Our pilgrim group is sojourning for three days in the north end of Israel, in the Galilee region. It is a relief to leave noisy and tense Jerusalem for the quiet and beautiful countryside.
The Sea of Galilee is fed from the north by the Jordan River, which rises at the Banias nature preserve at the northernmost end of Israel, very close to Lebanon and Syria. The area is lush and full of water.
At Banias, which is near the ancient pagan city of Caesarea Philippi, the ruins of a shrine to the god Pan can be seen above the spring that gives birth to the Jordan. The ancients believed this shrine-cave was in fact a gate to hell. It was here that Jesus, a teacher who always used his surroundings as object lessons, proclaimed that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church.
The centerpiece of the Galilee region is of course the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias, and Genesaret.
Our guest house overlooks the sea from the Mount of the Beatitudes. Within view, circling the sea, are the cities of Tiberias, Magdala, and the tiny village of Capernaum. With one glance, one can take in a major portion of Jesus’ home turf. It is very easy to envision Jesus and his friends “going over to the other side” in boats, which was easier than walking.
This evening we shared the Eucharist in one of the outdoor chapels on the hillside overlooking the sea. Lisa Green presided, and I preached, which was a privileged experience to share. It felt ancient to worship in the dark as our spiritual forebears might have in this place (except with light from mobile phones instead of candles!)