‘Next Year in Jerusalem’
In looking back and ahead, we see God’s purpose for us
“Next Year in Jerusalem” is a familiar phrase to our Jewish brothers and sisters as they celebrate and pray over the final cup in the Passover Seder. They desire and long to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem with a temple restored. In the meantime, they just wait in the place they find themselves today.
Presently, as summer begins, many priests find themselves moving to their next place. Last years’ prayer or lament — “Next Year in St. (fill in the blank)” — has come to fruition as bags are packed and addresses changed. In the Seder, it is a nostalgic hope that they will be in the place they are destined to be. For priests, it may or may not be a hope, as priests find themselves in a new place wondering, “Is this really the place God sees as my destiny?” Granted, our ultimate destiny is the kingdom of God, as each of us hopes we will arrive there, although probably hoping not within the next year. The Passover phrase is a reminder to each priest that next year we may be dwelling in a different place while waiting for that ultimate destiny.
The lyrics of the hymn “Jerusalem, My Destiny” appropriately capture the sentiment of this destiny: “I have fixed my eyes on your hills, / Jerusalem, my Destiny! / Though I cannot see the end for me, / I cannot turn away. / We have set our hearts for the way; / this journey is our destiny. / Let no one walk alone. / The journey makes us one.”
The line “This journey is our destiny” reminds us that the destiny is not a moment in time, but the moments in all time.
The Seder remembers many of these moments of how and where God has been leading his people in this long journey of life. The guiding hand of God is celebrated as all contemplate who they are as a people and where God is taking them. This concept is not too far from what most priests do as they take this next step in their perpetual journey. Priests understandably reminisce about the places where they have been, while envisioning the place to where they are going.
Isaiah reminds — or, more accurately, reprimands — his people, several hundred years after the Exodus, about dwelling on where you have been more than looking ahead to where all is new. As Isaiah references the Exodus, he states: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43). Isaiah is calling the people to see what God is doing in their midst presently, reminding the people that God is still leading them to that ultimate destiny.
There is one school of thought that touts that each of us is a different person every 10 years. As one walks down memory lane through the decades, the thought does not seem too far afield. Take that walk and see yourself in the many places of your long and circuitous journey.
Remember those grade-school pictures that were taken each year on picture day? Flip through the album in your mind, conjuring up that toothless grin as a first communicant, to the proud high school graduate, to the man now giving his first blessing on ordination day. Each of these times is about 10 years apart. Keep journeying as you see yourself leading a congregation as a pastor. Simultaneously, as you flip through this album of life, picture the places, the parishes, in which you found yourself. Those many places read like a litany of saints.
As the decades continue though, there are changes, there are developments, and your life is unfolding. While there is one ultimate destiny in the journey, there are countless minidestinies. As you reflect on the decades, could not each bend in the journey, each detour, each stop along be a sub-destiny?
Each place, each decade, each parish was a place you were destined to be at that moment. It is so much easier to imagine looking back, but not too easy as you move forward. Isaiah, while saying, “Remember not the things of the past,” knew the people could not not remember. He is imploring them to see that God is doing something new in their midst even now.
Realizing that God’s past deeds in your life are nothing compared to what God has in store for you in the future, Isaiah asks, “Do you not perceive it?” He is really insistent, beseeching his people to see that all life is still unfolding; each moment in the journey is a destiny more than a destination. It is not easy perceiving the hand of God in the moment. It is a shame that we cannot have 20/20 vision in the present moment.
The album of life typically is remembered in chronological order — dates and time starting from the furthest date to the present date. How different might our lives be if the album of life was viewed not through the lens of where we have been and who we have been, but through the lens of where we are going and who are we becoming. What are we destined to be? Human history is remembered in the former way (dates and times of the past), while salvation history is more about the future, what is to come.
Christ’s ministry was always directed to where he was going, seen in his frequent predictions of his passion and death. The Gospels were written backwards, starting with the end, the core of the story, and rippling out from there. Christ’s ministry lived the phrase, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” He knew where he was going, and all actions pointed to that.
What a challenge to keep ourselves fixated on God’s destiny for us. Keeping ourselves fixated on God’s purpose is our mission. We do not always want to see what God has in store, as it is not always pleasant. Though not pleasant to see, we must look at it. It is as if we are rubbernecking at our own lives. “I don’t want to look at what God has in store for me, but I can’t help but to look.” Becoming the full person God has in store for us is so alluring.
So how much of these summer moves, or the next move of life, do we see as destiny? Some stops along the way may feel just right; some may excite us and others scare us. Some may appear purposeless, while others feel fully purposeful and quite formative to us. Allowing each moment to form and shape us comes with the journey and, therefore, is part of the destiny.
If we only look back to see where we have been, and we lament that we no longer are that person, there will be missed opportunities to become the person God is envisioning. Each moment, each stop along the way, is an opportunity for God to make us anew; we hopefully will allow God to continue his creation. Whether you have just moved to a new ministry or remain in the same place, the journey is still occurring. Even when the Israelites were camped in the desert for years, they were still on the journey, still being shaped and created anew.
FATHER PATRICK M. CARRION is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Severn, Maryland, and the director of the Baltimore Archdiocesan Office of Cemetery Management.