The day began in Nazareth with the congregation at the Anglican Church – Christchurch. Always a lovely welcome from the small but faithful congregation who don’t seem to resent being swamped by visitors!
From there it was off to the Sea of Galilee, perhaps one of the most beautiful places that we visit. You realise as soon as you see the lake that this was what Jesus saw and knew. This was where the disciples were called. This was where he taught and healed and was known. This north-western politically contested corner of the lake was where Jesus brought a proclamation of the kingdom that was both imminent and expectant. This was Jesus’ parish!
We went straight to Capernaum, perhaps one of the most powerful places that pilgrims can visit. Nothing gives you so clear a view of what a 1st century Galilean village looked like as this place with its jumble of houses. As we were told – and this for me was the most powerful moment of the day – ‘the people who lived in these houses knew Jesus.’
The verse from that deeply loved hymn came to mind
In simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian sea the gracious calling of the Lord, let us, like them, without a word rise up and follow thee.
They heard, they followed, they believed. Yet even in this place Jesus was able to criticise their lack of faith.
‘And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.’ (Luke 10.15)
It’s amazing. They lived alongside him and some rejected him. Yet others found new life and healing in him and there in the synogogue he would teach them most profound truths, that he is the bread of life, the bread of heaven (John 6.24-59).
That whole heaven and hell business lived out in this community is then portrayed powerfully in the neighbouring Greek church. The damned and condemned to the flames, the righteous riseibg to join the saints in heaven. As someone commented, such depictions of hell are the original ‘Snakes and Ladders’.
We ended in that most wonderful place, the Mount of the Beatitudes where the blessing of our gracious God is celebrated. But even in a place like this it is not all sweetness and light. There are snakes and there are ladders and the people of Capernaum whom Jesus loved, the Jesus of healing, feeding, call and love, who could still a storm on the lakes can also bring a storm into our lives.
Jesus, call me heavenward, save me from the evil one, that I may climb your ladder of perfection and not slide away from you. Amen.