Behind us was the Sea of Galilee, that body of water that is so central to the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. Down the coast we could see Capernaum, the village that served as Jesus' base of operations for so much of his ministry. Up the hill a ways was the Church of the Beatitudes, where people were participating in a Catholic Mass.
Bonnie Van Overbeke read the Beatitudes as Matthew recounted them: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blesses are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted ... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled ... Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God..." (Matthew 5: 1-12)
There were tourists milling all about, of course, but for these few moments, we had this beautiful space to ourselves, letting the spirit of those words sink into the core of our beings. A bird sang from one of the bushes behind us.
There were other moments like that on this day as we traveled along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. At Capernaum, you can see a church built over the excavation of the house of Peter, the apostle. You can walk into the fourth century synagogue built on the foundation of the first century synagogue where Jesus came to teach. But for me, the stunning moment of the day came under a banyon tree that rises grandly above the Galilee shore. I sat under the tree, watching the water, imagining the times Jesus would have walked along this shoreline letting his spirit connect with God. It was a sacred moment.
Down the road a bit is the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. This commemorates the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. (told in Matthew 14: 16-21) Nearby is the Chapel of St. Peter's Primacy. These are both in an area called Tabgha, which means Seven Springs. There is wonderful access to the Sea of Galilee behind St. Peter's Chapel. This spot commemorates Jesus' appearance to his apostles after his resurrection when he came ashore, ate fish with them and told Peter to "feed my sheep," which some interpret as giving Peter primacy among Jesus' closest followers. Both of these stories use food to show how Jesus opened people up to a spirit of hospitality and generosity.
We stood near the shoreline as Nancy Baumgardner played her recorder and we sang the wonderful hymn about Jesus coming down to the lakeshore to invite the fishermen to follow him. "I have abandoned my small boat," we sang. "Now I will seek other seas."
Two more stops. We saw a first century fishing boat similar to the one those fishermen would have used. It has been restored and is displayed at a museum near Magdala, the home village of Mary of Magdala. Then we ended the day at the point south of Tiberius where the Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee. This is honored as the spot where John baptized Jesus. As darkness crept over the river, people dressed in white garments gathered along the bank to re-enact their own baptisms -- or perhaps to be baptized for the first time. Here was one group where the baptizer wore a cowboy had. One way down the river were a group of African men and woman being plunged into the water. The other way, a group of Mexican-American Catholics were standing barefoot in the water as a priest led them in a renewal of baptismal vows.
Somewhere ... beyond the rows of tour buses, the ever-present gift stores, the variety of legends about each place ... somehow along this shoreline, the spirit of Jesus is still vibrant, calling people to step out of their boats, share a meal with someone in need and live in the way of the beatitudes.