This is the time of year that people stumble upon my blog searching for information about pilgrims. I get an email about once a month showing the common phrases that people type into search engines to get to here. The closer to Thanksgiving it gets every year, the more I get things like "how did pilgrims rebel" or whatever. People love pilgrims in November.
I came to see the phrase "rebel pilgrim" as a noteworthy description of the person of Jesus, and by reflection and imitation, his learners/followers. I was profoundly influenced about ten years ago by a book called Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. I don't think that the phrase "rebel pilgrim" is in the book, but it came into my vocabulary sometime after reading it. You could do worse than getting your own copy for a nice little Thanksgiving present:
A pilgrim is, of course, a traveler or wanderer. Jesus is fundamentally a journeyman. He traveled from heaven to heaven via planet earth. Not only did he travel through, but he brought heaven with him on his journey. He spread heaven everywhere he went and the embers he left behind have fanned into flame. Soon the earth will be engulfed in heaven's loving fury. It's been forcefully advancing since the days of John the Baptist.
Jesus wasn't just a pilgrim, but a rebel pilgrim. He didn't travel to a new world so that he could settle there and live a better life. He didn't leave heaven to get away from heaven, like the colonial pilgrims escaped Europe to start anew. He left heaven as a missionary...he left heaven to bring heaven to earth. That's a different kind of pilgrimage. It is a fundamentally missional activity. From day one, his message was anti-establishment. He came to earth to declare earth broken. He came to reform and restore. He came as a conquering King, not a desperate settler. He came to gather a people, not to abandon a people.
So, I follow the King of the rebel pilgrims. He calls us to be his people. A pilgrim people on a journey that doesn't end until heaven conquers every nook and cranny of this world and the next. A people who reject the story of this world for the story of another world. A people who reject their own stories for the story of Israel and the church. This place and time we live in now is Middleland. A place that is not hell and not heaven, but offers a taste of both. This is the land of our sojourn. The land of our travels. This is the ocean we travel to get from one end of the eschaton to the other. And this is the role of the church: to bring the rebel pilgrim people across the ocean of history's end to arrive at the shores of our home...a home that only our King has seen in full, but that we all have tasted in part.