George Michael was really on to something with his 1987 hit "Faith." No, seriously, you guys!
Ever since we arrived in Israel last week, Nick and I have often remarked to each other about the importance of the Holy Land in a way that I would never have thought about had we not made this pilgrimage. There is absolutely no inherent significance to the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River; in fact, it is quite insignificant. It is not strategic in any way; it has no natural resources to speak of; it is hilly and rocky and oftentimes not suitable for sustaining human life. The importance of this land is completely reliant on the value that we impart to it. In a word, the only thing that makes this land relevant to half of the world's population is faith.
Today's itinerary focused on the core of our Christian faith: Jesus's ministry here in the Holy Land. But while Jesus had three years to complete his ministry on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, we merely had one day!
We began this morning with the renewal of our baptismal vows on the bank of the Jordan River, an experience I am sure none of us will soon forget. Jesus is said to have been baptized in he river by John the Baptist, being explicitly mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and being hinted at in the gospel of John. The Jordan River is not as I pictured it, large and important - kind of like the Mississippi River. In reality, ascribing the word "river" to this water is an exaggeration. At it's widest point, I would barely call it a river at all; it is more like a swollen creek. Our guide, Iyad, gathered some local olive branches on the way to use for sprinkling the river's water on us as we renewed our vows. Anyone who knows Keith knows that this is his all-time favorite occupational duty, trying his best to drench everyone!
Our next stop, only a few miles away, was Capernaum, a fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that was continuously inhabited from the 2nd century BC until the 11th century AD, just before the Crusader conquest. The village has the ruins of Peter's home, a disciple of Jesus. The site is also well known for its ancient synagogue, which uncharacteristically does not face Jerusalem, and may have been the synagogue in which Jesus preached.
We then took a few moments to visit the Mount of Beatitudes, where the church commemorates Jesus's sermon on the mount to 10,000 people. We then celebrated Eucharist on Mount Eremos, another potential site of Jesus's sermon.
We continued our marathon of church visits, seeing the Mensa Domini Church, commemorating Jesus's appearance to the apostles, feeding them breakfast and telling Peter to "feed my sheep," elevating Peter to the chief among the disciples. (If you are thinking Jesus put on a full breakfast with pancakes and eggs, you will be sorely disappointed to know it was merely fish and bread!)
Next up was the church at Tabgha, the Church of the Multiplication, traditionally thought to be the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. This church is known for the popular mosaic of the loaves and fishes that is reproduced on pottery and souvenirs. Interestingly, the basket in the mosaic only holds four loaves, as it is believed that the bread on the altar at Eucharist is the Jesus and the fifth loaf.
We spent some time Kibbutz Ginosaur for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and to see the 2,000 year old boat that was found off the coast of the kibbutz. I hate to rock the boat here, but the Sea of Galilee is a large lake and not a sea at all!
We ended the night here at the convent, where ruins have been discovered under the building. The ruins are a good example of a first century home, following the tradition of being set into grottoes and caves. The ruins also reveal a kokh burial place, a hollwoed out tomb in the rock that is closed by rolling a stone across the entry, much like Jesus's tomb would have been. In fact, the rolling stone here is in the best shape of any found yet to date!
Tomorrow we leave for Jerusalem to spend our remaining five days! See you there! Keep the faith!
Salaam al Maseeh,
LAM and NMK
P.S. Just in case you come to the Holy Land, you should know the dress code. Sorry guys, your unitards are forbidden - I know you are sorely disappointed!