When we tell people about this pilgrimage, of necessity we have to say that we’re going from Erfurt to Rome. But that turns out to be a strangely misleading statement.
The thing about a pilgrimage is that you spend the least amount of time at your beginning and ending points. The bulk of the trip, the substance of it, the trip part of the trip, is all the time you spend in-between.
In-between in our days of rapid mass transit is mostly annoying. It’s the hours spent in traffic jams, in airports and train stations. The point is never getting there or worse yet not getting there; it’s all in being there already. The journey itself is a waste of time.
It wouldn’t take much time to get from Erfurt to Rome by mechanical means. Luther didn’t have a choice, of course, but we do. So what’s the point of taking it so slow, making the journey by foot? Why not even a bicycle, for heaven’s sake?
Part of it, of course, is wanting to experience the journey the way Luther did—step by step, no shortcuts available. But another part of it is wanting to spend the time in the space in-between. In a divided church, we live most of the time in our own church homes. We are Lutherans or we are Catholics or we are Reformed or we are Orthodox; that’s where we are and where we belong, it’s home. In making this an ecumenical pilgrimage, though, we’re trying to be away from anyone’s home.
Ecumenism is that space in-between. It’s the space where Christians can pray together even if they don’t acknowledge each other’s baptisms or share the Lord’s Supper. It’s the space where they can confess that Jesus is their Lord even as they argue about what exactly that means. It’s the space of logical paradoxes, where we believe in one church though we look at many, where we discover that I’m in communion with her and she’s in communion with him but he’s not in communion with me, where we notice that some members of your church share deeper convictions with me than members of my own church, where we do church things like worship and Bible study without actually being a church. Ecumenism creates anomalous situations that don’t fit in anywhere. And they shouldn’t become anyone’s home or ending point.
Perhaps “ecumenical pilgrimage” is a redundant term: by definition ecumenism is a pilgrimage, far from home and still far from the goal.