A Journey Gone Awry

A Journey Gone Awry

Christians have a long history of going on pilgrimages to holy sites. One of the most challenging of these is the Camino de Santiago which winds through southern France and northern Spain for some 500 miles, ending up at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in the northwest of Spain. Tradition says that the remains of St. James are buried here, and the Camino pilgrimage attracts thousands of hikers every year.

Pilgrimages are an enacted, physical representation of our journey towards Christ. Ideally, the pilgrim is more than a spiritual tourist. The physical demands of the journey translate into a spiritual deepening, as each step becomes a prayer. Arriving at the destination, the pilgrim is cleansed and ready to encounter the holy site and receive its blessings. But the key to the pilgrimage is a trust in the path which has been trod by others before. If the pilgrim just sticks to the path, they will arrive at the destination changed, but not lost.

But being human, often full of hubris and self-delusion, some of us want to try a different path, or take a shortcut. We want to be trailblazers rather than merely path-followers. And, all too often, we look at the difficult portions of the path and start hunting wildly about for easier alternatives. Jesus’ pilgrimage to the cross during Holy Week did not diverge from the hard path set before him. But the pilgrimage of the crowds – the mob – is a different story.

On Palm Sunday the crowds cheered “Hosanna to the Son Of David” as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, but by Friday the same mob was screaming “Crucify him!” How did they get so derailed, so quickly? Within the space of a few days they turned their golden-crowned hero, destined for victory, into a bloodied prisoner destined for execution.

It’s easy, of course, for us to say, “Oh, that was just them.” As if “them” is not us. We can take a cursory glance at history to see how easily mobs can be swayed, and we can see it in our own time as well. Untruth leverages fear and unmet expectations to confuse and rile up the crowd to the point where wrong becomes right, and light becomes darkness. But we are not led astray by abstract concepts. Untruth favors the trailblazers who want to go a different route, one that favors them regardless of the consequences to others.

In the passion story of Holy Week, the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees fill that role. The religious hierarchy perceives Jesus as a threat to their power, which is based in large part on collaboration with the Roman occupiers. Jesus may offer salvation and eternal life, but he can’t be allowed to disturb the status quo, or bring down the wrath of the Romans. Ironically, the Romans, represented by Pontius Pilate, don’t perceive Jesus to be any kind of a threat at all. It is the fears and fantasies of the religious hierarchy that causes them to inject the mob with the same fears and fantasies, which finally led to the cries of “Crucify him!” Forgotten was the Son of David, the King of Kings, and in their place reigned abject bloodthirstiness, demanding Jesus’ blood in lieu of theirs. Which, of course, Jesus gave them. And we wonder why people say we don’t deserve it. Christ’s pilgrimage was laid out carefully and the path very carefully followed, even in bloodied footsteps. But our pilgrimage journey went awry as we were led away on the easy paths of untruth that took us nowhere.

So, is that it? Once we have fallen off the sure path we are doomed? If the salvation story of Christ ended on the cross, we would indeed be doomed. But there is another story of grace, redemption and resurrection that follows on Easter morning. It is, if you will, the path that leads back to the sure path; the path that sets us back on our pilgrimage towards Christ.

When you complete your pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, you will arrive at the beautiful and historic Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which means St James of the Field of Stars. There you can look through the thousand-year-old, Romanesque style cathedral. You might stand in awe of its majesty and the holiness that it surrounds and, if you are there at the right time, you can go through the Porta Santa (Holy Door) which leads straight to the tomb of St. James under the main altar. All of this was attainable by staying on the true path, through the long miles and difficult passages, to arrive at something truly holy. You were not misdirected by fear or untruth; you were not sidetracked by tempting diversions. You did not listen to the mob as they screamed and moaned. You listened to, and followed, the One who kept you from stumbling along the way, and that is what made all the difference.

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