Sing: 'He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought' UMH 128
As we drove north along the western shore of Lake Galilee we turned away from the lake and began climbing Tabgha Valley. We made a couple of switch-backs going up the valley and then turned right off of the main road and entered the grounds of the Church of the Beatitudes.
This octagonal-shaped (representative of the eight beatitudes) Roman Catholic church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and completed in 1938. It sits uphill from the ruins of a Byzantine era church dated to the late 4th century.
The earliest written account of a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land is by a woman named Egeria who traveled here in the 380’s. She tells of a cave in the hillside at the Seven Springs “upon which the Lord ascended when he taught the Beatitudes.” Archaeologist Bargil Pixner says, “The terrace above this still existing cave, called Mughara Ayub, must be considered the traditional place of the Sermon on the Mount. The hillcrest of Eremos indeed offers a magnificent view over the entire lake and the surrounding villages. The cragginess of this hill meant it was left uncultivated and enabled Jesus to gather large crowds around him without causing damage to the farmers.”
The Beatitudes are, of course, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he proclaims the availability of the kingdom of heaven to all who would enter and describes the character of those who would dwell therein. Jesus gives such a graphic description of the openness of God’s kingdom that he has to declare that he is not abolishing the Law but giving it its full meaning. Jesus then gives many examples of what he means by “the full meaning” of God’s Law.
The Church of the Beatitudes is one of those spots where, when you first see it, you know that your time there is going to be too short. I could have stayed for hours contemplating the contrasts between the blue sky, the blue water, the green earth, and the lovely sanctuary that fits so well into its surroundings. In this place of beauty and peace Steve read the beatitudes out loud to us.
Blessed indeed are all who hear these words and know that the kingdom of God is open and available to each of us. The kingdom of heaven is near – it is now here!