Reading Time: 4 mins

The Lenten Road

Reading Time: 4 mins

Jesus has gone ahead of you on the road, and promises to be with you still.

Life is full of journeys. Some are grand and spectacular: Dream vacations. Epic family road trips. Once-in-a-lifetime trips. Others are ordinary: Work, school, the grocery store. No matter our age or vocation, life is full of journeys. I was reminded of this again this past week as I finished listening to the audiobook of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit

So many of our favorite stories are about a journey, like Bilbo's, there and back again. 

The Lenten season serves as our annual pilgrimage to Holy Week. We travel the Lenten road, the road that goes ever on and on to Jerusalem. We look to the lonely mountain of Jesus' crucifixion. Down under the hill where Jesus is buried. And out again from the grave three days later.

Bilbo Baggins' song at the end of The Hobbit reminds me of the songs we sing during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. These are songs of Jesus' journey to justify us in his dying and rising. Songs that lead us ever on and on down the Lenten road. Read the words of Bilbo's song and see if it doesn't sound a bit like a song that gives us hope of home while on the road ahead.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known. [1]

Just like our lives, Jesus' life was full of journeys. Even before he was born, Jesus journeyed with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where he was born for us. As an infant he traveled with Mary and Joseph to Egypt and back again, escaping Herod's wrath that his journey might continue on. As a 12-year-old boy, Jesus made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover with his family, foreshadowing his fulfillment of the Passover yet to come. Jesus sojourned in the wilderness for 40 days, just like Israel did for 40 years. Tempted. Tested. Victorious. For us. Like a circuit rider in the old west, Jesus walked from town to town throughout the regions of Judea, Galilea, Tyre, Sidon, and Samaria, preaching the Good News, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Not all who wander are lost. And the wandering of Jesus was to save the lost.

St. Luke's Gospel is known for Jesus' travel notices. Depending on who you read, there are three or five of them. The first is in Luke 9:51, shortly after Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. As he drew near to the Samaritan village that would reject him, Luke writes, "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." 

Then, in Luke 13, we hear that "He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem." His disciples didn't understand exactly what would happen in Jerusalem at the journey's end, but they knew enough to understand that it was not a happy trail. They tried to steer Jesus onto a different one with less monsters and less peril:

"Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." And he said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem'" (Luke 13:31-33).

Then again, in Luke 18, Jesus prepares his disciples as the end of the road to Jerusalem grows nearer:

And taking the twelve, he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise" (Luke 18:31-33).

Finally, after years of walking, teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, and traveling, Jesus' Lenten road wound its way into Jerusalem, onto a donkey, through the streets, to the upper room, out to Gethsemane, through trials, beatings, mockery, and then, step by step, one stone after another, outside the gates, up the hill, through the dust and dirt, and on to the cross. Jesus was alone on the cross - forsaken by the Father. And yet he was not alone. All our sin hung upon him. On the Lenten road, Jesus picked up and carried our griefs and sorrows. Along the path that went ever on and on to the cross, he snatched up a whole world of sinful wanderers. These many and various journeys of Jesus are all a part of the greatest of all journeys: The Lenten road, Jesus' journey to the cross.

On the Lenten road, you are not alone. In moments of grief, guilt, fear, doubt, despair, sorrow, shame, or death, you are not alone. Jesus has gone ahead of you on the road,  and promises to be with you still.

There and back again is not just a hobbit story. It is the story of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus journeyed to the cross, through the grave, and rose from the dead on the third day. Christ has gone there and back again for you.

Before he left Erebor, Bilbo looked upon the lonely mountain once more. "So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings." [2] It is the same for us as we travel the Lenten road. So comes Easter after Good Friday and even death has its ending.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet. [3]

[1]  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, New York: Ballantine Books, 1965, 1982. P. 302.
[2]  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, New York: Ballantine Books, 1965, 1982. P. 296.
[3]  J.R.R. Tolkien, THe Lord of the Rings, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987, p. 965.