A pilgrimage is a special sort of journey. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostela seem to be growing ever more popular - I’ve done one and would love to do the other, if I can find a spare six weeks or so to do it properly (and more time off to recover!). A new Pope has generated interest in pilgrimages to Rome, “the Holy City,” and not only amongst Roman Catholics. But you don’t need to go that far. Nearer to home we can make a pilgrimage to the tombs of Cuthbert and Bede in our own Durham Cathedral - and if you go up to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne you can walk across the sands at low tide to bring home the sense of a journey that might require a bit of effort.
A pilgrimage requires the intention of going somewhere - but it doesn’t necessarily require an understanding at the outset of what we shall find. The purpose of making the journey is to find something out along the way - the discovery of something about ourselves, about God and about God’s purpose for us. If it’s a physical journey it needs to be more than sight-seeing, always asking what is God showing me?
But to undertake a pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily require that you go that far - or even travel anywhere else at all. It can be to stay where we are, yet nevertheless explore where Christ is calling us. Lent is a special season which is a sort of pilgrimage in itself. We start on Ash Wednesday with the opportunity to recognise our need and frailty. God is calling us to repentance - and immediately promising us forgiveness and the grace to do better. That’s why ash is used at the Eucharist that day - to show us what we are reduced to the mere chemical elements of which we are composed: “to dust we shall return.” And yet God has given us a glorious calling also - of life which is made new by the love of Christ for us. The journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent and Holy Week via the Cross to Easter Day is to help us recognise that calling.
Pilgrimages are at their best when you travel with others. That’s what we should be doing whenever we gather for prayer and worship - and throughout there’s a social aspect of encouragement for one another. Let’s make the most of it this Lent, by personal dedication, in recognition of a common calling, by sharing and mutual support, by the use of resources which are there, if only we’ll look.
I’m glad that a good number of people have already signed up for a special course of study, discussion and prayer this Lent. Appropriately it’s got the title, “Pilgrim.” It’s an official publication of the Church of England. Following the course we won’t be out on our own - thousands of others will be working at it too. It’s part of a much larger series provided to encourage people on their journey of faith. This one in particular looks at the Lord’s Prayer. Intentionally it is very basic. And we need to examine the basics of our faith, to review the path of our calling if we are to grow properly. As a parish we’ve identified the need to grow in understanding of the basics of our faith and to put prayer at the heart of our life. So this course aims to fulfil both intentions.
Whether or not you’re taking part in this specific course, please make the most of Lent. As a season of just six and a half weeks it gives us all a measured course. We may not know where it will lead us as we start - but let’s pray that we’ll be better for it at its end.