Our Pilgrimage Home: Holy Week

In getting ready to make the trip from the seminary in Detroit back home to Madison for Holy Week and Easter, I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For those of you who did have enough nerd points to see it, let me give you a brief synopsis of this scene. Two of the main characters (the best two characters in the whole series, by the way) Han Solo and Chewbacca have an awesome spaceship called the Millennium Falcon. At a certain point, the Falcon is taken by thieves. Meanwhile, when we pick up in The Force Awakens, the two protagonists of this latest installment, Rey and Finn, are running away from some bad guys. To get away, they need a spaceship. They come across the Falcon basically lying in a junk yard, hop in, and fly off into space. Eventually Rey and Finn get overtaken by another ship and the Falcon is literally taken in to the hatch of this large ship. As the two hide, the doors of the Falcon fly open and in walk Han Solo and Chewbacca, gun and crossbow at the ready. Han, with his trademark swashbuckling smile, looking at the cockpit of their beloved ship, says the best line of the whole movie: “Chewie, we’re home.”

The Millennium Falcon is clearly not a conventional home. It’s a spaceship, a means of transportation. Han and Chewie are at home in the Falcon precisely because they are never truly home. They are perpetual pilgrims, traveling to and from the far corners of the universe on endless repeat.

What does this have to do with Holy Week?

Jesus didn't really have a home on earth, either. In fact, Jesus even says of himself in the Gospel, “Foxes have dens, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Obviously Jesus does not mean this literally — we can assume that he did actually sleep and grew up in a home in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. He means to us that His true home is not of this world. Rather his home is in Heaven in perfect union with God the Father. Jesus is a mere pilgrim on earth, journeying back to the true heavenly home from which He came.

In reality, you and I, like Jesus, are never truly home here in this life. We too were made to be in union with the God who created us. This original communion with the Father was lost through original sin. Because of our sinful ways, we are left to wander aimlessly through the world, restlessly reaching out towards a God just beyond our grasp. Jesus comes to show us the way to the Father. He comes to transform our aimless wandering into purposeful traveling towards an end goal. This transformation is accomplished in the events that we recall during Holy Week and Easter. Through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which we commemorate on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, Jesus gives us all that we need to make our pilgrimage home to our Father in Heaven.

Holy Thursday — Food for the Journey

On Holy Thursday, Jesus gives us the food and sustenance we need in this pilgrimage through life. As any experienced road-tripper will tell you, the snack ‘ems are the key to a good trip. I personally tend to go with Mike’n’Ikes, Diet Pepsi, and Beef Jerky. Sweet, salty, and caffeinated — it’s a winning combo, believe me.

On this first day of the Paschal Triduum, we commemorate two very important things that Jesus does. First, he establishes the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and gives it to his chosen friends to eat, saying, “THIS IS MY BODY.” Then the same with the chalice of wine, saying, “THIS IS MY BLOOD.” In the Eucharist, Jesus literally gives us his body to eat, not as nourishment for the flesh, but as sustenance for the soul. In receiving the Eucharist, we are given the grace and strength to continue on our journey home to the Father.

The second important thing that Jesus does at the Last Supper is establish the new priesthood. Not only does he give the bread and wine as his body and blood to his Apostles, he also tells them to “do this in commemoration of me.” He makes the Apostles present at this holy supper the first priests of the Church, giving them the special power to transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This priesthood continues in succession even today. Through the priesthood, Jesus gives us a way to access this spiritual food at any time. Every time we go to Mass and receive the Eucharist we are given a boost of strength to help us continue on our pilgrimage toward everlasting life with God. 

Good Friday — The Roadmap

On Good Friday, Jesus shows us the road we need to take in order to arrive at our destination. When I was a kid, my family used to drive from Wisconsin to New Jersey in the summers to visit my Dad’s family. My dad, who thinks he’s really funny, used to always say this Yogi Berra quote while we were driving: “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re making good time.”

It goes without saying that in order to get somewhere, you need to know the way. In original sin, not only did we lose the union with God that we were created for, but we also lost the ability to get it back. We became wanderers, restless and longing for home without knowing the way to get there. Jesus comes to our world for one purpose: to show us the way back to the Father. While throughout his whole earthly life he shows us bits and pieces of the map to Heaven, it is only on Good Friday that we see the whole picture. After frequently telling his disciples and friends to follow him, he leads them to this culminating moment. Through submitting to death on the cross, he shows us that the only way to Father is to deny ourselves, take our cross, and follow him.

Not only does Jesus show us the way back home, he himself IS the way. Through sin a chasm is created, a massive valley between ourselves and God. The harsh reality is that no effort of ours could ever be enough to cross this vast divide. Thus when Jesus lays down his life on the cross, he is laying himself down across this valley of death. He himself becomes the bridge by which we cross over the pit of sin and selfishness and arrive at home in the embrace of the Father. 

Easter Sunday — The Destination

Through his glorious Resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus shows us the final destination of our earthly pilgrimage. In death he completely lays down his life at the feet of the Father. He so empties himself that the Father in turn takes his life and transforms into new and glorious life. If his death on the cross is the bridge, then his Resurrection is the land on the other side. The goal of our lives is share in the Resurrection of Christ, by which we reach our ultimate destination and finally arrive at home. 

This is our common destiny: to conquer death through Jesus Christ. No longer do we wander aimlessly toward an empty end. Rather, through his Resurrection, Jesus shows us that death is not the final word. The celebration of his Resurrection on Easter is a reminder of our goal: to pass from death into life and arrive at home in perfect love and communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For now, as we continue on our pilgrimage through life, we will never truly be at home. Instead, the Church will be our earthly home. Like Han and Chewie in the Millennium Falcon, the Church will be our “home”, the vehicle by which we travel through life and arrive finally at our ultimate destination, our true heavenly home.

Editor's Note: If you are a parent or youth minister, we'd love for you to check out Tiffany's Holy Week blog post about bringing this week alive in the home!

Bill Van Wagner | Diocese of Madison Seminarian and Camp Gray + LBH Alum