The reading: Saint Luke 18 v 34
“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem”
We go up. There is a journey. The idea of life as a journey is a compelling and common metaphor. It signifies a sense of purpose and indicates a sense of direction. But not all journeys are the same. The differences lie in the conception of the end which conditions the means. Lent would remind us of the character of the Christian journey.
The journey is the pilgrimage of the soul to God and it is a pilgrimage with God. The end is union with God and God makes our way to him with us. We are apt to forget how remarkable this really is. There is our human desiring, on the one hand, our quest for God, the odyssey of the human soul, as it were, but there is, on the other hand, the divine desiring, that is to say, God’s will for us.
The biblical sense of journey sets our human desiring upon a divine foundation. God calls Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. God sets us upon our way. But what is that way? Is it the way of denial, the way of forsaking all that we hold dear? Yes, but only so as to find everything in the will of God. Again, that first biblical pilgrimage, the pilgrimage of Abram sets the course for all the rest: “I will bless you, and make your name great....by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves”. The biblical journey is itself a blessing.
The journey is the way of sacrifice, to be sure, but it portends the greater accomplishment, the building up of the household of God in which none of the parts is lost but each finds their place in the whole. Such is the body of Christ, as St. Paul would teach us. What has to be forsaken is our continual tendency to mistake the part for the whole or to deny everything else in reality except our own self-will. Such are the disorders of sin which result in suffering and death. The biblical journey does not deny the realities of sin and suffering but makes the way of pilgrimage through them. The point is made in this morning’s psalm.
Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee, / in whose heart are the pilgrim ways;
Who going through the Vale of Misery use it for a well; / yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength, / and unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion. (Ps. 84. vv.5-7)
The pilgrim ways mean going “through the Vale of Misery” and finding it a well of blessings. The journey is the way of suffering and sacrifice in which something good is learned and everything is redeemed.
But why is the journey the way of suffering? Because our way to God must pass through the ways of our rejection of God, because our way to God is the way of redemptive suffering in which the disorders of our souls - our disordered loves - are set in order. The disciplines of Lent are altogether about this. They don’t involve a flight from the world and the extinguishing of our desires so much as they intend “the setting of love in order”. They embrace the three essential characteristics of the Christian pilgrimage: the way of purgation; the way of illumination; and the way of union.
The way of purgation intends the removal of all that stands between us and God, the removal of sin and wickedness. God’s will to be reconciled with his sinful creation is indicated, for instance, in the Old Testament story of Noah and the Flood. God’s will is not to destroy but to restore and begin again. And so, too, with Christian baptism. It sets us upon our way with God. The way of purgation is a fundamental part of that way. God’s will to be reconciled with us has to be realised in our lives, in the pattern of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the baptismal pattern. “Baptism represents unto us our Christian profession” (BCP). There has to be the constant recalling of that divine will for us, the continual renewal of our souls in love, and, of course, our perseverance in this pattern of life. The season of Lent was traditionally the time when persons were prepared for baptism. It remains for us as the time when we are especially reminded of our baptismal profession, when we are especially reminded of our covenant with God and of the blessing of our journey with God.
The way of illumination intends our greater understanding of the will of God, the opening of our eyes to see the workings of God’s will. Lent reminds us of the importance of the reading and study of God’s Word, for “thy word is a light unto my path”.
The way of union reminds us that our end is with God and that God is with us in the way of our journeying. The perfecting of our wills is accomplished in the union of our wills with God’s will. He goes the way of suffering for us and with us.
The great gospel for this day sets us upon the path of our journeying. It focuses our attention upon the cross of Christ. It is there that the ways of purgation, illumination and union meet. It is the condition of our journeying. As Bonaventure puts it, “There is no path but through that most burning love for the crucified” (The Journey of the Mind to God).
“All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished”, Jesus says. What are all those things? They are the things of sin and salvation. Jesus tells us what these things are in very graphic and concrete terms; he speaks of his passion, his death and resurrection. And yet, it seems that though he tells us, we don’t get it. We don’t understand at first; these things are hidden from our eyes in just his telling us of them. What will it take? Somehow we have to go through them; somehow we have to see them in the form of the crucified Christ. Yet it is wanted that we should come to understand and that our love should be set afire by what we are given to understand through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He goes this way for us. But he goes this way so that we might understand and love all the more.
“Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three”, St. Paul tells us in the epistle which follows directly upon this morning’s second lesson. Faith as a form of knowing - seeing but as in a glass darkly - speaks to our minds. Hope as longing and desiring speaks to our wills. But charity is the greatest of these. Why? Because it is the union and the perfection of faith and hope and all the other virtues. Charity is the knowing love of God in our souls by which we are joined to God.
In the gospel, Jesus heals the blind man who wouldn’t shut up, that is to say, he called out incessantly to Jesus for mercy. He receives his sight and went about glorifying God. Jesus is the one in whom the love of God restores us to the vision of glory. Such is the purpose of Lent. The journey is the pilgrimage of love. It is that “still more excellent way”. It is the journey with God.
Jesus says, “we go up”, not I go up, or you go up, but “we go up”. It is not just himself, but we with him. Jesus wants us to go with him in the way of his sacrifice for us, the way at once of purgation and illumination and union. Lent would remind us of the essential elements of our Christian pilgrimage. It is the way to God but only “through the burning love of the Crucified”, the love which purges, illumines and unites.
“Behold we go up to Jerusalem”
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church/ Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston on Tasmania,