You may recall that not so long ago I mentioned Günther Simmermacher’s (the editor of The Southern Cross) upcoming book ‘The Holy Land Trek’, which I was really quite excited about. Well, I’m pleased to announce that it’ll be published on October 24 and they have a live website up and running for the book. You can check it all out here.
Let Günther Simmermacher guide you through the greatest holy sites of the Holy Land and Jordan on a virtual itinerary. Read about the history of the places where Jesus and his disciples worked and walked, their biblical and historical significance — and meet some interesting people along the way. Find out where we can locate the historical Jesus – and even the steps upon which he definitely walked – and why the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is most probably the actual site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. This book is for people who are preparing to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; for people who have been and wish to relive their experience, and for people who have never been but want to get to know the arena of Christ’s ministry.
And here is the foreword by Archbishop Stephen Brislin:
‘…the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said: “What do you want?” They answered: “Rabbi,” – which means Teacher – “where do you live?” “Come and see,” he replied; and so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day.’ (John 1:38-39)
The Holy Land Trek invites you to embark on a journey of faith, to ‘come and see’ where the historical Jesus lived and stayed, taught and healed, loved and suffered. It is an invitation to reflect on — and in some way experience — the great drama of salvation history, centred in this land, so tiny but yet radiating to the ends of the earth. It invites you to see what the Lord saw, to hear what he heard, beyond what the eye can see and the ear can hear, to that which is recognised by a heart searching for and desiring God, the heart that is always willing to say ‘yes’ to him and to open itself to him.
Pilgrimages are an ancient tradition in the Catholic Church, as they are in many other religions of the world. Particularly, pilgrimages to the Holy Land were a custom that began among Christians from the earliest times after Christ’s death, but were popularised after the visit there by the Empress Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine. Interrupted before the Crusades in the Middle Ages, and somewhat disapproved of by the Reformers in the sixteenth century, pilgrimages always remained entrenched in Catholicism as a good thing to do, an expression of faith and a deepening of relationship with Christ. As dangerous — brigands and robbers saw pilgrims as a soft target — and as time consuming — no Airbuses then — as they were in those days, pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and later to other places, were popular and part of the Catholic culture.
Although pilgrimages are common to world religions, what makes them appealing to Christianity is the deep-rooted understanding from our Judaistic origins that we are mere sojourners in the world, that life is an Exodus and our dwelling here nothing more than a tent in the desert. For every Jew, their father was ‘a wandering Aramean’ (Deuteronomy 26:5) and they were called ‘to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow’ (Exodus 3:8), a land that God promised them and itself filled with promise.
The Christian understanding is that we are still on the way to that Promised Land, that Christian life itself is a pilgrimage, that we are still seekers wandering through the desert of light and shadow, hope and disappointment, of good interwoven with evil. We are only too aware of Christ beckoning and calling, ‘Come, follow me’ (Matthew 19:21), encouraging us to leave behind the familiar, the comfortable, what is safe, and embarking on a journey of the unknown, sacrifice and indeed risk. But we do so with the sure faith that we are not left unaided or unguided, that ‘the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night’ (Exodus 13:21) are always with us, and that Christ promised that he would not leave us orphans (John 14:18), but that his Father would give us the Holy Spirit.
And so, as you read the chapters of this book and trek through the Holy Land — in this case guided neither by pillar of cloud nor fire, but by the author — you will continually be aware of the fluctuation between the physical and the spiritual, between what was, what is and what is yet to be. You will be enveloped with that knowledge that you are part and parcel of this great story and that the history uncovered is also your history. (Incidentally, this is the reason why — should you need a local guide in the Holy Land — it is far preferable to have a Palestinian Christian to guide you: not only is he or she deeply rooted in the land and history, but the tour will be an expression of faith and not merely repeating the guidebook).
Whether you are reading of King David’s Bethlehem, the unimportant Nazareth, the dangerous road to Jericho, or crossing the once mighty Jordan River, you will be fascinated as the history of God’s people is uncovered. Every archaeological find, whether it be the synagogue in Magdala or Jacob’s Well, the house of Peter or the ‘Jesus Boat’, brings alive our faith and tantalises us to dig deeper, to find out more. Every discovery becomes an allegory of the treasures of our faith which we uncover on our journey of faith, often incomplete, often nothing more than a glimpse as through a glass darkly, but occasionally a discovery that makes the scales fall from our eyes and we can only wonder at the marvels of the Lord.
If you have been to the Holy Land, this book will bring back vivid memories of your pilgrimage and will certainly make you determined to return to discover even more and breathe the air that Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Apostles and the Prophets breathed. It will make you realise that even though you have seen the holy places, there is more to see and more to learn — much like Scripture: no matter how many times we have heard the readings, there is always something new and more to learn.
If you are planning to go on pilgrimage, this book will help prepare you for the journey so that you will be able to appreciate the holy sites, not in some abstract way, but as a strengthening of faith. The descriptions and the history recorded in this book will put you in the frame of mind that will enable your pilgrimage to be what a pilgrimage should be — a deepening of your relationship with the Triune God.
If you are unable to undertake a pilgrimage for whatever reason, the pages that follow will bring alive an experience of Jesus in history and God’s intervention in the life of the world. They will lead you to an encounter of God’s care and love for his people, evidence of his closeness to his people and his oneness with us. Christ is Lord of the cosmos and his reign has no barrier. You don’t have to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to be in relationship with Christ, but this book does give you a sense of the land that Christ walked and helps the Scriptures to be appreciated in a new way.
Open your hearts as you read on and enjoy the journey.
+ Stephen Brislin
Archbishop of Cape Town
Grand Prior for South Africa of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem