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  • Writer's picturePilgrim

The Bible and Pilgrimage

The language and metaphor of journey and pilgrimage is found in many places in the Bible.

It begins in the Old Testament with the journey of Abraham and continues with the story of Exodus. The people of God remember their journeys through symbolic pilgrimages to Jerusalem- journeying to particular places in order to encounter God in a special way. The context of journey continues through the Old Testament to the new.

The New Testament continues the theme of journey and pilgrimage as a foundational metaphor to help to understand the Christian life. Instead of the focus being on particular places and particular times the whole of the Christian life becomes a multi-layered image. The idea of Exile, living a temporary residence here on Earth and seeking a homeland in heaven, becomes a key motif. Christians are encouraged to view themselves as sojourners and pilgrims in this world. In the life of Jesus, particularly described in Johns Gospel, Christ is presented as a voluntary pilgrim- God becoming man- leaving his home in heaven entering this world in order to bring reconciliation. At the Ascension Jesus is shown returning to his home in heaven, making it possible for his disciples to join him there through forgiveness that he has won for them by his death on the cross.

In the New Testament letters of Paul and Peter, the key themes of pilgrimage develops further.

Christians are described as pilgrims and strangers in this world. They are called to contribute to the communities they find themselves in but also to see themselves as citizens of heaven. In the letter to the Hebrews Christians are reminded to look to those who have journeyed before them in faith. The letter lists the stories of Abraham, the patriarchs and many others Christians are called to see themselves as joining in that journey towards God. The Book of Revelation, written to churches which faced great persecution points them towards a new heaven and a new earth- their final destination. Jerusalem, the earthly city is re-cast as Jerusalem the heavenly city. This is the Christian’s final destination. It is lit by the glory of God and the presence of Jesus Christ Christ whose sacrifice has open the way to heaven for all who would believe in him.

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