Pilgrimage

Preaching and Worship Resources about Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage may not be high on the list of spiritual practices for most Protestants, but the Bible points us to the spiritual value of holy places. The problem is that many Protestant traditions turned away from what might be called a sacramental view of the world — the idea that material things, especially those appointed by the Lord, do convey spiritual reality. Seeing this truth in the biblical sacraments, we can also see it extend to other physical things, including places and spaces that become destinations for pilgrims.

In Scripture

Certain Places Were Holy Biblical authors had no problem with the idea that certain places were holy, often because they were meeting places with God. Think of Jacob's epiphany at Bethel, where he dreamed of the stairway to heaven and received the covenant blessing. Jacob gave a name to the place where this encounter occurred, precisely so he and others might return to it in commemoration. The same can be said for the oak of Mamre, Shiloh, Gilgal, and other locations.

The tabernacle, and the later temple, were not only places of worship but the destination point for annual pilgrimage. The psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134) were sung by the people of Israel on their (at least) annual pilgrimage to Zion to commemorate the feasts. "I rejoiced when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord" (Ps. 122:1). Jesus participated in this pilgrimage at the age of 12 (Luke 2) and during his ministry.

Points to Ponder

Already in the third century there is ample evidence that Palestine and Jerusalem were pilgrim destinations. Origen writes about a pilgrimage to sites of Jesus' ministry, and the fourth-century Pilgrim of Bordeaux recounts a similar journey. Soon other places — churches, monasteries, graves of martyrs, and so on — became destinations. The still well-traveled pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela began in the ninth century.

People undertake pilgrimages for many reasons — for penance, renewal of faith, Christian fellowship, commemoration of an event, and others. At heart, pilgrimage is a ritual journey for a hallowed purpose that provokes new insights and experiences that move us toward spiritual transformation. It is life in miniature, for we are all pilgrims on a journey to the City of God.

N.T. Wright "As I thought and prayed in the spot [reflecting on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher], a few yards from the place where Jesus died, I found that somehow, in a way I still find difficult to describe, all the pain of the world seemed to be gathered there . . . And then, as I continued to reflect and pray, the hurts and pains of my own life came up for review, and they too all seemed to gather together with clarity and force in that one place . . . I emerged eventually into the bright sunlight, feeling as though I had been rinsed our spiritually and emotionally, and understanding — or at least glimpsing — in a new way what it could mean to suppose that one act in one place at one time could somehow draw together the hopes and fears of all the years. I had become a pilgrim."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.