Today we visited the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is about 40 KM from Nazareth and it took about an hour to get there (we left at 7am bright and early, but after a good night sleep). We passed through Cana on the way there, but did not stop; there were too many other sites that were on our list to make time for that – ironically we would spend a significant amount of time in Cana later in the day.
Our first stop was the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows. The Jordan River feeds into the Sea of Galilee, and it is (at least from the Pilgrims I have heard from) notorious for being underwhelming as a pilgrimage site, dirty, and often crowded. The bank of the river that we visited was not crowded but otherwise it lived up to its reputation. There were several, weathered lazy boy style chairs on the embankment creating a strange outdoor living room, there was a lean-to tent set up that was falling over because it wasn’t leaning on anything, and there were several large objects mired in the slow, brown, muddy river water, including a skiff and a black couch with a white skull and crossbones spray painted on it sitting directly in the center of the river. The amount of litter in the Holy Land has been intense, and I could have said more in prior posts about noxious smoke from garbage being burned in Jericho, piles of tires in the desert, trash stuffed into walls at Gethsemene, even litter in the pool at Arafat’s tomb, but I’ve tried to spare my few readers this reality – though you can see all of this in the photos I’ve posted. The litter is just there – it is sad, and something needs to be done about it. There was a movement at General Convention this year to add more language about our duty as stewards of creation to our liturgies, including the Baptismal Covenant. Visiting the Jordan made me far more appreciative of that need.
Our service at the river began with a stirring round of “Shall we gather at the river”. The opening line in this spiritual goes as follows. “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river? Shall we gather at the river, that flows by the throne of God.” God has a sense of humor. The river was not beautiful, it barely flowed, and the “throne” in it is a monument to humanity’s disregard of the environment. If this place did not inspire our group to do more than “our part” in safeguarding creation, then nothing will.
After the hymn we renewed our vows and several of us waded knee deep into the water. We used olive branches to sprinkle the group with water. It was quite nice… as long as you blocked out the debris and flotsam.
We hopped back on the bus and drove up to the Mt of Beatitudes. On top of the Mt is a Monastery and Chapel. The view is wonderful, the chapel and gardens around it are pretty, and the gift shop is excellent… but there is zero archaeological evidence of anything to do with beatitudes in this place. Lower down the mountain was another story.
We walked down the mountain in silence (our direction was the pray for people as we walked). The view of the sea was spectacular. Near the bottom of the mountain we gathered at a spot that is remember as one of many places where Jesus taught his disciples and where he prayed on this own in silence. There are several carved rocks here. One has a cross, another has the beatitudes, a third has Jesus’ image. It was a lovely place and a perfect gathering point after a half hour of silent prayer walking down.
The group continued to the bottom of the mountain – maybe 300 feet down. I was given a special assignment by Iyad to demonstrate how one can speak from the hill (using a cave as a geological bullhorn) and be heard easily by a crowd below. One school of thought is that this is the place, or one of the places, or like the place, where the sermon on the mount might have been given.
From here we headed to the Sea of Galilee and the church built on the spot that is believed to be where Jesus grilled and ate fish with disciple after his resurrection. The Church was very beautiful and simple. It is built on a rock which is partially exposed under the altar. We were given a chance to wade in Sea of Galilee – more of a lake than a sea. The water was beautiful and clean, which was refreshing after our experience at the Jordan. I sat for a long time with my feet in the water, marveling that Jesus and his disciples had certainly spent much time on these waters and in the towns around the sea.
Our next stop on the sea was thevtown of Capernaum, where Peter’s house was and where Jesus healed a man who was lowered through the roof. There was also a synagogue in that town where Jesus taught and healed. The story of the man being lowered through the roof is one of my favorites in all the Bible and so I was looking forward to Capernaum more than almost anywhere. The ruins of Peter’s actual house (scholars and archaeologists are as certain as one can get in these things) are still there. A Church was built on it in the 4th century but that too is in ruins, and a more modern church has been built straddling the archaeological site. You can see the ruins through a window in the church floor and also from outside by looking under the church. Capernaum was perfect.
Next we went on a boat ride. We cruised out onto the Sea of Galilee for a pleasant sail. After an hour we came back to shore and saw the remains of a 2000 year old boat used in Galilee.
We hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Nazareth. The traffic in Cana was terrible, and so even though we never set foot in the town, we spent a good hour in the place where Jesus attended a wedding and turned water into wine.
Galilee was fantastic and is was really helpful to see the locations and topography, and get a sense of the distances. Jesus spent most of his three year Ministry in Galilee. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
When we returned to Nazareth we were treated to an archaeological treasure and a surprise for our group. There are excavations under the Convent/Guesthouse of the Sisters of Nazareth. These excavations include the most perfect tomb from the time that Jesus lived (give or take a decade or two). We saw the exact type of stone that would have been rolled to block the tomb of Jesus and the same sort of tomb that Jesus was placed in. It is possible that this is St Joseph’s tomb – Nazareth was very small and tombs were reused again and again. Seeing this tomb was perhaps the single most eye opening archaeological site I had seen in the Holy Land. It was perfectly preserved, it dated from Jesus, time, it was in Nazareth, and it exactly matched the type of tomb described in the Gospels. A perfect was to end the day!
Photos are here. Please forgive typos – I’m on my iPhone.