Day Nine: the Galilee

Dear friends,

It turns out there is some chance of wifi if you stand at a certain spot in the hotel lobby here in Galilee, so I’m going to try to post this.

Today we left Jerusalem for two nights/three days in the Galilee. This is where Jesus is from — where his home town is, where he lived while doing the vast majority of his ministry, and where the disciples grew up, lived, and worked. All this became much more real and concrete for me today. In fact, Connie and I discussed that we never realized how much we had been ignoring the geography of the Bible. There are plenty of Bible verses that say things like “Jesus then crossed the Jordan” or “Jesus said this while in Capernaum” that we just sort of bliped over in all our years of preaching and teaching the scripture. Now, those throw-away verses have become much more real and important. For example, Jesus probably crossed the Jordan to get away from Herod Antipas, the one who killed John the Baptist, so the chapter that follows that verse is actually in the context of Jesus running away from danger. Doesn’t that sort of change how you understand it? More current events also influence how we understand this geography of scripture. Some sites we were in today are in the Golan Heights, and were part of Syria before 1967.

Anyway, we got up early today for the 2 1/2 hour bus ride to the Galilee. Our first stop was the shore of the Sea of Galilee (which is actaully a freshwater lake) where the story in John 21, the resurrection appearance of Jesus when he cooks fish for the disciples, is commemorated. Since my favorite Bible verse (“Come and have breakfast”) is from this story, it was really neat to be there. We read the scripture together and had some quiet prayer time by the lake shore. Connie and I also looked up the account of Egeria, a Spanish nun who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the year 380, of this site. She mentions a rock and some steps that are still there. We don’t know if Jesus really was at that rock and steps, but we know Egeria was and that is pretty cool, too. Egeria is mostly responsible for they way we celebrate Holy Week at Redeemer and most other Episcopal churches. Her description of the Holy Week services of the year 380 in Jerusalem have shaped how the Book of Common Prayer presents those services.

Our next stop was Capernaum. Capernaum is the 2nd most named place in the New Testament after Jerusalem. That is because it’s where Jesus lived as an adult. It wasn’t where he grew up as a child, but was his “home town” during his adult ministry. Many, many Bible stories (the healing of the Centurians’ servant, the healing of the synagogue leader’s daugher, the “I am the Bread of Life” passage from John 6, and more) are set in Capernaum.

Today, Capernaum is an archeological dig, with a church next to it. The archeological site is dated to the time that Jesus lived there, so we probably saw the foundation of Jesus’ house. We also saw the 3rd century synagogue that is built on the same site as the 1st century synagogue where Jesus worshipped. The current Roman Catholic church is built on the supposed site of the house of Peter’s mother-in-law (who Jesus healed from a fever). Egeria writes about this church, too, so it’s been there a very long time, one church building replacing another down through the centuries. Unfortunately the current version of the church was built in the 1980’s and looks like a UFO/flying saucer.

Next, we went to Bethsaida, the home town of Peter, Andrew, and Philip. There archaelogists have found the remains of a fisherman’s house, complete with fish hooks and net weights, from the 1st century. We had a picnic lunch on one of the sites where the feeding of the 5,000 might have taken place.

Lastly, we visited the site where the healing of the Gerosene demoniac is commemorated (the one where the demon went into the swine who ran into the sea). There are beautiful ruins of a 3rd century monestary on the site. We climbed up to the hill where the pigs jumped from, in local tradition.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Pilgerhaus, a pilgrim’s hostel run by German Benedictines. It’s very lovely and right on the lake shore. It’s much quieter away from the honking cabs and busy streets of Jerusalem. It’s wonderful to be seeing the landscape Jesus must have known so well —  green hills and fields rolling down to the lake. A few of us went to the Vespers service at the monestary next door. Although it was all in German, we were able to follow along pretty well, since liturgical gestures are universal. Everyone sits to recite the psalms, stands to sing the canticles, and bows for the Gloria Patri, so we could follow the service right along and say “this must be the Magnificant now” even though it was in German. The brothers were great singers.

Tomorrow, the Mount of the Beautitudes and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.


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