The Camino de Santiago, also known in English as the Way of St. James, or the Route of Santiago de Compostela, is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes, to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Greater, who is James, son of Zebedee, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. The pilgrimage takes place from various starting points across Europe and people travel very long distances to reach the shrine. Tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried there.
Many follow these pilgrim routes to the cathedral as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth. The Way of St. James can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. Traditionally, as with most pilgrimages, the Way of Saint James began at one's home and ended at the pilgrimage site.
Something interesting about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, in addition to the pilgrimage itself, is that people of any faith or no faith at all find it an inspiring journey; some even say life-changing. Today, hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims and many others set out each year from their front doorsteps or from popular starting points across Europe, to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few travel as some of their medieval counterparts did, on horseback or by donkey. In addition to those embarking on a religious pilgrimage, many are hikers who walk the route for other reasons: travel, sport, or simply the challenge of weeks of walking in a foreign land. But many consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the bustle of modern life as it serves as a retreat for many modern "pilgrims.” But perhaps the most interesting part of this pilgrimage experience, is that while the sojourn ends at the cathedral site, many regard their arrival as the beginning of a new pilgrimage. One that brings the pilgrim closer to God in new and unexpected ways (as a side note, Emilio Estevez wrote and directed the movie “The Way”, based on this pilgrimage. You can stream it on Netflix).
Some regard the life of a Christian to be as a pilgrim’s journey. A pilgrimage, after all, is not just a long walk, but a journey filled with meaningful experiences; experiences that include the presence of God and for the Christian, one with Jesus. Now, for the purposes of this homily, I will call our beloved grandmother, Rose; as some of us call her Mema and the younger generation call her Mimi; which spell check seems to prefer. Either way, we know calling her the “g” word would probably get you killed.
Rose walked the pilgrim’s way. My earliest memories include seeing Rose singing in the choir at Holy Cross in Miami. As a young adult I attended with her quite often at Holy Sacrament in Pembroke Pines where she attended because the rector made her laugh. That was a litmus test. And of course, moving to Lady Lake, it didn’t take her long to call St. George’s her new church home.
Her spiritual life was very important to her. She was a proud Episcopalian. As a matter of fact, the Episcopal Church / Church of England was the only real church as far as she was concerned! Well, if you were Roman Catholic or Orthodox, you got a pass…close enough.
Her life pilgrimage was certainly influenced by her faith and dedication to Jesus’ church. She served the church in many and various ways. As one who earned a bachelor’s degree in religion, she used that knowledge to deepen her faith and serve the church in leadership roles and was able to have interesting and deep conversations in matters of faith. As Episcopalians, we hold faith and knowledge closely together. As a result, her faith was steady and a real substantive part of her life.
The only thing bigger than that big smile of hers was maybe her heart. The closest I really got to Rose on a regular basis was when I was a teenager and she got me a job at the bowling center she managed in North Miami. I had a great time working there, mostly because of her. Her personality was so big that when I was scheduled to work during times she wasn’t there, the placed literally seemed dead, even if it was a busy night. What made the biggest impression on me though was the fact that everyone loved and respected her. From the young man who cleaned up food and drink items after bowlers, all the way up to the owner himself, and every employee in between, she was loved and respected. Not many people can do that: endear themselves to both a dishwasher and an executive; and do it genuinely.
She was such a gift. If you needed something and she could give it, you got it. Later, in my twenties when I was pinched between places to live, my mother said, “ask Mima if you can stay with her”. She was so excited to have me come. I always felt so loved by her. But it was weird living with her. The woman made some interesting choices in life, especially when it came to money. She could stretch a dollar the length of a football field. You’d find little things like pads of paper or pencils and pens from the bowling alley. Want a cup of tea? The sugar bowl was filled with little sugar packets like you see at restaurants…or bowling alley lunch counters. She was one of a kind; unique, and smart, and funny in countless ways.
As people hear of my grandmother’s passing, often they share a story with me about their grandmother. How they baked the perfect cherry pie, or unforgettable cupcakes. That’s not really a description of our grandmother…not much of a baker. But she’d play a round of billiards with you or kick your butt on the bowling lanes. And I don’t know how many people can visit their grandmother…and her pet squirrel, Freddy. Yep. Living with her had its moments even without the squirrel; who she released behind our Episcopal Church after Freddy bit her all up and down both arms one day. The memories are countless. And one thing she did always have, were those little Andes chocolate mints on hand. Since I was a kid and even now, these little chocolate mints remind me of her.
What a journey she lived. And I hope I can speak for the whole family that we were so excited for her as she traveled with [daughter] Shannon to Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, the Holy Land (by which I mean Israel) but she also went to the other Holy Land, England, where she got to see the home where her mother lived. Thank you Shannon for helping her check off an awesome bucket list.
The thing about the Spanish pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrim’s path, is that once people reached the pilgrimage destination, one pilgrimage ended, but another one began. As sojourners make their way across Europe on bike, horse, or foot, there are several stopping points where people offer hospitality: some offer a place to stay overnight, others offer food and drink, and others offer some other sort of refreshment. Some sites for relief are parish churches and monasteries where pilgrims can rest and take time for prayer or have Eucharist. As a complete pilgrimage experience, most people are so moved by the people they have met, they places they have seen, and the encounters with God through the grace of hospitality and sacrament that a new pilgrimage begins when they leave the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
That’s the kind of pilgrimage Rose had. She met countless people on her sojourn, had great experiences, and touched the lives of hundreds with her big smile and her big personality and today we thank God for her. We give thanks to God for the Resurrection of Jesus, because it is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that a new pilgrimage beckons.
I chose the gospel lesson this morning because it tells us a story. The story is about Jesus’ friends and loved ones, Mary and Martha, grieving together after the loss of their friend and brother, Lazarus. It is a story in a larger story about a community of followers of Jesus. Jesus is building this community and as we see just a bit later in this gospel, the community continues – not only to survive – but continues to grow and include everyone who chooses to walk in the Way; that is the Way of Christ.
Rose walked this pilgrim’s way. And now as she begins this new leg of her journey and takes her place at that great banquet, where she is now woven into the eternal story, we can see Mary, Martha, Lazarus with Jesus and all his disciples and Rose seated among them, smiling and shining brighter than ever in Christ’s Resurrection light.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.