We have a big trip ahead of us today. We are going to Galilee. Julia and I love this area and are really looking forward to visiting it again. We say our prayers, enjoy our usual interesting hostel breakfast – I am still not sure of all that I am eating, but that has never stopped me yet – and then board our 15 seat luxury coach. Phil is our guide today. David and Margi, and Graham and Rosemary arrived late last night and they all seem very nice. We get to know them a bit over breakfast and on the hours’ journey to Galilee.
Our first port of call is Ginosar, situated on the shores of the Sea of Galilee a few miles north of Tiberius, where the remains of an ancient boat in the mud of the lake was discovered a few years ago. Julia and I have seen this before when we came with a group from Beckenham Baptist Church (where we were the Ministers at the time) in 2004. The exhibition centre is next door to the magnificent kibbutz hotel where we stayed then. Seeing it all again evokes pleasant memories for us. Julia and I don’t bother to go into the exhibition again. We have seen it before and it is not worth paying to see it again. We go for a coffee while the rest of our party go to see the ancient boat. Phil joins us because he too has seen it before. I order an Arabic coffee – I am really getting to like this stuff – but something gets lost in translation and I end up with a Turkish coffee, which tastes like stewed sawdust in treacle.
Once our group has reassembled we take the short walk to the jetty where we are going for a trip out on to the Sea of Galilee in one of the replica craft that cater for the tourist trade. We are really looking forward to this after taking the same trip eight years ago. We have really sold it to the rest of our group – taking a boat across to the other side of the lake; seeing the Church of the Beatitudes and the beach at Tabgha from the sea; listening to one or two of the relevant gospel passages being read to us; an opportunity for silent reflection and prayer. I should have known better? When we tell one of the boat captains that we are booked to sail with Daniel he smiles knowingly, and points to another boat approaching the jetty. The sound of singing drifts across the water to us. I start to feel anxious for some reason. When we get on board and I see that there is a keyboard player as a prominent member of the crew I get even more anxious. The boat pulls away from the shore and when we are too far away to jump ship, Daniel gets on the microphone. He tells us that he is a Messianic Jew, the only Christian captain sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and shares his testimony with us. He then introduces a friend who shares a testimony about being miraculously healed of cancer the previous day. I know that several of our party have lost partners as a result of cancer and feel very embarrassed and concerned for them. Daniel then tell us that he is a gifted singer and proceeds to sing to us for the next half an hour before trying to sell us the CDs of himself singing that he has had produced. We are only a third of the way out into the lake? Daniel has a captive audience! Why haven’t we gone over to the other side of the lake to see the sites we want to see? Where are the relevant bible readings? Where are the times of quiet to pray and reflect? I want to throw myself overboard! When we get back on dry land I feel desperately disappointed. Fortunately Julia and I have been on Galilee before and we can still recall the simplicity and profundity of that experience. It is that time I will remember when I think of being on the Sea of Galilee.
After our boat trip we get back on our coach and take the short trip to Tabgha where we visit the Church of the Multiplication, built on the purported site of Jesus’ miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000, and the Church of Peter’s Primacy which is built over a large rock and purports to be the place where Jesus commissioned Peter with the words, ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’ (Matthew 16:18). The beach at Tabgha was a favourite meeting place of Jesus and his disciples, and the site of many important happenings. It is one of my favourite places and I am so pleased to back here. Julia paddles contemplatively in the sea while I sit on a convenient rock and contemplate prayerfully as well. All too soon it is time to leave and I drag myself reluctantly away … comforted by the thought that we are about to have lunch, another of my favourite things!
Our coach driver takes us to a nearby restaurant that specialises in fish and we indulge our selves in freshly caught and cooked Saint Peter’s fish. It is truly yumacious! After lunch we drive a short distance to Capernaum on the northern tip of the lake which became a second home for Jesus. We look round the fascinating ruins – the site of the synagogue where Jesus used to preach, and the site of Peter’s house where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and performed numerous other miracles (Matthew 8:14-16). We all sit together in the shade in the ruins of the old synagogue and Phil reads the story to us from the bible. We then spend some time in quiet, reflective prayer.
From Capernaum we drive up to the Church and Monastery of the Beatitudes standing on a hilltop overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It is considered to be the site where Jesus preached what has become known as ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7). It is a beautiful setting and very evocative. Set in a natural amphitheatre one can imagine, and almost hear, Jesus speaking out those wonderful words. We sit by the chapel and listen to a section from the sermon being read to us, the Beatitudes, and then we take some time out to wander quietly around the gardens thinking about what we has just been read to us.
We drive through Tiberias, on the way back to Nazareth, stopping off at the baptismal site on the River Jordan. There are lots of people getting baptised … well, more accurately, there are a lot of people baptising themselves!? It is both completely fascinating and thoroughly disturbing at the same time. You can only be baptised if you buy a robe from the gift shop, and then you have a half hour slot to get it all over and done with. The whole thing is supervised by various surly stewards. As far as I can make out the majority of ‘baptismal candidates’ baptise themselves by making the sign of the cross, pinching their noses, and then dunking themselves under the water. The really keen ones (or is it the really superstitious ones) do this repeatedly. Quite what their ‘theology of baptism’ is, I haven’t got a clue? In the midst of all the chaos there actually seems to be some genuine baptisms taking place which is encouraging, as church groups baptise new converts.
After a full day we return to Saint Margaret’s in time for a short rest and then dinner. We are all feeling rather stuffed after our huge lunch and so we are pleased to see that there is no chicken dish tonight – only a light salad laid out for us. We are enjoying our salad when Salim arrives with bowls of soup for us. We want to be polite so we eat our soup as well. And just when we are finishing Salim arrives with a huge plate of home made burgers … followed by a huge plate of chips! Even I cannot eat everything this time!