From the East and the West, the North and the South, of every tribe and tongue, they come. This is the sight and sound of the Holy Land. It is glorious. Faithful Christians on pilgrimage. Different customs, styles and pieties are unashamedly on full display. People kneel, sing, pray, sit in quiet and talk in excitement. All on full display. Brothers and sisters in Christ in one place for one purpose—to experience the Bible lands and grow in faith. The joy is evident and the seriousness of the quest is ongoing reality.
Today we were surrounded by the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was smooth as glass for our early morning sail. It was peaceful and the soft breeze was cool and refreshing. There was Capernaum over here and the Mount of Beatitudes over there. Look ahead and you will see the home of Peter, the Jordan River flows out to your left and the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is a short distance ahead. Story after story of the life of Christ filled the soul with peace and power at the same time. Suddenly, one didn’t just know a Jesus story; it sprang to life. God allowed your momentary timeline to intersect with the divine. Jesus was real.
The museum housing the priceless find of a fishing boat from the time on Jesus was an unexpected pleasure. Hidden under mud from a Roman naval maneuver and thus preserved, science archeologists have concluded with some probability that it is possible that Jesus either knew the owner or even touched the boat. This was due to its discovery location near the area Jesus often traveled, the small population of the area in that time frame and the rather costly material of cypress wood imported from Lebanon used in its construction, indicating that it was a professional fisherman’s boat. Peter and his brothers were professional fishermen turned by Jesus into fishers of men. Such profound contemplation.
At the Mt. of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the “sermon on the mount” stands a lovely and peaceful grove of trees of many different varieties, with flowers in abundance, overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee. We were trying to get a quiet spot to hear the Beatitudes read, but the intensity of the crowds made it nearly impossible. Then, the spiritual reality that God had brought the world together in this one place, with our group as part of a much larger Christian whole, sunk in—we were all family by faith! Now the beatitudes took on special meaning. God provided a nun at just the right moment to begin asking the crowds to quiet, so that people could have contemplation. People in our group raised their hands when a beatitude was read that applied to their now. It was powerful.
Capernaum is the second most mentioned city in the Bible after Jerusalem. It was home to Jesus during his ministry. The temple where he prayed is here and so is St. Peter’s home where he stayed. While this blog would be mega longer if I gave all the information we are getting, I do want to give you a taste. How do we know this is Peter’s home? Because, first, the Bible says he lived in Capernaum and second, the residents of the small city pronounced it his home from the first century. On later discovery, the small apartment-sized home contained old graffiti praising Jesus, the only such graffiti in the city. Now a beautiful church surrounds the home and an observation area on the upper floor is glass, allowing an unobstructed view down to the home.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Fishes and the Loaves is not far from Capernaum. It dates from 350 A.D. and commemorates Jesus’s great miracle of feeding the 5,000. The guide asked us to look at the mosaic floor upon which we stood and then informed us it was 1,600 years old. “Take off the shoes from off your feet—for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground.” Amazing and awesome rolled into one emotion.
Then the Jordan! We remembered our baptisms in a special ceremony in the Jordan River. Jesus began His ministry with being baptized in the Jordan. Tears were shed, faith was recommitted, grace was abundant, the Holy Spirit was present, water was touched, and God’s gift of baptism was celebrated. Raw, yet heartfelt, emotion rolled with energy throughout. “Receive the sign of the holy cross on your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. The Lord will bless your coming in and your going out, from this time forth and even forevermore!” Amen! WEG