Formations 03.10.2024: Places to Be

Newton County Georgia Courthouse, which served as the “Hazzard County Courthouse” in The Dukes of Hazzard

Psalm 95

Psalm 95 recalls the wilderness generation on their journey to the promised land. The psalm invites us to imagine a grand pilgrimage, with throngs of worshipers coming to kneel before God.

Protestant Christians don’t have much of a history with the idea of pilgrimage. Some of us reject the very concept as a holdover from Catholicism. Others appreciate the role of pilgrimage in other world religions such as Islam and Hinduism but struggle to see how it might apply to us.

But maybe we need to re-think whether pilgrimage is as alien to us as we assume.

For instance, has anybody ever heard of Graceland? Every year, thousands of fans converge on Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. They want to be where he once lived. They want to listen to the music, see the memorabilia, and relive some of how the King’s life touched theirs.

Rock and roll legends aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, so others might long to visit the birthplace of a beloved author or historical figure. My brother-in-law once took us all to Covington, Georgia to see where they filmed some of the locations on The Dukes of Hazzard. It was his favorite show, and he just wanted to take some pictures and walk around a bit.

What draws us to travel even great distances just to be somewhere special? Do we crave a connection with something beyond ourselves? Do we hope that, if we went to a place where important things once happened, we might gain a deeper experience?

The people of Israel had already seen God at work in the Passover and the parting of the sea. But the promise of the exodus was that they would meet God. Moses demanded the Israelites be set free specifically so they could worship God in the wilderness (Exod 3:18; 5:1; 8:27). Simply put, the reason the Israelites needed to be free was so they could keep their appointment with God on Mount Sinai and, eventually, live in God’s presence in the promised land.

They had places to be. When they got there, they expected that profound, life-changing things would happen.

But there is a warning: the wilderness was also a time of testing, and not everyone passed the test. “Do not harden your hearts,” the psalmist says (v. 8), recalling one of the times when the Israelites complained to Moses that their needs were not being met.

Of course a pilgrimage is hard! But at the end, God offers “rest” (v. 11). Let us be diligent, then, to enter that rest and find comfort for our souls.

Discussion

• What has been your experience with pilgrimage, however you choose to define it?
• We often speak of a “Lenten Journey.” How does the imagery of a journey speak to people’s spiritual lives today?
• How can we press on when the journey becomes difficult?
• What is the “rest” that God promises?
• How might this rest be related to this world and not merely the world to come?
• What happens when people miss out on this rest?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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