Friday after First Sunday in Lent
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! … .” ~Matthew 23:37
We pilgrims have been sent into the Old City of Jerusalem without a map. We wander through stone streets between crumbling walls, eventually stumbling across the Monastery of the Flagellation, built to honor the place where Jesus was beaten. A young man approaches us and offers to be our guide. A member of our group asks him: “Are you a Christian?” The young man spits a reply: “I was born in Bethlehem to Muslim parents. Now I believe nothing. How can I, here? Religion is good for nothing but hatred.” His words pierce me.
How would you respond to the young man?
Prayer: O Spirit, help me wrestle with painful questions.
Thursday after First Sunday in Lent
Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. ~Psalm 122:2
The Psalms of Ascent have accompanied us to Jerusalem; they are the songs of all pilgrims. As we pass through the ancient stone gates, Psalm 122 drifts through my consciousness. The light is low because the streets are as narrow as alleyways, with high walls. Robed women move along smoothly, carrying burdens. Men squat beside open bins, selling fruits and vegetables. The air is scented with saffron and hot oil. Cats dart past our feet. Cacophony surrounds us. There is so much life.
Can you stop, right now, wherever you are, to feel the pulse of life around you?
Prayer: O Creator, you are here, where my pilgrim feet are standing.
Wednesday after First Sunday in Lent
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people. ~Psalm 125:1–2
Bible readers may be familiar with Mount Zion. Perhaps we imagine that Jerusalem perches on a mountaintop called Zion, while it might be more accurate to say that Jerusalem sits in a bowl of mountains, nestled on top of an ancient spring. I use my pilgrim eyes to see the pillowing mountains that surround Jerusalem, just as the Psalmist describes. I want to believe that the Lord surrounds me, and my life, the way the mountains surround Jerusalem.
How has the Lord surrounded and protected your life?
Prayer: O Creator, El Shaddai, surround me.
Tuesday after First Sunday in Lent
Bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, … a land flowing with milk and honey. ~Deuteronomy 26:15
On Mount Scopus we are swarmed by unkempt boys selling panoramic posters. In the distance, Jerusalem’s walls and buildings are a dirty-dog beige. This is the view that’s printed on the posters. Members of our group haggle with the boys, while I squint at the view. My sunglasses aren’t strong enough. Meanwhile, another member reads aloud from the Hebrew Bible, familiar verses about this land of milk and honey. I raise my eyes again to try to see what is actually in front of me. Is this beige the color of a dirty dog, or is it the color of milk and honey? A pilgrim learns to question her eyes.
What eyes are you using today?
Prayer: O Lord, give me new eyes.
Monday after First Sunday in Lent
Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet habitation, an immovable tent. ~Isaiah 33:20
Every pilgrim longs to glimpse Jerusalem. The bus takes us to a vantage point called Mount Scopus. We shade our eyes against the glare of the sun. The ancient walls still stand, encasing the Old City within the sprawl of a modern city. The golden Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy site, sparkles.
During this Lent, how might you open your eyes to see the beauty, pageantry and history of your faith? Of other faiths?
Prayer: O Creator, let me glimpse your home.
First Sunday in Lent
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. ~Galatians 3:28
Pilgrims rarely travel alone. Other pilgrims are setting off on this path. They are like us, except for all the ways they are unlike us. They love Jesus. They long to be disciples. They may use different words to describe this road we travel together.
Who are your fellow pilgrims, and how can you make room in your heart for them this Lent?
Prayer: O Spirit, open my heart to my fellow pilgrims.
We’re going home, a pilgrim band.
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. ~Psalm 121:8
Today’s Holy Land pilgrims often depart via airplane. Imagine that we are boarding a plane together. We are flying east, toward the morning light. We feel time crumble beneath us, like a ridge of sand crumbles under bare toes. We pass through so many time zones that we are on the edge of a new day, one we have yet to live. It feels daring to be on this edge of newness.
What “edge” might you experience this Lent?
Prayer: O Creator, I trust you with my unlived days and minutes.
Friday after Ash Wednesday
For the Lord has chosen Zion; the Lord has desired it for his habitation. ~Psalm 132:13
The word “pilgrimage” pairs naturally with “Holy Land.” For thousands of years, pilgrims have traveled to the towns, deserts and lakeshore where Jesus set foot. They traveled most often by foot. Today’s pilgrims often travel by belching tour bus, rather than by sandal or picturesque donkey. Yet we are drawn to make the trek. “For the Lord has chosen Zion.” Even the name Holy Land suggests that this land is different from the ordinary land where you and I live. Yet this Holy Land makes news with its violence and conflict. For me, this land is both attractive and repellent, like the two poles of a magnet.
What does this Holy Land mean to your faith?
Prayer: O God, help me desire Zion as you do.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. ~ Hebrews 11:8
A pilgrim follows in the footsteps of Abraham, setting out without knowing exactly where she or he is going. The destination may not be geographical. It may be a new belief, relationship or way of living. Whatever the desired outcome may be, the journey will entail risk. There is an uncomfortable, but undeniable, connection between risk and faith.
Knowing this, what pilgrim destination might you set this Lent?
Prayer: O Creator, give me pilgrim courage.
Bible quotations are from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) and the links will take you to the text in context at Bible Gateway.
Won’t you become a pilgrim this Lent? Come with me to the Holy Land. No passport is necessary! Stop by this blog each day during Lent for a quick read — or a long pause — or a thoughtful comment — whatever suits your schedule that day.
Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech, that I must live among the tents of Kedar. ~Psalm 120:5
Who wants to be an alien? What does that mean to you?
As the ancient Hebrews journeyed toward Jerusalem on pilgrimage, they chanted the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120–134). These ancient songs reminded them that they were not the first generation to make a pilgrim journey. These Psalms can remind us of the same thing. Each pilgrim has her/his own reason for searching, but is often impelled by a particular distress or sense of alienation. I was propelled by the uneasy feeling that my faith had become shallow because of the demands of ministry.
What uneasiness is propelling you this Lent?
Prayer: Spirit of God, propel me on this pilgrim path.
These devotions are based on my book and were first published in Presbyterians Today for Lent 2012 using the cover shown. I’m modifying as I go in 2015 and invite your feedback.