It gets under your skin—like the sand that gets everywhere: through your shoes, through your socks, enveloping your feet in a talcum-fine coating. Journey through the Holy Land and you will never be the same again. Experience the sights: the cool water of the Galillee lapping the shore, the magnificent power in Banias Falls near Caesarea Philippi, the oppressive heat as you walk the desert path to the Jordan River; the sheer relief and refreshment that dipping your toes in the cool water brings. Climb the heights of Masada, the last stronghold of the Jewish rebellion against their Roman oppressors and view the panorama that Herod the Great surveyed. Touch the rock at the bottom of the hole that held the cross; the star marking the spot where the Prince of Peace was born; follow Peter into the empty tomb—the symbol of His victory and our salvation.
How privileged the 38 pilgrims of the 2012 Holy Land Tour have been. The spiritual impact of such a pilgrimage is immeasurable; words are inadequate to express what each pilgrim has taken away and the personal change that has been wrought by this experience.
Every stop held spiritual significance. The devotions that were shared brought fresh inspiration in a land filled with inspiration and significance. Worship became a feast for spirit, soul and senses as we were challenged to become sheep who are called to be shepherds in the midst of the Shepherds’ Field. Likewise as we sat amidst the boulders and caves of Petra, we were dared to ‘go deep’ and ‘dwell deep’ in The Lord, finding in Him our stronghold for life’s rocky times.
Going deep is what this experience has been. Deeper than the printed page, deeper than our Western, somewhat sterilized version of what happened in Jesus’ day. Stand in the crude subterranean prison cell with us and see the Saviour of the world chained to the rock wall of that pit: arms hoisted by the wrists to uncomfortable height: too high to sit comfortably on the crude stone ledge, but too awkward a position to allow the Divine Prisoner to stand. A dungeon where natural light is unknown and dignity stripped away.
Walk the Via Dolorosa. The hustle and bustle of the market place seems incongruous with our perception of that holy path that the Master trod, yet would it not have been the same centre of activity in Jesus’ day? Sit on the Teaching Steps: the very same steps that Jesus Himself walked, and hear His word, and let Him transcend the centuries and teach today as He did 2,000 years ago.
While there have been many, many highlights for each individual, the highlight that transcends them all is simply to have been in the land of the Bible, and have it come alive in three dimensional meaning; hear again words that have been heard a thousand times, and understand on a level never before contemplated how great, and awesome, and marvelous is our God, and how significant, how meaningful, and how utterly miraculous is His love for, and revelation to, us.
And so we can echo the words of blessing pronounced on our arrival in Jerusalem:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Major Beverley Woodland is the assistant territorial social services secretary.