It's been said and perhaps you have heard that it, whether "it" be a particular experience or life in general, is more about the journey than the destination. That assertion certainly plays well, optimistically suggesting that all our toil is not in vain. But it's Holy Week and I have to wonder, is the journey really more important than the destination? "Somehow it only seems right that the weather would turn this way on Good Friday." Such were my remarks to a friend on March 28, 1997. It was mid-afternoon and he and I stood at a rest area off of I-65 on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, enjoying a warm breeze the likes of which would still take weeks to reach Western Pennsylvania. But what we saw in the distance were black clouds gathering ominously over the path between there and where we stood. A group of us had just spent our spring break volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in the Deep South and were headed back to Pittsburgh before scattering to various points in time for Easter. But reaching our destination would prove to be a memorable journey.
As we reconvened at our van I relinquished my driving duties and took up residence next to a window, angling for the best napping position I could find. Some time passed before I awakened to the unmistakable bedlam of hailstones smashing into glass and steel, our van slowing, then crawling, and finally coming to a complete stop in a line of tail lights shrouded in blackness. And there we sat, before the age of smart phones, desperately turning the radio dial in search of information as to what was going on around us.
Apparently what was going on were tornadoes, somewhere in the vicinity of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. An hour later we were diverted off the Kentucky Turnpike which was closed presumably due not to an accident but to the amount of debris strewn across it. The alternate route, 31 W, moved at a rate somewhere between dead stop and snail's pace for the next several hours. It was honest to goodness nighttime dark by that point but rain and wind continued to beat down, creating the rather unnerving sensation that there was more going on than met the eye. I put on a headlamp and began studying road maps more in an effort to distract my mind from the circumstances than to actually find another route. Every intersection we passed through was closed anyway. There was only one direction in which to go and it was forward, painstakingly forward.
At one point we were stopped in an area, a small rural community perhaps, with several police cars and other emergency apparatus along the road. Whether it was a tornado or not it was clear that something had gone through that particular place and it had left a lasting impression. A few locals stood along the road, in the rain and pitch black with flashlights and trash bags. It was hard to see anything else but I distinctly remember one particularly revealing streak of lightning. For just a split second it illuminated a haunting scene; a home still standing, but several feet removed from its foundation.
We eventually made it through there, returned to the freeway, and in fact managed to get pulled over for speeding somewhere around Columbus, Ohio. (The officer was very gracious in not issuing our other driver a citation.) Needless to say it was quite a road trip and a somewhat sobering end to an adventuresome journey. When I made the comment that the change in weather seemed appropriate for the day I obviously had no idea just how fearsome the weather and thus the journey itself would actually become. It caused me to consider at the ripe old age of 21 just how formidable Christ's journey to the cross must have been. There was of course only one direction in which to go and it was forward, painstakingly forward. But had his ultimate destination been anywhere other than the Resurrection would such a journey really have mattered at all?
The Romans executed plenty of common criminals by means of crucifixion, but very few of their journeys to their particular crosses are well documented because quite frankly their lives meant very little in the grand scheme of history. By the same token if Jesus' journey to the cross had simply ended in a tomb carved out of rock we would probably no longer be talking about him. Of course that is indeed where many people believe his life did end. But if that's the case what was so remarkable about Jesus' life that it still renders a significant impact throughout the world some two thousand years later? Common criminals are sentenced and forgotten. Exceptional criminals are feared and vilified. Jesus is neither of these and it all has to do with the fact of the destination to which his life led; the Resurrection and his subsequent exaltation by God the Father. The significance of Jesus' sinless, selfless, God-honoring journey is in that it proved the reality of his destination.
Ultimately our journey only has significance if it is undertaken in light of Christ's journey, the destination of which is the right hand of the throne of God. Good people are largely forgotten. Exceptional people may be lifted up and exalted in some manner, but only for a time. Ultimately in comparison to the holiness of God we are all mere criminals, and regardless of how remarkable the journey may be we are headed for the same destination: Nowhere. However through faith in Christ our lives, whether characterized by carefree cruising down the interstate or dark and debris cluttered country side roads, have meaning. Faith in Christ keeps our journeys from determining our destination. Our journeys are still important, in fact even more so, but only in so much as they testify to the destination prepared for us by Christ; a destination infinitely better and more significant than the circumstances and identities that characterize our individual lives.