Our Lenten Pilgrimage

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B

Mark 1:9-15


A shot taken at San Damiano while on pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy
A shot taken at San Damiano while on pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy


I must admit,

I was not prepared to hike down the mountain.

I was not prepared to leave the spiritual elation

Of the season of Epiphany,

I was not prepared to follow Peter, James, and John

Off of the peak where we heard of Christ’s transfiguration.

I was not prepared on this past Ash Wednesday,

To admit I was dust,

To begin the forty days of fasting, praying, and alms giving.

I was not prepared for the journey through the never-ending wilderness.


Yet today we are called to begin our pilgrimage of Lent,

To walk side by side with Jesus,

Through his hunger and thirsting,

Through his tempting by Satan,

And wander back with him back to his home in Galilee.


Yet how is this forty-day period,

Which perhaps we are following begrudgingly in order to get to Easter,

A pilgrimage?

This wandering in the wilderness,

This Lenten season

Is a pilgrimage because it is driven by the Spirit,

It require us to trust in God,

And it allows for a time for self-reflection and rediscovery.


Phil Cousineau, the author of The Art of Pilgrimage writes,

What makes pilgrimage sacred is the longing behind the journey.


When I began my preparation to study abroad at Cambridge University last fall,

With feet firmly planted on the soil of the states,

I felt a stirring in my soul,

I felt a strong desire to journey to Scotland,

To visit the homeland of my ancestors,

To walk in the footsteps of the saints,

And it was a longing I could not ignore.

I felt driven,

Almost uncontrollably,

To this sacred space and life changing land.


And on this first Sunday of Lent,

In today’s Gospel,

In Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism,

We hear, “And the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.”

“The Spirit drove him,

Out into the wilderness.”

Christ’s journey begins

Before he takes one foot out of the water to step onto that desert sand.

As the Holy Ghost descends from heaven,

And enters into Christ

He cannot ignore the driving force of the Spirit of God.

And he must go.


And we, sitting in the pews of Grace Church,

Have also felt this same pulling of the soul.

We reside in a world, in a century,

Where going to church on a Sunday morning,

Is no longer the societal norm.


After talking to the youth of this church,

I have learned the painful reality that calling oneself a Christian

In Massachusetts in 2015

Can lead to ridicule and bullying

And being declared, “Weird,”

And, “Un-cool.”

Yet we all are here

Because there is a longing,

A stirring within our souls we cannot ignore.

The Spirit has driven us to search for the Divine in our midst.



In his book on pilgrimage, Cousineau also writes,
“We can plan only so much. Then we must let go and trust in the God of synchronicity.”


While preparing for my pilgrimage to Scotland,

This type A, ENFJ personality

Planned, Planned and then planned some more.

I planned,

The sites I would visit,

The transportation I would take,

The clothes I would need,

To have the safest and most comfortable journey possible.

Yet the most transformative moments of my travels

Were the moments that were completely un-planned and unexpected.

Like a spontaneous hike across the isle of Kerrara,

A wild island off the coast of Oban, Scotland

Only accessible by ferry,

Inhabited my less than ten individuals.


As I walked across this isle,

Pulling my soaked feet out of the bog,

Blisters forming on my heels,

Hope sinking

It seemed like I would never reach the castle ruins,

On the Western end of the island.


Yet just as I was about to turn back,

I crested a hill covered with purple thistle and heather

And below me I saw the castle ruins,

Sitting stilly over the crashing turquoise waves of the aggressive Atlantic Ocean.

And it was one of the most majestic sites I have ever seen.

I saw God in all of the creation surrounding me.

It was in this moment that was not on my itinerary,

That I had not brought my hiking boots for,

Where I felt so close to God.


In today’s Gospel,

As Jesus sets forth on his forty days of wandering in the wilderness,

We do not hear much of his preparation.

In fact it seems as though Christ has taken nothing with him

Into the desert beyond the Jordan.

As soon as the Spirit descends upon him and drives him out,

Jesus goes,

Without food,

Without water,

Without shelter.

Yet Jesus trusts in his father in heaven.

Jesus rides through the temptations of Satan,

As recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke,

And comes out on the other side of these struggles,

Eating the food of heaven,

Waited upon by angels.


And as we enter our own wilderness,

As we begin this forty days of Lent,

No matter how prepared we may or may not be,

We are called to let go of the control we pretend to have over our own lives.

And to trust in God.

We are called to remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return.

As Thoreau once wrote

We are called back to:




Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving

We remember how much we and others do in fact rely on God for our needs.


Pilgrimage is a spirit–driven journey,

An opportunity to fully turn our trust to God,

And it is also a time for the renewal, rediscovery, and reorganization of the self.


Again Cousineau writes:

“Pilgrimage is often regarded as the universal quest for the self.”


While on my own wanderings in Scotland and eventually in England,

I didn’t realize at first,

But what I was searching for the whole time was my true self,

The self with the image and likeness of God.

As I became more aware of the theology of Celtic Christianity,

I realized that it was a reflection of my own personal theology,

An understanding of one’s self and the whole created order as inherently good

And as reflecting the beauty of the Divine.

Christ is within every mountain,

Every valley,

Ever seed,

And every star,

Every friend,

Every stranger,

And even within my very self.

And in you.

And you.

And you.


This sense of self-realization is also present in Mark’s Gospel.

Today we heard a coming of age narrative.

Jesus’ identity was declared to him by God’s voice from heaven,

“You are my Son, the Beloved.”

And he immediately goes out on pilgrimage

And wrestles with this Divine identity in the wilderness.

And as Jesus returns to his home,

As he returns to Galilee in Judea,

Who Jesus actually is,

Fully divine and fully human,

Is realized in his public mission and ministry that commences

As soon as he strides out of the desert.


And in these forty days of Lent,

We too begin to recognize

That through Jesus Christ,

Through God incarnate,

We too have been given a name,

An identity,

And a worth as human beings.

At the end of this wandering in the wilderness,

At the end of this season of Lent,

At the end of these forty days

We will walk in the footsteps of Christ to Calvary,

And approach the cross on Good Friday.

And as we stand at the foot of that cross,

Besides Mary the mother of God,

Mary Magdalene,

And John, the beloved disciple,

We will finally realize that through this sacrifice,

We have been claimed by Christ as the beloved children of God.

This is where our Lenten journey leads,

To the foot of the cross,

And the realization that we ourselves are children of God.


But how do we make the most out of this pilgrimage?

How do we reorient ourselves

So that Lent is not just another season and color on the every spinning liturgical calendar?


According to the eastern philosopher Confuscious,

There are five excellent practices of pilgrimage:



Practice the arts of attention and listening.

Sit in stillness sometimes.

Observe the falling snow,

The shape of the crystals on your window pane—

And the other twelve feet of snow outside your door.

Listen to your breath.

Hear the inhale and exhale given to us by the very Spirit of God

That moved over the waters of Creation.



Practice renewing yourself every day.

Take time for self care.

To do what gives you energy—

Meditation, singing, dancing, enjoying a good book,

Or curling up by the fire in the arms of your beloved.



Practice meandering toward the center of every place.

When I moved to New England I finally learned the art of power walking.

Yet as I have adopted the practice of pilgrimage,

I have had to relearn that southern art of moseying meandering,

Of not taking the quickest and most direct route to where we are going.

There is a reason why Lent is forty days,

And not just the seven days of Holy Week.



Practice the ritual of reading sacred texts.

Read your favorite psalm every day.

Or read the entirety of the Gospel of Mark.

Or perhaps your sacred is Emerson, Muir or Thoreau.

Or throw a bit of Julian of Norwich in there as well.

Let the words wash over you,

Echoing the voice of God.


And fifth,

Practice gratitude and praise–singing.

Journal at the end of each day those things you are thankful for.

Your family,

Your friends,

Perhaps Taylor Swift’s song “Shake it Off”

That you dance to while getting ready in the morning.

Thank God for the little things.

So that when Easter does finally come,

The long awaited shouting of Alleluia

Will be filled with all of our gratitude and praise.


I pray that this Lenten season

Will be your pilgrimage,

That liminal space

Where earth and heaven meet.



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