This is the final installment of a Lent devotional series based on my book about pilgrimage. The posts are in reverse order. Welcome, Pilgrim!
I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. ~Revelation 21:2
Scripture calls Jerusalem home, but it has always seemed far from my home. This pilgrimage has been too brief. The places we’ve visited don’t really feel like home, not yet. But I have been changed here, in this place God chose as home. No wonder that as I prepare to leave, a powerful homecoming energy pulls at me to stay. It is illogical. This Holy Land is a place filled with great conflict, yet it shimmers with a vision of hope. Someday I will return. Someday we will all return to the new Jerusalem!
On this Easter morning may you glimpse a vision of what we cannot see but only believe.
Prayer: O Creator, welcome me into your heaven.
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. ~Galatians 6:14
We are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the place where Jesus died. We have the opportunity to stoop over, crawl beneath an altar, and reach through a hole and touch the bedrock of Golgotha. I know it is just a rock. I know it is grimy from other people’s fingers. But when I touch it, I am pierced with the knowledge that a sinless Jesus suffered for the love of us pilgrims with our grimy hands and besmirched hearts.
How might you place yourself at the foot of the cross this Holy Saturday?
Prayer: Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? ~Psalm 130:3
Headed toward the last of the stations of the cross, we pilgrims pass beneath a high window where some schoolgirls cluster. We can see them, wearing their school uniforms. The girls toss water balloons on us and yell: “It’s disgusting!” I stop and call up to them. “What’s disgusting?” They gesture toward the 4-foot cross carried by our leaders. “Your cross makes me want to vomit!” Splat goes another water balloon. My mother-heart is simultaneously full of love for them, and the urge to punish them. I wonder what Jesus would think, or say, about this interaction.
Has your religious upbringing ever told you who to love and who to hate?
Prayer: O Lord, forgive them, and forgive me, for we are all blind and foolish.
Then Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” ~Luke 22:19
The Upper Room on the Via Dolorosa was built by the Crusaders in the 11th century, so it is not “authentic” to the Holy Week story. The building was built a thousand years too late for that! Yet, our guide tells us, this spot may have similar aspects to the place where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. We look around the empty space, picturing the scene in this high-ceilinged room. Other pilgrims sing a hymn. The acoustics are lovely, and the singing devout.
How might you enter the Upper Room this Holy Thursday, even in your home church?
Prayer: O Lord, I want to receive your sacrament.
Wednesday of Holy Week
“The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him.” ~Mark 10:33–34
We pilgrims are walking the Via Dolorosa through the Old City of Jerusalem. We tromp up many steps, passing people who are arguing loudly. I can hardly hear the readings because so many schoolchildren in uniforms and backpacks stream by. We offer prayers for mercy, but they are drowned out by the roar of a diesel engine on a small tractor pulling a cart.
What circumstances have made you feel as if you can’t shout loud enough, as if even God couldn’t hear?
Prayer: O God, save me and help me.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Jesus took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him. ~Mark 10:32
We enter the Damascus Gate before dawn, in silence, to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering. Pilgrims take turns leading our group, carrying a 4-foot cross. The stations of the cross, a series of 14 stops along Jesus’ path to the cross, are not familiar to me or to the other Protestants in our group, but the readings at each stop resonate deeply with many of us. A Coptic priest hurries by, but pauses to make the sign of the cross over the cross we carry.
In what way does Jesus’ suffering give us solidarity with other Christians?
Prayer: Holy Spirit, unite me with all who love you.
Monday of Holy Week
“Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” ~Luke 22:46
The olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The roots of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane are purportedly 2,000 years old. Olive trees are known to live a long time, and these particular trees have been lovingly tended since Jesus prayed under them. The knobby roots of the trees are a reminder that prayer itself is an ancient practice, worth tending. Asking God for help in the most desperate of moments is the very core of Christian hope.
How might you pray for help today?
Prayer: O Creator, keep me from the time of trial.
Today I have the privilege of worshipping with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie at Mt. St. Benedict. Blessings to all as we enter Holy Week.
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” ~John 12:13
The Palm Sunday Chapel marks the place where Jesus is believed to have begun his triumphal journey on a donkey. Inside, the walls of the chapel are painted all around with life-sized frescoes of people waving palms. I feel as if I have entered the story. We sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” and I imagine I am one of the children, whose sweet lips sang praises.
How might you enter the spirit of adoration this Palm Sunday?
Prayer: O Lord, I adore you with a child’s heart.
The author in the Palm Sunday Chapel.
Saturday after Fifth Sunday in Lent
As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it. ~Luke 19:41
Dominus Flevit is the name of a modern church on the Via Dolorosa, outside the city gates of Jerusalem. The church was built in the shape of a tear.
The front window overlooks Jerusalem to honor the tears that Jesus wept over this city. Jesus was unafraid of tears, which are part of the universal human experience. We are born crying. We will die as others cry. This life is a “vale of tears.”
Tears unite us with others. They bring cleansing and redemption.
What does it mean to you that Jesus was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3)?
Prayer: Lord, redeem my tears and make me whole.
Friday after Fifth Sunday in Lent
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you. ~Psalm 128:2
As the days wear on, there is increasing dissatisfaction about the food we are served, which seems foreign to some members of our group. Perhaps fears get externalized to this concrete action, this thing we are in the habit of controlling: what we put into our mouths. In some senses a pilgrim has given up control of their route, agenda, and schedule. Must we also give up control of our food? Or perhaps a facet of our resistance to eating like “the other” among whom we travel is our resistance to becoming like “the other”. We are experiencing a truth: Food can be a route to spiritual transformation. It can be hard to stomach.
How have you experienced spiritual growth through what you eat or don’t eat?
Prayer: O Spirit, I open even my mouth to you.