May 13, 2013, 8:45 PM
Seeking Everyday Sacredness: Pilgrimage and the Sacred Meal
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For the past several weeks we have been looking at ways to pattern our lives in ways that lead us to an everyday sacredness, a sense that we are always working with, held by, and moving toward the source and ground of our being. The practice of spiritual disciplines grounds us in God. The more we practice, the more attuned we are to God’s presence. Unless we live in a cloister, most of us will not engage all the spiritual practices, but it is important to identify the ones that are most helpful to you. Today we are going to look at two different practices that are similar; perhaps even tied to one another.
The first is pilgrimage. Ours is only one of many religions that holds pilgrimage as a spiritual practice. Many Christians long to visit the Holy Land, to see the places mentioned in the Bible, to walk where Jesus walked. Some follow the church planting journey of the apostle Paul; others want to see the catacombs and cathedrals of Rome. I have friends who are traveling to Ireland and Scotland to spend time in ancient monasteries where sacred writings were preserved. Our son wanted to worship in the global community at Taizé. Pilgrimages are journeys toward a place where others have experienced the presence of God with the hope that we too will feel God’s touch on our lives. The photo on the cover of the bulletin is of a cairn, a stack of rocks that mark a trail. Hikers set up cairns along trails so that others may find their way and not get lost in confusing surroundings. We set out to leave our everyday life behind in order to meet God in a place others have inspiration, healing, and hope. Pilgrimage can be a journey toward a deepened faith.
Sometimes pilgrimage is a return to a place where God’s presence has been palpable in the past. Just like going home on Mother’s Day, some pilgrimages take us to a spiritual home. I didn’t realize how powerful the sense of place can be until Steve and I went to Lazy F, the United Methodist camp and retreat center near Ellensburg this weekend. We were there to do a training session and I think Steve would tell you that it is a lovely place. I told him as we walked the path from our lodge to the dining hall that I felt like I was home. Not home, like my parents’ home or Steve’s and my home, but my spiritual home. Quite unexpectedly, my spirit felt like it had landed at home. I was so surprised by that feeling that I had to figure out why. Can I just briefly tell you some of the scenes that flashed before my eyes? I was a brand new pastor attending the Three Year Academy for Clergy New to the Conference learning how to be a part of this conference in a cohort of other new pastors. We built trust together with ropes exercises, teaching sessions, games, and long talks over meals. Later, I was a co-leaders of the Three Year Academy helping newer pastors find their way and building sacred relationships with the other members of our leadership team and the new pastors. We helped each other grow in our individual faith and practice of ministry. I was camp pastor there for 5th and 6th graders and teens in the summer and over Christmas break. I got to be a part of their faith journey from crazy games, late night walks in deep snow hearing their stories, to standing in the middle of the stream teaching them that like the individual drops of water that made up that stream, they were a part of God’s river of life. I remember climbing a shale-y hill to pray at the cross and nights signing around the campfire. I cannot tell you how powerful and palpable God’s presence is in those memories. My spirit was at home as I paused on the bridge across the rushing stream and remembered setting a symbol of my hopes for my ministry into the water so many years ago having no idea where God would take it and me. Pilgrimage can take us home to be renewed and refreshed.
In Bible study this Wednesday, someone asked if pilgrimage could also be the return each morning to a daily devotion—and that can be a daily pilgrimage. Returning to a place set apart in our homes to be quiet with God is a kind of pilgrimage. It is a daily reminder that our spiritual lives are a journey. Even though we may be planted in one place, our spirits can move closer to God, higher in purpose, deeper in love. I have a student, a Benedictine oblate, who practices the Benedictine vow to place: finding God where you are. Pilgrimage in any form is a journey toward God, deeper faith, and becoming fully—wholly—who we are created to be. Often we find markers along the way as a memorial God’s presence in a place, like the stones that the Israelites set up at the edge of the Jordan River in Gilgal. Every time their children asked about those stones, their parents were to recount the story of God’s mighty work in detail—a marker along the journey of faith. Every time they saw the marker, they were to remember and tell the story.
Jesus gave us a different kind of marker to help us remember. It is the holy meal. We may call it communion, the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) or simply the meal. Jesus told his disciples that every time they broke bread and drank wine together, they were to remember him. In that remembering was also the memory of them being together, of being a part of each other’s lives. “Whenever you break bread, remember me.” Communion is our memorial stone. When we see the bread and wine, we know we are here to remember Jesus and to become part of each other’s lives. When we break bread together in each other’s homes, we connect, learn about each other, share food, and become part of each other’s lives. Communion is not only celebrated in worship, it is celebrated around your family’s dinner table and at lunch with a friend. In many emerging Christian communities, the meal is a full meal. We may start with the symbols of bread and wine in worship, but the communion continues at coffee hour as you sit around tables eating cookies and fruit and drinking coffee. We are aware of Christ’s presence when we break bread and give thanks. I invite you to try this the next time you eat with family or friends. Take a piece of bread from the table, break it, and say “Thanks be to God for food and friends,” or “We belong to God and to each other.” We can find everyday sacredness in every meal that we share when we remember that we are followers of Jesus, that we belong to God; when we remember that we are part of each other.