So, today was another full day [aren't they all?!], and on the Jesus-authenticity meter, we were at about a 9 or so today--as good as it gets, I think. [I'm still working out if and how that matters....] We spent the whole day right around Capernaum. Incidentally, one of the sources Christians today use to determine the authenticity of sites [besides just the history of the tradition in general] is the diary of one Spanish pilgrim named Egeria: apparently, she took great notes!
Anyway, we started the morning with a Eucharist service at the Mount of Beatitudes [this area is called the Aramos Heights]--the different chapels there are run by Franciscan sisters [Would it be wrong to point out that Mussolini gave the money to build the main chapel in 1939? In the spirit of full disclosure, I think not.] It was us and three busloads of our closest friends--actually, it hasn't been too bad thus far, but I imagine in Jerusalem it is really going to get busy. The sisters assign everyone chapels [obviously, the idea of having a Sunday morning eucharist service there occurred to a few groups besides our own!], so we did have our own little area for our service, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was a lovely service, but I would be remiss as a Lutheran theologian if I did not interject the reminder that the location does not make one Eucharist "better" than another, nor was Jesus Christ "more present" here than he is with the community every Sunday, in every church, in every place. I think there is the temptation to get sort of carried away by the spirit here & forget that--I am grateful for the strong sacramental tradition of the Lutheran church that mitigates the tendency to think I am closer to Christ [or he is closer to me] here, or that there is some special holiness one imbibes here. Baptism takes care of all that, and keeps the playing field level. More personally, it is that same sacramental tradition that also mitigates my loneliness, missing John: we are united at the table in Christ today.
After the service, we walked down to the Sea of Galilee, passing the place that commemorates the great commission, and also passing a small shallow cave that is reputed to be the "quiet place" to which Jesus might have retired on various occasions to pray by himself. There aren't any other natural caves in that area, which is one reason scholars make that attribution. Finally, at the Sea itself is the "Primacy of Peter" church [also Franciscan], with a beautiful large stone in front of the altar, labeled "Mensa Christi," commemorating the post-resurrection breakfast Jesus shared with his disciples. There is also a moving sculpture, depicting Peter on his knees before Christ, as Christ exhorts him to "feed my sheep." Does anyone else think "primacy of Peter" is a misnomer here?! It is such a poignant story, as Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to replace his threefold denial with a threefold affirmation of his love & devotion to Christ--there really isn't anything triumphant about it. There was also a cute little Siamese cat at that church, also happy for attention.
Then it was off to Capernaum proper [one of my husband's favorite places]. This was the base for Jesus' ministry [more "liberal" than Nazareth, apparently], and Peter and Andrew's hometown. We saw the ruins of a beautiful 4th century synagogue [built on the foundation of a first century synagogue], that had been made out of white stone, in contrast to the black basalt that was used for everything else. It was striking; and what was particularly moving was that in the cracks of the walls, Jewish prayers have been rolled up & stuffed--there was even one small prayer shall tucked into a crevice. For Christians, the central site is a beautiful modern church that has been constructed over an "insula" [an ancient commune type of thing, with different rooms--some common, some for individual families] that was excavated at a site traditionally known as "Peter's house" [yes, that Peter]. There are also the remains of 4th & 5th century churches in that spot. Here is what my book says: "One room seems to have been used as a place of prayer or worship in all three buildings over four centuries, leading to speculation that it might have been the room where Jesus lived or where he taught his disciples and that the fourth- and fifth-century churches preserved the memory of the first-century house/church." There is no hard evidence of this, of course, but again, as we are finding throughout Israel, in absence of scientific "proof" the faith of the church is enough. Bultmann would approve, I think.
Oh--here I must also mention that every church we have visited has had displayed prominently a nativity scene with flashing Christmas lights all around it! Super kitschy, yet oddly appealing somehow.
Then we made a brief stop at Korazim/Chorzain ["Woe to you, Chorazin..." Matt 11:20-23]--how would you like it if the only mention of your town in Scripture was in a curse by Jesus? Even if it is believed that Jesus spent lots of time teaching here, none of that is recorded. Too bad, Korazim! Far more interesting are the ruins of a 3rd/4th century synagogue that are there--you can see the mikveh [ritual bath] clearly, and it is beautiful. However, my very favorite "site" here were the herds of Rock Hyrax that populate the rocky hills in this area--they are super cute & chatter up a storm. At an earlier site, we saw a sign indicating that they are mentioned three times in Scripture: Lev. 11:5, Proverbs 30:26, & Psalm 104:18. I feel their cuteness warrants more prominence.
Then we went to Ein Gev kibbutz for a fish lunch [or not, in my case!]. Everyone said it was very good; it was a St. Peter fish, otherwise known as tilapia, caught in the Sea of Galilee, of course. Then we all had a boat ride on the Sea. In between the cheesy Christian rock music, we sang "Eternal Father Strong to Save"--I was reminded of my uncle who was in the navy: we sang that at his funeral. Then, for our final stop: Kibbutz Ginosar, where a first century boat is displayed--it was found in 1986, during a severe drought, when the Sea of Galilee had severely receded. That was very interesting--although I am not captivated by the thought that it MIGHT be a boat Jesus himself used!! [Have I mentioned that I think one can get a little carried away with all that?]
Then, after a quick perusal of the gift shop [nothing for me, a shofar for our trumpet-playing dean: need I say she actually tried out several? According to the shop clerk, "the shofar choses its owner"--much like the wand chooses the wizard!], we were back on the bus. After a few days I am realizing that traveling with a bus tour has at least one thing in common with the field trips I used to make with my preschoolers from Children's World--bathroom issues predominate! "There are nice bathrooms here;" "Use the bathroom here, we won't be at another one for a few hours;" "Does anyone need to use the bathroom before we go?" Speaking of bathrooms, why do American toilets use so much water in the basin? Isn't that the most ridiculous waste of water? OK--enough about bathrooms.
An almost-full moon was rising as we drove back to Tiberias: I love a full moon. It always reminds me of the lyrics of the children's song: "I see the moon, the moon sees me; the moon sees somebody I want to see. God bless the moon and God bless me. And God bless the somebody I want to see." It, too, makes me feel less lonely, and more connected to the people whom I love, who are far away but still under the same moon.