My first hike up the old, eternal Cave Rock—situated on the Eastern shore of our lake—occurred on February 12th, 2015. It was my first and thankfully not my last trip to Tahoe. My beloved had taken me on a pilgrimage to sacred sites surrounding the Lake. The day was unseasonably warm with bluebird skies, as if spring had sprung upon us early. Upon reaching the top of this pinnacle of God’s good creation, as the sun was setting behind the Sierra horizon, my beloved knelt down on one knee and asked me one simple question. As the shock settled and the tears subsided a bit, I nodded and gave him my affirmative answer.
Then this past Monday evening, February 12th, 2018, I found myself hiking again up the old, eternal Cave Rock. It was a blustery day to say the least: the wind whipped through my hair, and the snow swirled about me. The clouds were an ominous deep purple and dark gray and navy blue, gathering along the Sierra horizon. The gusts picking up the further along the rocky face we climbed. Merlin, the parish pup, trying to turn around numerous times. Yet as my beloved and I reached the top, I knew I had been here before, and yet somehow I was different. I did not feel that same elation or ecstasy, or shock and surprise, but instead I felt a simple but deep and abiding wellspring of contentment. This same pilgrim journey I had embarked on three years earlier, was just as significant as the first time I walked it. Yet even though I had retraced my previous steps, my narrative of this place had been slightly rewritten, because I met that liminal space with a new understanding of myself, my husband, and the love we share.
Our Scriptures are full of such journeys, places of overwhelming sacredness that are revisited over and over again, pilgrimage after pilgrimage, layers upon layers of spiritual significance being built up generation after generation. Today’s Gospel passage from Mark oozes with allusions to past pilgrimages—Jesus retracing the steps of those who have come before him. For example, his wandering sounds familiar to Moses and the Israelites wandering through the wilderness for forty years before they entered the Promised Land. Yet although God had just liberated them from the hands of the Egyptians, the Israelites rebelled, stumbled, and complained throughout their pilgrim journey. But then today, right after his baptism in the River Jordan, we encounter Jesus retracing the steps of the Israelites, himself wandering in the wilderness for forty days. Yet Jesus withstands all the temptations, all of the tests that are thrown his way on his own pilgrim journey. In his wandering, Jesus rewrites the wilderness narrative from a story of fear and frustration as to the future ahead, to a tale of empowerment for the work of ministry.
Or let’s consider verse 11 in today’s Gospel passage—that beautiful affirmation from above: “You are my son, the beloved.” This is the first time Jesus hears these words, has been in such sacred space, in the Gospel according to Mark. And these words are so shocking, so striking, so startling that Jesus is driven a little crazy by the Spirit, leaving the home and people he knows for those forty whole days—wrestling with his own identity as God’s beloved son. But this will not be the only time Jesus will revisit such a statement, will occupy such a similar sacred space. If you recall our Gospel reading from Mark last Sunday, Jesus retraces his own relationship with God the Father as he is transfigured before Peter, James, and John during that mountain top moment. In this Scripture story we again hear that affirmation from above: “You are my son, the beloved.” This time the statement does not cause Jesus to go out and wrestle with this information, but instead it signifies a fulfillment of his true self, his inherent identity, his mission and ministry in this world. Jesus has been in this position before, has occupied such liminal space, and yet in in the few chapters of Mark’s Gospel, his understanding of his own self has shifted drastically.
Then at the end of Jesus’ earthly journey—as he takes part in the Passover pilgrimage of God’s chosen people to the holy city of Jerusalem—he will retrace the steps of countless children of God who have gone before him. Yet this time, the Passover pilgrimage will be different, because Jesus himself will display to humankind the greatest example of love and substitute himself as a sacrifice so that the story of salvation can be slightly rewritten; so that all can be claimed as God’s chosen people; so that all can be called God’s beloved sons and daughters.
Perhaps you have had a similar experience—revisiting a place, retracing your steps, remembering the past. Yet you realize that although you are physically in the same space, your soul has shifted and your narrative has been slightly rewritten. If anything, we all have been here before: at this point in the liturgical calendar, at the commencement of these forty days, at the start of our Lenten pilgrimage. There is the familiar feeling of ashes on our foreheads; the change in cadence of our worship; the spiritual simplicity with no flowers in the sanctuary, with sackcloth linens for our vestments, with a focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Yet no matter how many times we have retraced the steps of this Lenten season, we are in need of such a sacred space in our lives once again, for we are different this time around. Perhaps we are going through this Lenten season for the first time without a loved one. Or perhaps we are finally coming to terms with a debilitating addiction. Or perhaps we have decided we do not want to live in fear or anxiety anymore. Or perhaps we are struggling with our mental, emotional, or physical health. And because we are different this time around, the story will be slightly rewritten.
Lent is our spiritual reminder that our whole lives we are on this pilgrim journey. We are given opportunity after opportunity to retrace our steps, to reenter moments of sacred space, to reconsider how we need God to transform our lives—how we need Jesus to walk with us in our trials and our troubles. Like the shooting that happened in Florida this past week. We have been here before. We have grieved the lives lost too young. We have mourned alongside the victims’ friends and family. We have questioned over and over again how we can change such a screwed up system. But this time around, as we retrace our steps, as we shuffle along this sorrow-filled yet sacred space where God breaks into our lives and shows us the societal sins we have committed, we have the opportunity to stay the same or to rewrite our own story.
So my friends, as we embark on this pilgrim journey together, as we embrace these holy days before us, as we retrace our steps this Lenten season—walking with Jesus all the way to the cross and then thankfully the empty tomb—, what do we need to wrestle with in our own wilderness moments? Where are we willing to let God enter in and reshape us like never before? How will we rewrite the story this time around?