Our time in England has come to an end. By now most of the pilgrims have arrived home and are now getting back into the routines of our home and work lives. The past ten days have been full of experiencing new places, worshiping in different sacred spaces, and meeting new people. We have explored the different ways in which Christians have borne witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ from the first century to today. We have seen where people have died for their faith; including both Protestants and Catholics, and people of other faiths. We felt the desperation and pain of standing in the midst of a ruined past, and yet, we felt the hope of a better future that focuses on reconciliation and not further division.
We set out ten days ago to begin a sacred journey. We set out on this journey for many different reasons, with each person seeking something different. We go on pilgrimage to the sacred places related to our faith and our tradition because we are ultimately looking for a closer relationship with God. While exploring the narratives and landscapes of our faith we find God in facts, but God is also full of surprises and deep mysteries. Just like our earthly pilgrimage where we constantly encounter God in different ways, that too is our experience when we travel the world seeking God. Our hope is that by seeking God beyond our own home, work, and church we will be transformed. We will come back changed. The person who left on pilgrimage ten days ago is inevitably not the same person who returns. We carry our baggage with us on pilgrimage; our hopes and dreams, our pain and sorrow, and go hoping for God to take heal our brokenness and bring us closer to him.
What makes a pilgrimage different from just taking a tour of England is that hope of transformation. A tourist changes their environment, looking for the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar. A pilgrim lets the environment change them, immersing themselves in the unfamiliar and embracing the opportunity for transformation. A tourist on vacation goes to get away from life, to take a break from the stresses and acres of home and work. Yet a pilgrim travels to confront life’s important questions. We reflected on the issues of faith and witness, life and death, and the hope of peace and reconciliation across Christian traditions and even interfaith reconciliation. Perhaps the biggest difference between a tour and a pilgrimage is that while on pilgrimage we may have goals and challenges, risks and difficulties that we may not accept “on holiday.” We did not stay in the poshest hotels nor did we dine in the finest restaurants, though we did have some excellent cuisine. Instead we experienced wonderful hospitality from our hosts in Lancaster. We stayed in retreat houses and seminary rooms which could have been rough but we had amazing accommodations and even better food. Though we did not have any security concerns of fears as when we went to the Holy Land, as pilgrims we offer those fears to God and trust in him.
God is the God of the pilgrimage whom we seek and hope to find, and also the God of the reflection of the pilgrimage, what we saw and experienced. We experienced God in every place we went. We saw the face of Christ in the people we met. And when we return, we return transformed.
I do not know what awaits us or even where we will go on our next pilgrimage, but I know that we will encounter God in new and different ways and as such we will never be the same again.
I will leave you with the Pilgrim’s Prayer that we prayed just about every day and my prayer for you all on your earthly pilgrimage:
“St James, Apostle
Chosen among the first
You were the first to drink
The Cup of the Master
And you are the great protector of pilgrims;
Make us strong in faith
And happy in hope
On our pilgrim journey
Following the path of Christian life
And sustain us so that
We may finally reach the glory of God the Father.