Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Way is Made by Walking:
An Invitation to Holy Week

The Way Is Made By Walking" is the name of a book, the travel diary of Arthur Paul Boers, who walked Spain’s famous, well-traveled, and five-hundred mile Camino de Santiago - the Way of St. James - over the course of several weeks. It was Rebekah who first read the book. She passed it on to me later. I never finished it, but not for lack of interest. Just one of those things, I suppose. And truthfully, even as I read the early chapters of the book, my mind - my attention - never moved beyond the title of the book. Its simplicity and truth stayed with me. The common sense of the words haunted me and seemed to be opening a gritty possibility not just for the pilgrim path leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, but also for the life of faith: the possibility of a tremendous distance achieved by one step. One step made over and over and over and over. Before they were called Christians, the earliest followers of Jesus were called followers of the Way. And the Way is made by walking. One faithful, painstaking step at a time.

Some of you will rightfully wonder why I marvel at this book’s title. On the one hand, how else would the Way be made, if not by walking? On the other hand, how often do we - do I - look for shortcuts to life with God that might spare us the tedium? That might bypass the mundane, non-glamorous, and all too ordinary tasks the life of faith requires? That might spare my feet the blisters and that do not ask of me something so all-consuming as - for example - a moment-to-moment commitment to seek and serve Christ in all persons? 

The prevailing culture will not fault you a life lax in daily prayer. Neither will it begrudge you the occasional  (or frequent) miserly act of self-indulgence made at the expense of your sister or brother in Christ. And surely there is mercy in the heart of Christ so that you need not fear that your failures or broken attempts to walk in the Way will disqualify you from the Kingdom. But to be reminded that the Way is made by walking is to be asked to consider both the Way and our actions, to take stock of the distance between our lips and our lives, to discover again a hunger and thirst for righteousness that God alone might satisfy, and to feel our next step directed by this hunger, nearer to God.

Sometimes the Way can feel so daunting that we despair of its possibility, and so we play at being faithful. But the Kingdom of God is not an impossibility for us. Christ has opened a way; he himself is the Way; and the Way is made by walking. The real life action of following Christ: foot lifted, extended, and brought back to earth. Over and over again. Not alone, but with the others Christ has called, with one another: feet lifted, extended, and brought back to earth. Over and over again.

Our Scriptures today are all full of walking and movement. In both readings from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ first word to his disciples is “Go!” He sets them in motion. And, of course, Jesus himself is in motion, going to Jerusalem, where he will be killed. 

The Way is made by walking, by movement, by step after step after step. Not by intellectual mastery; not even by beautiful prose (says the preacher); not by the accomplishments of one hour or one day, however shiny those accomplishments may be; not by comparison of oneself to the ones who have tried and appeared to have failed; not by faultless adherence to every rule of the Law; not by having a perfect past. The Way is not even made by purchasing power - present or future - secured as a safety net against slow or stalled progress along the pilgrim’s path; is not made by any other measure of success we’d vainly hope to substitute for the Kingdom and the King that we hail on this day. The Way is made by walking.

As we begin this Holy Week, join me in walking the story. Walking the story is why we all share different parts in the gospel reading today. We are learning our place in the story that belongs to God. Walk the story with Christ. Walk the story with this community all through this Holy Week. Walk the prayers of Wednesday night - the Stations of the Cross; walk the Passover supper, walk Maundy Thursday with this community as we visit St. Andrew’s; walk and wash one another’s feet, in obedience to our Lord; walk Good Friday here and learn the self-emptying love of God; on Saturday, walk the Great Vigil of Easter with this community at Holy Wisdom Monastery, as we encounter the beating heartbeat of the risen Lord and so also of our faith. Walk Easter Day and the joy and the glory, the risen Lord standing in the midst of his friends. Walk and walk and never stop walking. 

Yes, it’s more prayer than we’re used to. Yes, the movement will make demands of us. We might even get blisters on our souls. Sometimes the worship will move us, unexpectedly, in our depths, but we might also, if we’re honest, find ourselves bored. Like the disciples, we might fall asleep. To be sure, by the  movement of this week, we will not escape the ordinary or mundane. Rather, we will learn God’s determined and surprising commitment to exactly the ordinary, even to us: the real life movement of Christ toward the cross: foot lifted, extended, and brought back to earth. Over and over again. 

Come. Come and see how the Way is made by walking. Come, walk with Christ to the cross and new life.


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