To truly understand what it means to “go forth in the name of the Lord” we must look beyond the simple meaning that modern English imparts to the phrase. The way to do this is to look into Scripture and see what God has done when those who follow Him go forth from one setting to another. When we look at the reality of the journeys undertaken by all those whom God has called we see that there is always an element of return in the going.
When one goes out in the authority of the Lord, one is also expected to come back as well. In fact, if there is no return then the journey is incomplete. If we look at Moses, who went forth into the wilderness, he returns to Egypt to bring God’s people out of Egypt and back to the “Promised Land”. In this case there are two moments of going forth: Moses’ and that of the Israelites who, having gone into Egypt, now return to the land of Jacob, their ancestor. There is even a third element of the going out and return in that the Jews bring back the bones of Joseph who was sold into slavery and went out of the land of Jacob, his father, and now returns with the people of God. Christ Himself also makes this journey into Egypt and back to the land of Jacob while an infant. Christ also journeys out from Jerusalem and returns to it for His crucifixion. Likewise, when he sends His disciples out to heal those in the countryside they return to Him. And the greatest return of all is that Christ returns us to the proper place at God’s side when He ascends, restoring our nature to the full image and likeness of God.
The early Christians also understood this need to go out and come back. The Apostles went from Jerusalem to proclaim the Gospel and returned to the Holy City for counsel and to hold councils. Paul when confronted by Christ goes into the wilderness and returns to Damascus to begin his own apostleship. As Christianity spread throughout the Empire, Christians of all ranks regularly made “returns” of their own, no longer simply to one city, but to all the places that God had worked through the Apostles and their successors. These journeys, or pilgrimages, connected the separated Christian communities in a way not possible in a purely physical way. As each Christian prepared to go forth he/she also prepared to return with a renewed spirit and a restored understanding of being in Christ. Each time one went on a pilgrimage it meant leaving behind anything that separated the pilgrim from God and instead trusting God to strengthen and illumine the one making the journey and through them others when they returned home. In this way the missionary mind of the Church is continually renewed in each of us.
Those who read this who have never “made” a retreat or gone on a pilgrimage will find that their journey into the life of Christ is still incomplete. They stand isolated and not yet whole within the life of the Christian community. They will find that time passes too quickly. Yet there is hope if we remember: the start of the journey of a lifetime, the return to Christ, begins with our taking a first step.