This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the liturgical celebration of Jesus' final Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As the Torah commanded, He traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the Spring, Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks fifty days later, and Tabernacles in the fall (Ex.23:14-17; 34:22-23). Keeping the feasts allowed the Jewish people to not only relive Israel’s deliverance, the giving of the Law, and entrance into the Promised Land; but to look ahead to the time when the Messiah would usher in a period of unequaled freedom, faithfulness, and prosperity. That reached a fever pitch when Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst the other pilgrims on Palm Sunday.
Why make pilgrimage to Jerusalem? Because of the Temple! It is impossible to overstate the Temple's importance in Judaism. It was the only place on earth from which legitimate sacrifice, avodah, could be offered by Israel’s Levitical priests. The synagogue and prayer in the home were never a substitute for the sacrificial worship of the Temple, but means for those living at a distance to unite themselves to it. Prayer in the synagogue took place facing the Temple, at the same time as the morning and evening sacrifice. And although Jews recognized that the universe itself couldn’t contain God, His presence in their Temple was utterly unique. It was “His House.” Just look at the love and esteem Jesus showed for His "Father's House" throughout the gospels.
And all of these elements have of course been carried over into Christianity - pilgrimage, the centrality of sacrifice (Jesus' sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist), and even our church buildings as "God's House."
Now, in the title of this post I mentioned that there is an ironic aspect to making a pilgrimage. I do not mean to discount the wonderful experience that pilgrimage can be - traveling to the places where the awesome events in salvation history took place and being able to pray there. It simply strikes me that the most important pilgrimage we can make is the one we make down the road each Sunday morning to the local parish where Jesus, God Himself, is present in the tabernacle. We visit God's House, where we enter into Jesus' Passover from earth to the Heaven in the Eucharistic celebration! There are surely wonderful benefits to be gained in making a pilgrimage overseas, but it cannot objectively bring you into any more intimate contact with God than your mini-pilgrimage to Palm Sunday Mass in your local parish. And that is something to celebrate!