In this Sunday’s Gospel from Luke, we are told that Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. His journey, which is narrated over the next ten chapters in Luke, will take him first to his death on the cross but then to new life in his resurrection. Jesus’ disciples travel with him, a journey that shapes their understanding not only of who Jesus is but also of who they are as children of God. This is truly a life changing journey, not just for them but for all those throughout the centuries who will call themselves Christian. In this journey, the love of God is revealed, a love over which even death has no power.
I read this Sunday’s gospel curled up in the front seat of our minivan, trying to find the position that best optimized a combination of the cool breeze from the AC and the warm sun’s rays as they poured through the windshield. We were on the road for our own journey to the Wisconsin Dells, home of America’s biggest water parks. Certainly, this family vacation pales in comparison to the earth shattering implications of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. But as I anxiously checked passing license plates, hoping to see the elusive Alaska, and read billboards for 24-hour Perkins, I was flooded with memories of the road trips my family took when I was growing up. Or rather, the one road trip that we took each year at Thanksgiving.
Each year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my four siblings and I clamored into the family minivan, having devised an elaborate plan of who got to sit where and for how long—because no one wanted to be stuck in the middle of the back bench seat for the five and a half hours it would take us to get from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Rockford, Illinois, to visit my mom’s sister’s family. By the time we reached the freeway, I had pinned some friendship bracelet string to my pants leg so I could keep my fingers busy while humming along to either Buddy Holly or the Beatles, the only music we could all agree on for any stretch of time. We always stopped for lunch at the “cool,” cow-themed McDonald’s in Tomah, Wisconsin. After checking in to our hotel, we would go to spend time at my aunt and uncle’s house, pitching in with Thanksgiving food preparation and playing board games and the old Atari with my three cousins. Then it was off to the Godfather’s pizza buffet for dinner, so my aunt would not have to cook.
Thursday morning my uncle would be up early to hunt at his deer stand, but he always left a pile of dollar bills on his kitchen table, money that funded our favorite part of Thanksgiving. Each remaining kid and adult got one dollar bill, to be spent on a Thanksgiving-morning trip to Walgreen’s. When he returned from hunting, my uncle would find all of our purchases laid out on the kitchen table and he would judge which item was the best deal for a dollar. The only prize in this context was pride, but much thought went in to our shopping over the years, as we tried to predict which bauble would most capture my uncle’s attention. Would he like the practical hand- warmers or the amusing keychain? Would he be hungry and thus swayed by beef jerky or a bag of jelly beans?
Over the years, the rest of the weekend also fell into a predictable pattern: Thanksgiving dinner, followed by pie and football in the backyard; a Friday morning shopping trip, including a stop at Aunt Mary’s Cafe for delicious cookies and muffins and a chance to sit on Santa’s lap; Saturday morning donuts from the mom and pop shop the next town over before hitting the road to return home. Over the years, this trip became part of our family story. It was part of what made us who we were. To be in our family meant that you participated in this ritual, and we never tired of enacting it or retelling humorous incidents from years past.
Just as the journey to Jerusalem formed Jesus’ disciples and enabled Jesus to enact his saving mission, our more mundane family vacations form us, too. They tell us something about who we are, both as individuals and as members of our families. I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that family vacations can be part of our spiritual journeys, since it is through them that we live and strengthen the bonds of love in our families, love that is reflective of God’s love for us. And just as our birth families enact identity-constituting rituals on vacation or over the holidays, our Christian family comes together week after week to participate in the ritual of Eucharist, never tiring of enacting this celebration of God’s love for us.
What rituals or journeys have are part of your family story? What do these rituals or journeys tell you about who your family is and who you are?
Have you been on other trips or journeys that have changed you?