For the LORD looked down from his holy place on high; from the heavens he beheld the earth;
That he might hear the groan of the captive and set free those condemned to die;
That they may declare in Zion the Name of the LORD, and his praise in Jerusalem;
When the peoples are gathered together, and the kingdoms also, to serve the LORD.
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We soon depart for Jerusalem. We have packed and repacked a dozen times. We are as ready as we can be. We are traveling light, carrying one bag each for the next two weeks.
As I read the Friday morning lectionary readings, I am struck by the passage above from Psalm 102. It left me reflecting on a very basic question:
Why are we going?
We will gather soon with fellow pilgrims, first with our friends and fellow sojourners from Northern California. Then we will gather with fellow pilgrims in Jerusalem -- and not just Christians. We will be with pilgrims from all over the world, drawn to this birth place of three great world religions. The Holy Hill of Zion, the place where it is said that Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, Isaac; where it is said that Jesus challenged the religious (and Roman) authorities; where it is said that Muhammad ascended to Heaven.
Pilgrims will be there from everywhere on this globe, bringing with them very different perspectives, very different stories, and very different interpretations of our common story. We will converge on a city many of think is the the home of the Almighty, the navel of the world. And we will be in a place with a long, bloody history of conquest, pogroms, purges, Crusades, occupation, warfare, intifada, unrest -- the most disputed and fought-over piece of ground on earth.
Why are we going?
The Psalmist helps me to articulate an answer, and perhaps it is only the beginning of an answer: We are going to the ground where the Psalmist says God heard the groans of the captives; the ground where God came to set free those who are condemned to die -- to heal them. To heal us.
From my Christian perspective, I see this ground as the place where Jesus came as the embodiment of God's compassion, the One who suffered on the Cross as a lowly human being -- as a condemned captive -- to show us a different way to live, a way of freedom and healing. And it happened right there in the Holy city where we go. We go to touch this place, to hear the story and be where all this happened. We go to feel the dust in our shoes, to enter into the story as our story.
And, as the Psalmist declares, we go to praise God in Jerusalem, "to declare the Name of Lord," and to hear others praise God, each in their own languages. We go to listen. I cannot yet imagine what that will sound like. But I can hardly wait to listen to the words, the tones, the ring of praise.
Finally, we go to serve: "When the peoples are gathered together, and the kingdoms also, to serve the LORD."
I don't yet know what that service will look like; I don't yet know where this pilgrimage will take us in serving when we return. But ultimately, for this pilgrimage to be legitimate, it will lead to serving in a new way. Somehow.
How to find out what serving will look like? That is the point of going.