Wait for it… As our Thanksgiving holiday nears, we can expect the appearance of images of pilgrims or Puritans. In the U.S. the word pilgrim and Puritan are often used interchangeably. However, the religious meaning of the word is better understood in other countries where pilgrimages are an important and regular religious practice.
While planning my sabbatical in India for the first two months of 2012, little did I know that the time I would spend in this most holy land would take place during the peak season for pilgrimages. My first month was spent in South India, a part of India known for its numerous and spectacular temples and sacred sites. Enormous numbers of pilgrims flock to these sacred sites each and every day, eager to attain a vision of the divine and, through this “seeing” or “darshan,” a spiritual transformation. It felt like the whole country was on a spiritual journey.
As we approach the beginning of Advent, pilgrimage is an apt characterization of the journey that we begin as Christians during this season. Our liturgical year is the reenactment of the drama of our salvation. Advent begins our journey toward the feast of Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation. Traveling through the drama of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, our journey culminates with the celebration of Christ’s ultimate victory on the feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of our liturgical year, this year falling on November 24.
On the first Sunday of Advent, we will set off on a pilgrimage to the fulfillment of God’s promises and plans for our salvation. In our liturgy, we will hear from the prophet Isaiah who will use the image of a pilgrimage to describe the great gathering of the future, announcing that all nations will stream toward the mountain of the Lord, the place where God dwells.
The pilgrims will be instructed in the ways of God, and their response will be to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise a sword against another, nor shall they train for war anymore. What a timely and hope-filled promise!
Thus we will soon begin our pilgrimage, once again. We embark toward the future foretold by the prophet Isaiah, a vision of universal peace and reconciliation among nations and religious bodies, among ethnic groups and families. Not far down the road (Christmas) the Son of God, Immanuel, will join us. This is a time of great anticipation, urgency, and a time to “get ready.” This is what is ahead for us. It is up to us to decide whether or not we will join the pilgrimage. We have special services and events planned for Advent. Come and see. Peace, Peter