanghai and in Kandy in Sri Lanka. I’ve been sprayed by the waters of Niagara Falls, and have enjoyed seeing the glories of historic Istanbul …. and so on.
I enjoyed these trips… but that’s what they were: trips, holidays, excursions, tours. I’ve got the memories, and the photos, but, they didn’t change my life for good or ill.
…. as the great 20th century theologian put it:
“Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.” (Richard Niebuhr)
The tourist travels wanting the journey to be comfortable, safe, and, to a degree, familiar.
The pilgrim also sets out on a journey, but travels in search of something outside the cosy. At its core, pilgrimage is a journey into the unknown undertaken so that something new can happen.
Some years ago, I spent a wonderful time touring the amazing site of excavated Ephesus.
The tour-guide was excellent, but his pitch was aimed at the lowest common denominator
For example, at the entrance to the site are three pillars… “can anyone tell me what these are?”
Me: “Corinthian, Doric and Ionic”
Later, a sign or symbol to Nike – “anyone know who Nike was?”
“God of sneakers?” (?????!!!!)
Me: “Goddess of Speed”
The sign of the fish – “Anyone?”
Me: “ICHTHUS etc”
By this time my better half was prodding me in the ribs and telling me to stop being such a show-off.
The Guide, now curious, asked if I’d been on this tour before – which I hadn’t
“So what do you do work at?”
“OK – we’re just about to reach the Amphitheatre where St. Paul preached – would you like to talk to the group about it?”
And I did – and it was one of the most moving experiences ever: to sit where the Apostle sat and to relate his story. It was wonderful!
That’s what I think I’m trying to get at…. the personal, intimate, enhancing experience.
I’m reading just now the autobiography of Richard Coles.
Now, I guess, that most of you won’t know who he is. OK, he’s a broadcaster and writer, and a Church of England vicar.
But, in the 1980s, he was in a band – a very successful band with many hit records – named the Communards.
What a dissolute life he and Jimmy Somerville, the singer, lived: casual gay sex, drugs a plenty, and the louche rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the time.
Then something happened. A life-changing and personally enriching experience. This wanderer through life, began a pilgrimage that was to have a profound influence on his life – in a church. ……
It was in 1990 at St Alban’s Church of England Church in Holburn, London. At a Communion Service.
He writes of the profound experience he went through, “It was if iron bands, constricting my chest, broke and fell away and I could breathe; and a shutter was flung open, and light flooded in and I could see. And i wept and wept…..
……in the first rush of conversion it was all about feeling, feeling with an intensity that took me by surprise……
……I prayed so intensely that I had a sensation of colour and movement rather than words or pictures……
…..Back then my experience of the mystery of God was as vivid as anything I have ever experienced.”
In the Old Testament, Moses, led a dispirited group of Hebrew slaves from slavery to freedom.
In following God into the wilderness, they were changed – they were now sanctified by the Lord. They were pilgrims who were heading to a Promised Land.
Today’s reading from Deuteronomy recounts this story, and says that the descendents of those who were part of the great Exodus were also to live their lives as pilgrims, never satisfied with what is familiar, but moving out into the unknown where God waits to meet them.
Someone has said that the central event of the New Testament is also a pilgrimage, and Jesus is the pilgrim.
“He journeys through life, through suffering and death, and returns home to God with Good Friday scars and Easter glory. He travels not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. Jesus returns home a changed person, because all of us return home with him.”
The story of his temptation emphasises that he’s a pilgrim.
A tourist doesn’t go into a desert for forty days to fast!. He trusts God enough to remain in a strange place, in strange circumstances, for a long time. He trusts God enough that the tempter’s seductive offers don’t interest him.
He leaves the wilderness a different person: he has been tested and found to be true.
Now he is strong enough and resolute enough to continue his pilgrimage into the unknown, even though suffering and death lie ahead.
He is ready to lead his people on their new and final Exodus
This season of Lent offers opportunities to follow Jesus on his journey. To follow the Saviour who was not afraid to live and die for us. He was not afraid to pass through strange places: his abandonment, crucifixion, death, and frightening his friends when he left the tomb.
Jesus did not try to evade transformation at the hands of God, and we are the heirs of his transformation.
Once the lone pilgrim, now Jesus is the pilgrimage path, the road we are asked to take–through Lent and through life.