Well, so far I have managed to go in no sort of order in writing about our Holy Land trip. I have not exactly followed Jesus’ life in order, and I have not exactly followed the sequence of our Holy Land trip either. Capernaum is sort of like that too; it’s all over the Gospels, sixteen different references. Jesus spends a lot of time in Capernaum. The Gospel of Matthew states that Jesus even lived in Capernaum at the start of His ministry. It is where He called his first two disciples: Peter and Andrew (brothers). He healed a man when He was teaching in the synagogue. He healed a centurion’s servant; He healed Peter’s mother-in-law; He healed an official’s son; He healed the paralytic who was let down into the house by his four friends. “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” Because of Jesus, Capernaum was a very healing place!
Capernaum is in the Galilee region, right on the Sea of Galilee. We went there the day after we arrived in Galilee; after we left Nain, we traveled to the Mount of Beatitudes, which we made our home base for the next few days. Oh my goodness, not trying to make you jealous, but waking up to sunrise over the Sea of Galilee was one of the biggest thrills of my entire life. Wouldn’t it be great to go camping right next to the Sea of Galilee someday? Maybe next visit…
I can see why Jesus wanted to spend so much time in Capernaum–it is beautiful. It was a good-sized little town for its day. Now they have a lot of it excavated, and the Catholics have a beautiful space ship-like church built over Peter’s house, or what they presume to be his house. Why do they presume it? Because it was obviously protected over the centuries. Seetheholyland.net states: Graffiti scratched on its plaster walls referred to Jesus as Lord and Christ (in Greek). It is suggested that this room was venerated for religious gatherings as a house church. If so, it would have been the first such example in the Christian world. In 5th century an octagonal church was built around this venerated room. The present church, dedicated in 1990, repeats the octagonal shape. So there is a reason for the space ship, besides the Catholic church just going new-agey. But this is great: inside the space ship church, you can look down through glass to see into Peter’s church. I love it–that’s great architecture.
Sometimes I think Peter must have been a redhead, or maybe a redhead at heart. He’s fiery, opinionated, passionate. He says exactly what he’s thinking, even when it’s ill-advised. (My husband will recognize some of these qualities.) Jesus loves Peter, though. He deals with him straight on: on the one hand, He calls him “Satan,” during one of Peter’s less fortunate outbursts, and on the other, He gives Peter the keys to the Church: “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.” Peter is the quintessential Christian. He tells Jesus, “No, I would never deny you, even if I had to die.” Then without really thinking, out of fear, he denies Jesus three times, even as he’s watching Jesus’ trial go on at Caiaphas’ house. All Jesus had to do is look at him. It is a chilling moment in Scripture. Yes, Peter is all over the place. But unlike Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, Peter doesn’t stop believing. A pastor whose blog I read once wrote that Judas would have been saved had he only run to the cross (Gospel) instead of back to the priests (Law) to give back the money he sold Jesus for. The Law could not save Judas, the Law said “what of it?,” and he died in despair and apart from our Lord. But Peter did not despair, he still believed what he said during one of his more fortunate outbursts: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” He was restored, forgiven. And then he was given a job: “Feed my sheep.” More about that soon.
Peter was a sinner. Jesus healed him. Peter was restored by Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, just as so many others were. “Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven.” I hope you get a chance to visit Capernaum someday! What a beautiful place.
“Thou are dust and to dust thou shall return.”
I have been around death quite a bit. As a nurse, I specialize in hospice and palliative care: managing the symptoms of those with terminal illness. Dying is not an easy process, and I have helped people with: pain, anxiety, shortness of breath, constipation, delirium, agitation, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, wounds, and more. I have seen a lot of things as a hospice nurse. I have seen the young and the very old die. One thing, though, seems universal: the body fights against death. The body’s natural state is to live, not to die. That is why those well-meaning people who say that death is natural will sometimes in their next breath when confronted with an actual dying person, extol the so-called virtues of assisted suicide. It’s not easy to see.
Death is part of the world because sin is part of the world. Like sin, death goes against nature, it perverts the natural state. And Jesus came to reverse them both. He did this more permanently for us by sacrificing himself, suffering our punishment, so that sin and death have no hold over us. We still die, but it is temporary. As St. Paul writes, mockingly, “oh death, where is thy sting?”
When Jesus came to earth, before He died, He showed us His power over death by raising three people from the dead: the widow’s son in Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus. He brought them back to life as easily as waking them from sleep, and in fact called it sleep when raising Jairus’ daughter. It was with this in mind that we came to the village of Nain on our Holy Land pilgrimage.
Soon after our tour of Mount Tabor, we came down off the mountain and headed back onto the bus. Our bus driver, David, then took us across the valley to Nain. Nain was where Jesus raised the widow’s son, but other than that incident, is not mentioned in Scripture again.
Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7: 11-17
There is a little church in Nain that commemorates this event. This is what we saw when we got off the bus:
The church was rebuilt by the Catholic Franciscans in 1880 on top of ruins of an ancient church. According to seetheholyland.net, it had been at one time converted to a mosque, as the village has been Muslim since the 12th century (and remains so).
Interestingly, just as we arrived, prayers began in the mosque across the street. We were quiet, but the bus attracted a small number of people coming out to see what we were up to. Unfortunately, the church at Nain is apparently rarely open, and the key to the church now lies with the Franciscans on Mount Tabor. Our guide or bus driver, not sure which, was talking to some of the people gathered from the village, who related to them that there had been a scandal of some sort involving stolen money, whoever was overseeing the church at Nain had left, but hard to say if that is really true. The pilgrims who had been here before did note that the church had been fixed up a bit compared to the last time they had been there.
So we quietly had our devotion while prayers went on at the mosque across the street, and we left.
The story of the widow’s son at Nain illustrates to me that Jesus did not raise people from the dead only to show us He could do it or how easily it can be done. He also did it because He had compassion for His people. The widow without a son was also without a means of support, so she was especially vulnerable. Every thing Jesus did was out of love. He saved her son, but he also saved her, a woman, God’s child. He sees all of our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities, and He has mercy on us. We will still have to go through death, and it will not be easy, just as remembering and confessing our sins during Lent is not easy. But as Jesus has taught us, it is only temporary. Death cannot hold us when Jesus is in control.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Matthew 17: 1-8
Our Holy Land pilgrimage was divided between two main areas in Israel: Jerusalem and the surrounding areas and then northern Israel and the Galilee area. We left Jerusalem in our bus to go to Galilee about the fifth full day of our trip. I was ready to leave Jerusalem. It is a beautiful city, but still bustling and busy. We stopped to have lunch in Beit She’an and saw a shepherd with his sheep and sheepdogs up close (will write about that soon).
We approached Mount Tabor and could see it from a distance, as it is mountain just sticking up from a long expanse of plain. As you leave Jerusalem and go north, you cross through the West Bank, which is mostly dry, sad desert. Then as you enter the Jezreel Valley, you begin to see fertile, beautiful green farm lands. It’s hard to imagine these two contrasts could be so close together.
In order to ascend Mount Tabor, you must go through the Bedoin village of Shibli-Umm al-Ghanam. Bedoin are nomadic, and we were always seeing their tents, sheep, and donkeys all over the place in the countryside. It is unusual for them to have a settled village. Because there are switchbacks on the road up to the Church of the Transfiguration on the top of Mt. Tabor, we needed to disembark from the bus at the base of the mountain and squeeze into a few vans. Some of our van drivers drove faster than others, but it was a fun little roller coaster ride up the hillside. (Don’t worry, nobody got car sick!)
The Church of the Transfiguration is beautiful. There are three “tabernacle” areas: one for Moses, one for Elijah, and the main sanctuary for Jesus. Outside, there is a Fourth Century baptismal font, and a view that takes your breath away.
We were able to spend quite a bit of time exploring the grounds, and it was wonderful. At the end, we had a short devotion in Moses’ tabernacle, and we sang “‘Tis Good, Lord, to be Here.” The last stanza reads: “‘Tis good, Lord, to be here! Yet we may not remain; But since Thou bidst us leave the mount, Come with us to the plain.”
This aptly describes my whole experience in the Holy Land. We had prepared for this trip for awhile, and yet when we were there, like Peter’s experience when Jesus was transfigured, it was very surreal. Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of Jesus’ divine nature when he was transfigured on the mountain, and in a sense, we got a quick glimpse of Jesus’ life on earth. It went so fast, we could hardly begin to contemplate that we were actually on ground on which Jesus may have stood. Like Peter, I wanted to say, “Pastor, it’s good that we are here. Let’s just stay here awhile, so we can comprehend where we are.”
But here we are, back home now, and the trip is only a memory. Like Peter wanting to tabernacle on the mountain with Jesus, I keep yearning to go back someday. Yet I know Christ is with me here in Escondido too. He dwells in His Word spoken at church, and He dwells in His Body and Blood in my mouth every Sunday. Jesus died on the cross, forgave my sins, and made me His child through my baptism, so now God the Father can say about me “this is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well-pleased.” Sinner that I am, that is truly a transfiguration.
This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the church, and it will be even more special for me this year, with the memory of Mount Tabor fresh in my mind.
I think all of us have Bible stories that leave us with questions. My question with the Wedding at Cana story is pretty trivial–how did Mary know that Jesus would perform this miracle? Presumably, Jesus did not perform miracles throughout his life on a daily basis, because in the Gospel of Matthew when he goes to Nazareth, they think he’s just a hometown boy: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” So Jesus was obviously not going around performing miracles before His ministry started, or He would have been quite the celebrity. So how did Mary know that Jesus would do it?
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
I don’t know. I guess I won’t know until heaven, when hopefully somebody up there will fill me in on the answers to all my stupid and irrelevant questions. 🙂 Pastor Matt, our former pastor, had a funny thought that since Jesus’ disciples had come with him, perhaps uninvited by the hosts, they drank all the wine. So Mary was just pointing out that it really was Jesus’ problem because he brought these uncouth fishermen with him. That’s always sounded plausible to me. 🙂
We were in Cana (now known as Kefer-Kenna) on our last day of the Holy Land pilgrimage, just before venturing off to Nazareth. Nazareth and Cana are close together in the hills of Galilee, not far from the Mount of Transfiguration. Scholars do not know that this is the real site of Cana, but some excavations have discovered what they think is a synagogue on this site, with some very old large stone jars, and the Franciscans of the Catholic church maintain a chapel there dedicated to the Wedding at Cana.
Two things stand out to me about our time in Cana. Mark and I (and maybe two other couples) reaffirmed our wedding vows with Pastor Matt officiating. We were not married in the church, and though we believe that God recognizes our marriage anyway, it was nice to do this with the pastor we have known for so many years just before he left our church (see “Joy and Sorrow” for that story). I don’t feel any differently about my marriage to Mark–God blessed it before, and God blesses it now. He holds marriage to be a sacred covenant between a man and woman, and Jesus going to a wedding that is recorded in the Bible reinforces the importance of marriage to God, as a symbol and foretaste of the marriage between the Bridegroom (Jesus) and the Bride (His church). We have always been blessed in our marriage, yet reaffirming our vows at Cana brought this symbol to life a little bit for me.
The other thing that happened in Cana is something that I am still waiting on to be fulfilled. We were able to spend some time in a wine shop, and I had the idea with a couple other ladies from church to buy some wine for Communion at Gloria Dei. However, we are saving it for a very special occasion: the first Divine Service that our new pastor officiates at with our congregation. We are knee deep in the call process right now, and it’s not been an easy time for us. When you’re without a shepherd, you’re vulnerable to the wolves. We have some temporary shepherds helping us out right now, so we’re not completely exposed. But we have to try hard to remain unified and positive, relying completely on God’s grace. God blesses us every Sunday in our communion with Him and with each other, and I’m sure soon He will provide us with a new shepherd. I am so looking forward to tasting Christ’s blood–in, with, and under Cana’s wine–with him. I hope it will feel like coming home.
I like to take photos, as well as write. I’m not trained at all, and could probably be much better if I was, but occasionally I am blessed with some nice photographs. I took this one below with my cell phone while doing altar guild on Saturday. The way the stained glass was reflecting in the communion cup tray was really pretty, and the sun was shining through so perfectly. I just love our sanctuary. The stained glass is so intricate, so beautiful, I don’t think in all these years of staring at it, I have deciphered all of its meaning. I am glad that we have somewhere so beautiful to worship on Sunday mornings. It is a little foretaste of the beauty of heaven in the midst of the “foretaste of the feast to come.”
I love doing altar guild, because it helps me remember the centrality of the sacrament to what we are doing in church every Sunday. And I just feel privileged to have any role at all in Jesus’ feeding us His Body and Blood, infusing us with His grace and mercy and sustaining our faith. When I do altar guild, I feel like I am part of the legacy of both Mary and Martha.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
The nice thing about helping with altar guild is that I don’t have to choose between serving and receiving the “good portion.” I get to serve and receive at the same time. I get to sit at the Lord’s feet and hear His Word, and I get to eat His meal. If this is just a foretaste, I can’t even imagine what the real feast will be like!