How many of us ever really use the word journey? We say things like, “I’m going on vacation..” or, “I’m going to take a trip…” Or “We’re driving too…” Can you even think of a time when you used the word, “Journey?”
When religions use the word journey they often means something like a quest. And because it’s a quest, it means the journey will have a degree of difficulty to it. A journey will be arduous in some way – with a distant, perhaps unattainable goal. A journey is filled with uncertainty and danger. By comparison a road trip in a comfortable car is hardly a journey.
Ancient people went on journeys. I think of my ancestral grandmother who left England some 150 years ago to travel as a pioneer by boat, train, wagon train, and on foot, to arrive at her destination in Utah. For her, and many others of our ancestors, journeys like these were both physical and spiritual, arduous and dangerous, and completely compelling…it simply had to be done!
A journey means to move from one place to another …however the religious journey can take place with out the person ever moving physically….this kind of journey or quest involves an inward movement, it’s a process of transformation. We understand it as movement or transformational because in the spiritual journey the struggle, which is ultimately grounded in God’s grace, serves to deepen our faith, and we come to know ourselves and God in new ways.
Our Bible is filled with examples of people on a spiritual journey. Abraham is one of the first. He and his wife Sarah are literally called by God and told to move to a new land. So, by all intents and purposes this move appears to be physical. But in the process of this physical move Abraham and Sarah are changed from the inside out. In the Bible this is signified by the change in their names. Notice that the first few times we hear of them they are Abram and Sarai…after the spiritual journey they are renamed Abraham and Sarah. The same thing happens when Jacob is renamed Israel, Simon is renamed Peter, and Saul is renamed Paul….all examples of people who are called on a spiritual journey and changed.
So Abraham and Sarah leave their home and travel to God knows where and settle down. God has promised them certain things if they do as God asks. One thing God promises is a lot of kids, and then, a lot of land. As we read Genesis we come to learn that none of this is easy. Despite God calling Abraham and Sarah, and despite their willingness to follow, nothing is really all that easy. An easy life is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. It might be, but usually it’s not. Often God’s call is instead filled with challenges and difficulty, it’s emotional and hard. We learn, as we read Genesis that Abraham and Sarah are not perfect people, but flawed and broken. They have to wait a long time for God’s promise to be fulfilled. They doubt God, laugh at God, and yet continue to try and follow what God wants. Over time Abraham and Sarah become more real to us, they are very much like us, in their brokenness. Not only Abraham and Saran, but so many others in Bible remind us that God does not call perfect people to be God’s servants, but broken people filled with doubt and frustration.
As Christian we mark our faith journeys in several ways. We have our own individual faith journeys. Some of us have Spiritual Directors to guide our lives and help us decipher where God may be in our lives. Some of us journal, writing down what is going on with the hope of understanding how the events of our lives, the movements we experience, are pointing us in a direction toward God. But for most of us our faith journey happens in church on Sunday morning, in the context of a gathered community worshiping. Many of us probably don’t even think that our coming to church on Sunday and worshiping with a community is a faith journey, but it is.
As Christians the spiritual journey is distinctively one of community. We travel with Jesus and also as the Body of Jesus. And the point of our travel with Jesus and as Jesus, is to those in need. And not only do we journey with each other on Sunday morning but we also journey with those who have gone before. The goal of our journey is to arrive in Christ in such a way as to actually know ourselves to be the body of Christ. Spiritually speaking, by virtue of our baptism, we are Christ in the world. And so, along the way, on this quest, the journey, we end up searching for what we already have, God’s blessing on our lives. Abraham and Sarah were called by God, took a long journey, were blessed by God, and changed for ever. So are we.
One way we journey as community in worship is through an intentional participation in the liturgical seasons of the year. By this I mean the seasons that the church has identified and named in order to help connect us to the life of Christ. Our journey, our church year, always begins in late November or early December when we start a new year with the season of Advent.
Advent is the season that falls as the days are at their shortest and the nights their longest. It’s a time of waiting for the birth of Emmanuel, which means Christ with us. The season of Advent is marked by darkness and the color blue, the deep blue of a night sky. It is a season that reminds us that there are times when we wait for God, but that God will come. Advent points us toward Christmas in which we learn that God comes over and over again in new ways and changes us in the process. We will mark Advent with the color blue, with the Advent candle and greens, and with a different Eucharistic prayer, Prayer C, which is one that speaks about waiting, mystery, new life.
Advent is followed by the birth of Christ and the color white. Our Eucharistic prayer will change to Prayer B, which emphasizes the incarnation, the birth of God in Christ, the presence of God in our lives in a new way. We will use this same prayer B through the season of Epiphany but the color will change to green, to mark ordinary time. Our scripture will give us stories of Jesus in the early days of his ministry.
Following Epiphany we enter the season of Lent. This season is marked by the color purple which symbolizes royalty…the king of peace. We follow Jesus through the 40 days of Lent as he journeys to the desert. In Holy Week the color changes to deep red and black as we journey to the cross and enter the depth of our own broken humanity. We will mark Lent using Eucharistic Prayer D, beginning with a Penitential Rite and offering a healing service in the Eucharist.
Easter brings us to the resurrection, to new life again. In the Easter Season we learn about the Holy Spirit and its call to us to become the Body of Jesus. The color is white and we return once more to Eucharistic Prayer A.
Over the next year, and each year there after, we will journey through the seasons as a community. We will embrace God in Christ in our prayers and hymns and scripture. We will remember the life of Christ in the colors used and in the feel of the church.
In the process the things that feel bumpy and awkward will begin to feel familiar. We will grow a memory of what we have done before. We will begin to know and remember that a certain prayer that we are praying points us to the season we are in. Through the prayers we will come to ponder the various ways we are experiencing Christ at this time. We will be able to reflect on how we have grown as a community and as individuals. As Episcopalians it is our worship that makes us distinctive, and it is our praying that shapes us and what we believe.
Our worship will be a journey into faith. In worship I hope we experience the mystery of God, through worship I hope our senses are awakened, with worship I hope we take time pause to ponder what it means to embrace a living God. As the vestry discerns so shall we. Together we will consider just how it is that God is calling us, like God called Abraham, like Jesus called Matthew. How are we being called to heal this broken world? How are we being called to be the hands and heart of Christ?