Ancient Passover Pilgrimage

Nicodemus came to visit the Lord shortly after the cleansing of the Temple. All of this happened during the sacred days of ___________. What does Passover commemorate?

Anybody ever been to a Passover Seder? The ceremony concludes with a toast: Next year in ___________? But the Passover celebration in St. John’s gospel actually took place in Jerusalem.

Originally, celebrating Passover did not require a pilgrimage. The Israelites celebrated every year in their various towns.

But during the age of the kings, the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem became an important act of devotion to the one, true God of Israel.

Then, after the exile, the second Temple was completed just shortly before Passover. The Paschal Lamb was sacrificed in the Temple, and the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem again became the pre-eminent act of devotion to God.

‘Father, we are not Jews! What’s your point?’

The ancient city of Jerusalem sits on very high ground. Students of the Psalms know about the many references to “going up.” I rejoiced when I heard them say, Let us go up to the house of the Lord. I will go up to the altar of God, the God of my joy. Let them bring me to the holy mountain.

The holy mountain of Jerusalem is Mount ________. Zion, also known as Mount Moriah, where Abraham… (was willing to sacrifice Isaac). At the top of the mountain sits the ___________. Well, the Temple used to sit there. Now there’s a mosque.

We find ourselves three weeks away from ___________. For three and a half weeks now, we have been climbing up the mountain of ________.

The Lord Jesus climbed. The trip from Galilee to Jerusalem meant heading south, but it meant going up. The Lord walked up, with all the other faithful Jews who loved the God of _________, _________, and _________. He walked up as spring was springing, as buds were budding. He was walking up when daylight-savings time started. (No. Just kidding. Daylight savings wasn’t invented until 1916.)

When you walked up to Jerusalem from Galilee, you had to give a lot of stuff up. Like your favorite treats, your favorite Galilean beverages, your favorite Galilean musicians, a warm bed, a hot meal every day. You wound up hungry, with sore feet. Like the ancient Hebrews in the Desert of Zin.

The Passover pilgrimage brought families together. It re-ignited the spark of devotion in a lot of lukewarm hearts. It removed people from the normal rough and tumble of daily life, enabling them to get perspective on themselves and face their bad habits and sins honestly. The ascent to Jerusalem helped them to purify themselves. They knew they needed it, because they were preparing to enter the Holy City, the tabernacle of God.

Then they arrived, just in time for the most important, the most dramatic, the most crowded, the most meaningful days of the year.

My God, who am I? Am I just a lowly crawdad shucker from East Capernaum? Am I just a goofy grape stomper from a vineyard near Magdala? Am I just an impetuous, red-necked tilapia netter? The rich pagans parade up and down the local highways, full of self-assurance and hauteur. Who am I?

Well, here I am in the holy city, and the ceremonies tell me who I am. My fore-father was a wandering Aramean. My people were slaves in Egypt. But then God Almighty sent a liberator, and the earth shook, and the sea parted in front of us, and we marched on with our heads held high. We were hopeless, miserable slaves, and God set us free to worship Him in uprightness and truth. Praise Him!

Passover was the hour of the definitive judgment of God, the final verdict. And God’s verdict: I love my humble children. I save them from their wretchedness and lift them up to myself.

Now, all of this came to pass for one reason. The history of Israel, the building of Jerusalem, the celebration of Passover. All for one reason. So that Christ could walk up to the decisive moment of all of history.

He came as a humble, faithful pilgrim, a son of Abraham, a student of Moses’ Law. He came with the dust of the earth on His feet and His eyes raised to the City on high. He came with bottomless, infinite divine love in His heart. He knew every human secret, and yet He stood innocent—perfectly, utterly innocent, as innocent as the first man, formed from clay by the divine Hands and newly filled with the breath of life.

The Lamb made His way up to the place that God had made the center—the center of all time and space. Christ came to offer Himself as our sacrifice. He came to offer Himself as Israel’s Paschal Lamb and as the peace offering the entire human race makes to the Creator.

The hour had come. The pilgrimage up to Passover in Jerusalem had brought everyone together. All the people, and the earth, too. She came along, carrying the springtime. And this pilgrimage up to Passover continues to bring us all together even now–as we live it for forty days in the Church.

The Lamb made His way up. To die. To rise again. To pass over.

2 thoughts on “Ancient Passover Pilgrimage

  1. Father Mark,

    I could almost hear the thunder, could it be Mount Sinai we’re at, rather than Zion? Don’t make no never mind. Powerful! Thank you!



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