I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (1)
Right about now would be a good time to go on pilgrimage to anywhere south of the frozen tundra we call Michigan. That would be reason to rejoice like the writer of this psalm. Actually it has been a relatively mild winter so I’m not sick of it yet. Last Saturday we had spring like weather and yesterday we were snowed in with a foot of snow in drifts in our driveway. Such are the joys of Michigan weather.
Psalm 122 is a song of ascent, written by a pilgrim to Jerusalem after the exile. The writer is happy to go to Jerusalem, the holy city. “Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (2) He extols the virtues of the city, “Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together to which the tribes go up . . . to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” (3-4)
He then asks for prayers for the city, something needed back then and today. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! ‘May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers!’ For my brethren and companions sake, I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’” (6-8)
The tradition of pilgrimage has been with us for centuries, since before the birth of Christ, as evidenced by this psalm. After Jesus’ death, it became common for Christian pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land, the sites of Jesus’ life. This was a perilous journey requiring money and time that your common person didn’t have. During the Middle Ages, the devout devised a way to travel to these sites without leaving their churches. This is how the Stations of the Cross, with fourteen stations representing different aspects of Jesus’ last hour, were created as a way for pilgrims to journey in their minds through Jesus’ death, a practice common to this day during Lent. It is a way to journey in place.
People still make pilgrimages to holy places. Muslims are required to journey to Mecca at least once in their life; Jews still reverence Jerusalem and the Temple and value travel there. There are numerous holy sites throughout the world for people to visit. Ultimately though, while on this earth we are all pilgrims on a journey through life to death.
We are a pilgrim people. Our earthly homes are but temporary stations on our way through life. Death is the final frontier, the end to our journey. Happy are they who say with the psalmist, “When they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of God,’ my heart leaped for joy.” (The Message)
I hope that I will rejoice as well when I hear the Lord call my name, bringing me to the New Jerusalem.
Have you ever made a pilgrimage? I would love to hear about it.