It has been many days since we left the Shire, since we set forth from Rivendell, since we began our Lenten journey to the fires of Mordor. Many have been the adventures, many were the trials, many are the memories: we catch all of them up now in Easter bliss, returning home from our pilgrimage have hopefully reflected deeply on our condition and committed ourselves more fully to the Christian way. The even longer days of Easter lay ahead, a liturgical time of joy and celebration, of reveling in the happiness that is the resurrection of our Lord, of marveling at the victory already won.
Yet, as we return from our high holy days, back into the reality of our world, we come more frequently back in touch with those who did not make the journey. Lent is a cultural phenomenon, an annual event that even the most secular among us knows a little about. The build up to Easter – in particular, the Triduum – brings out many a hidden Christian, inspires quite a few to return to churches and parishes, and narrows our focus to those events long ago. As they pass, we find ourselves again in places like Bree, where the people care rather little about the events “away off” in time and space, even if they fundamentally impacted them. Barliman and his neighbors have their own little concerns – small in comparisons to the great deeds of Pelennor and Cirith Ungol – but concerns nevertheless: of brawls and bandits and bad times all about. We find ourselves among those who did not take the pilgrim road, and it can be incredibly frustrating.
Yet, we should not be surprised. After all, we set out on this journey for the sake of these small concerns. The Rangers of the North long defended the Shire so that the folk here might only have to dwell on small concerns. Now that the Rangers have gone off to their great errand, the concerns have grown bigger. The world is a more fragile and dangerous place than we might think, and evil touches every land. Sacrifices and struggles are necessary for the sake of the good, true, and beautiful, no matter how far off in time or space the war is waged.
We have returned from our pilgrimage, and like the hobbits, we are changed. A pilgrimage requires that one not linger at the holy site, but return home transformed by it. We have been clothed in the garment of the resurrections and fortified by the obstacles overcome. The Lenten journey has prepared us for this moment itself: to engage with the people who did not make the journey with us in all their states – disbelief, distrust, ignorance, wonder – and do our part to help resolve the concerns we find back home. In that, we bring the pilgrimage back with us, sharing its gifts with others around us, while also strive to repair the wounds in the lands and people we care so deeply about.
It is not an easy task – it may not earn us as much praise or lead to any great songs. We may find those who did not make the journey to be similar to Barliman in their incomprehension that a great victory has been won and a King has returned. Nevertheless, it is the task set before us, and one which we must take on: for these are our people, and if not us, who will work to spread the good news and set things aright again?