A breakfast at the Scots Hotel is not to be missed, although I suppose that’s true of any meal in this hotel. Pastries, eggs of any kind, fruits, breads, vegetables, cheeses, fresh-squeezed orange juice, a wide variety of teas…it goes on and on. Even bacon!
I led an early morning, pre-breakfast walk along the boardwalk through town that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. It is actually a large freshwater lake…about the size of Lake Pepin, we think (about 21 miles long and 7 miles wide)…only not frozen.
For our morning devotions we walked the half-block down toward the water to the Church of St. Andrew, a lovely Scottish Presbyterian chapel that hosts a small congregation. The minister, Kate MacDonald, met us and joined us in prayer. She spoke about her work there, which is as much with dozens of partners in Israel and Palestine working for peace and justice, as it is with pastoral leadership in the congregation.
Kate joined us for the morning, which began with a visit to Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene. It’s located about a five-minute drive north of Tiberias along the lake shore. It served as a fish market for the local region in biblical times, as it is located at the place where the valley coming down from the Galilean hills meets the lake. Only ten years ago, as a Roman Catholic hotel was being constructed, a first-century synagogue was unearthed. Hotel construction stopped and archaeological work began. There is no doubt that it was a functioning synagogue in the time of Jesus. It is the oldest excavated synagogue in Israel; surely Jesus taught there many times. It is only a short day’s walk from Capernaum, where he lived during most of his ministry.
Our tour guide, Celine (mistakenly called Isabella by our guide George…that’s another story) was delightful and full of details. She began by saying, “We are now going back in a time machine, 2,000 years ago, to the time of Jesus, in this very spot…”After the archaeological site tour, complete with multiple stories and brief homilies, she took our group to the chapel, where the presence of women in the Bible is celebrated. As Reinerio Ace later said, Mary Magdalene was a powerful woman in the ministry of Jesus; the chapel acknowledges that.
Eight women are represented on eight pillars in the Women’s Atrium, beginning with Mary Magdalene and ending with women of faith everywhere. While our group gathered in one of the side chapels, a woman soloist could be heard singing elsewhere in the building. A powerful moment.
The largest part of the building opens into the Boat Chapel, a beautiful space centered on a Galilean fishing boat. The preacher speaks from the boat (as Jesus did), while the backdrop is a large window giving a vista out onto the Sea of Galilee. It’s dramatic!
Our next stop after Magdala was a short drive away – the Mount of the Beatitudes. Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount there, or near there. The chapel is lovely, but the real beauty is found in the serenity of the hillside and its view over the Sea of Galilee. We gathered in a garden-like setting, looking out over the water from high on the hill, as Kathy read the entire Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel. It’s long, and rarely read in its entirety, but sitting in that spot it was a meaningful experience.
Next, off to the north. Since it was was raining, we canceled the planned walk from the Mount of the Beatitudes to Capernaum and head toward Lebanon. We drive into alpine-like mountains; snow-capped Mt. Hermon loomed over us. It’s Israel’s highest peak. We ate a Druse restaurant (this is where they live) in the Golan Heights. There were minefields along the roadsides, a leftover from the 1967 Six Day War with Syria and other Arab nations.
Our destination was Caesarea Philippi, a gorgeous place of springs and waterfalls that are the source of the River Jordan. Jesus calmed to this place, according to the gospels. Here is where he asked, “Who do you say that I am,” of his disciples. Standing there with our group, looking at the ruins of pagan temples praising the Emperor Augustus, we could imagine how Jesus’ question was quite provocative, even political in that context.
As we headed back down the mountain toward the Sea of Galilee, most of us dozed off, our heads full of new information and lots of questions.
An hour later we woke up as we pulled into Capernaum, the village that Jesus made his “headquarters” while he taught and healed and preached. His hometown neighbors had run him out of Nazareth, so he chose to settle in the lakeside town, apparently in the house of Peter. Jesus would have taught in the synagogue there. We reverentially walked through the old synagogue and listened as Kathy read scripture.
It was another place where we could be sure Jesus himself would have walked. All in all, a good, long day!