On Pilgrimage

This year as Moderator promises to be a pilgrimage of sorts for me. From my own congregation of Zion, Charlottetown, throughout the congregations, colleges and missions which comprise the Presbyterian Church in Canada, I hope to be visiting and learning from you.

My favourite place to bring people on pilgrimage is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. To our Protestant eyes, there isn’t much recognizable ground. We are greeted right away by a murky darkness in sharp contrast to the bright Jerusalem day, broken only by dripping candles and smoky lanterns. We make our way up a winding marble stairway, down a mosaic-laden passageway, around a corner, and then our eyes resolve the massive icon of the crucifix itself, the bleeding body and harrowed face of Jesus, startlingly exposed amid the decorations of silver and gold, a crown of glory incongruous against his own crown of thorns. Add to this the crowds and the cameras and the incense and the chanting and the kneeling and the kissing of the altar, and you’ve got a scene as unlike our image of what was, what should be, what needs to be, as could possibly be.

So why bring you there at all? Because on either side of the spot where people kneel and pray at the altar, visible through transparent panels, is the very top of the unquarried spur of limestone which makes up the hill that was called, way back in the days of Jesus, Golgotha.

And what I tell my dazzled and overwhelmed pilgrims is this: Forget everything else. What matters is that rock, the Rock of our Faith: the astonishing, timeless, undeniable truth that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for you and for me, paying the price for our sins, and bringing us forgiveness and peace, forgiveness of one another, peace with one another, forgiveness and peace with God, and a mission to share that Good News with the world in word and deed. That’s the Rock upon which Jesus builds his church. That’s what matters.

Just like that remarkable old pile of history and stones known as the Holy Sepulchre, sometimes how we do church gets in the way of what we need to see, to understand, to do. Sometimes we get caught up with the trivialities and business and upsets and slights of our own experience of church, with the meetings and the budgets and the disputes and complaints, and something sets us off like a nine-iron to a beehive, and we get distracted by it all. We lose focus. It all stops making sense. Until we remember to look past all that, and return to the foundation, the cornerstone, the bedrock of our faith. The Rock we call Jesus, and what he did for you, for me, for all the hurting world, the world which God so loved that He gave His only son, that whoever believes, that whoever builds his life on that Rock, will never die.

Friends, let’s put distractions aside. Let’s regain our focus. Let’s build our lives and our church on the Rock, on the bedrock of our faith, on the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. No other foundation will ever survive; no other foundation will do.


Photo by SarahTz via Flickr/Creative Commons

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About Douglas Rollwage

Rev. Douglas Rollwage is minister at Zion, Charlottetown.