(scroll down for parts 1-10)
The Christian Pilgrimage
It was for two reasons that the Emperor Lalibela saw the need of providing a destination of pilgrimage as a necessity for the people of Ethiopia. The first of these reasons was the very great distances required for the pilgrims to travel to the original Jerusalem. So great was distance to Jerusalem of Judea that, for many Ethiopians, a pilgrimage to reach that faraway land would never happen. Also there was the fact that even if they could do so, the Jerusalem of Judea had suddenly fallen under the control of the Saracens. I wrote about these two reasons in the previous post.
It was for these reasons that Lalibela began the construction on a city that was to eventually be so intimately associated with him that it also took on his name. The city was to be built as a representation of what the emperor experienced while he was in Jerusalem, and it was meant to become the object of Christian pilgrimages, especially for the Ethiopian pilgrims.
We of the western Christian societies have largely gotten away from the notion of religious pilgrimages. It is unfortunate that we have allowed this to become so. A pilgrimage is indeed travel, but it is travel for a specific purpose not recognized by most modern day tourists. The reason most people want to tour a new place in these days is mostly self-centered. The modern day notion of travel is for personal entertainment, and little else.
The religious pilgrimage is not the same type of travel. The religious pilgrimage is not for personal entertainment nor is it self-centered. It is instead God-centered. Certainly, as in any travel, there are new things to see and new things to experience. But the goal of the pilgrim is not to be able to snap a selfie of himself or herself in front of a cool building so that he can post it on facebook to see how many “likes” he can get. The goal of the pilgrim is to regain what has become lost in his relationship to God.
From time to time, all of us need to regain what becomes lost. As we work in our day by day lives in this world, our personal relationship with God becomes soiled with the filth of the society in which we live. It is for this reason that daily Scripture reading and prayer are important, and it is for this reason that weekly gatherings of worship with other like-minded believers in Christ is important.
Also, it is for this reason that on occasion, a Christian pilgrimage may also become important. Not only do we set the world aside for a few moments so that we can read the Bible and pray. Not only do we leave the world aside for a couple of hours so that we can go to church. In a pilgrimage, we leave the world aside for a more extended time for the purpose of regaining the perspective that we need to maintain in our relationship with God.
We may even endure hardships in the journey, but these hardships also play a key element in a pilgrimage. They help us to reestablish the priority that our relationship with God is of greater importance to us that any personal comfort or enjoyment. A pilgrimage is in fact meant to show us that our relationship with God is everything.
The concept of the pilgrimage is given to us very early in the Scriptures. “Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me,” God instructed Moses (Exodus 23:14).
Psalms 120-134 are all what are called the “Songs of Ascents.” These were songs that were sung by the worshipers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem in their thrice yearly pilgrimages.
One of the few details that we have recorded for us about the childhood of Jesus was that every year his parents brought him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. It was on one of those pilgrimages that Jesus had stayed in the temple to ask questions and to learn of the opinions of the teachers.
The city of Lalibela in Ethiopia was constructed for the purpose of pilgrimages. Thus, what I will describe to you beginning with the next post is not meant to be a travelogue. Rather, it is meant to be the account of a pilgrimage.
(I will finally begin to tell about the city in the next post)