Walking in Imitation
It was a warmer than typical day as we entered the gate. We meandered through the busy city, carefully trodding on uneven stones, snaking our way to the start of our journey. Our walk was slow and somber as we carried our heavy load while wiping our tears. We encountered dozens, perhaps hundreds of people along the way. Some mocked us, many took pictures or shot video as we passed. Some bowed their heads and prayed while others pushed their way past, looking upon us with disgust.
We were the outcasts, the interlopers, the reminders of things some wish to forget. But we were also symbols of what happened and what was to come. But we were also hope and faith to those who needed someone to show them The Way. We carried our cross with humility and love. Our cross was carried for Him, to show Him our love, to honor the One who carried His cross for us.
We had not been beaten, scourged, or crowned with thorns.
None of us had suffered ridicule or rejection.
We had not preached to those who refused to listen.
Or had we?
Each one of us, in ways large and small, has been beaten and abused and crowned with shame or scorn.
We have all suffered ridicule and rejection at some point in our lives.
Each of us has tried to tell someone the truth only to have that person turn his or her back on us.
On that warm February day, along the streets of Jerusalem, we carried our own sorrows, our own pain, and our own sins.
When we completed our walk to Calvary, we had the ability to leave our cross behind. We shed the load and walked an easy path up to the heights of Golgotha. Yes, we had carried our cross, but we had nothing to show for it, no wounds, no nail holes, no open side. We were whole and unscathed.
Or were we?
Rejoicing with Redemption
As we walked, we sang, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We sang it in the streets, outside the shops, down the steps, and up the hills. We walked where He walked, were watched as He was watched, jeered as He was jeered, and we saw those who made the Sign of the Cross as we passed. One man reached out and touched the cross as we walked by, our cross, and His.
How could we walk away without any marks? It was impossible.
Later, I reminded the group of the Lord’s command to Ezekiel giving instrutions about the temple. “When the people of the land come before the Lord to bow down on the festivals, if they enter by the north gate they shall leave by the south gate, and if they enter by the south gate they shall leave by the north gate. They shall not go back by the gate through which they entered; everyone shall leave by the opposite gate” (Ezekiel 46:9). I pointed out that we had entered the city through one gate and were leaving through another. Just like the Israelites who went to the temple, we were not leaving the same way by which we entered.
We encountered the Lord that day in a way most of our group had never encountered Him before. None of us could leave Jerusalem the same way we entered. None of us would not return from the Holy Land the same way we arrived. Nobody who encounters the Lord leaves the same way they arrived nor as the same person they once were.
That trip, especially that walk, changed us. We came home different people with different perspectives on many things. We were born anew, baptized with the “Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11).
A couple weeks ago, I saw one of our pilgrims at church. We had just finished the Stations of the Cross after Mass. She came up to me and said, “The Stations feel so different this year. Everything about Lent feels different.” Of course, the Stations were the same, the same ones we’ve always said, the same as those we prayed on that walk through the streets of Jerusalem. Lent was the same as it has been for two-thousand years. It is us, the pilgrims who walked in His footsteps, who left by a different gate, who are changed. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1).
Lent is about halfway over. Soon, we will leave this season of reflection and enter the joyous season of Easter. What will we be like when we awake on Easter morning? Who will we be? What will we have become? What gate will we choose?
No matter where you are this Lent, physically or spiritually, and no matter where you have traveled in mind or body, you have the opportunity to carry your cross with Jesus, to leave your cross outside, to enter into His salvation, and to leave by a different gate. You have the opportunity to leave a life clothed in darkness and enter a life bathed in light. You, too, can be changed by His love. Where will your walk take you, and how will you leave through a different gate?
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