Sing: Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit, UMH 264
From Pastor Mike: Just a little over a mile northeast of Tabgha Valley, along the shore of Lake Galilee, lies the ruins of the village of Capernaum. Capernaum is the Romanized version of the Hebrew name Kfar Nahum, or Village of Nahum. The archeological evidence suggests that this village was founded by the Hasmoneans in 2nd century BC and that it was actively occupied until the 11th century AD and that there is no connection with the Old Testament prophet Nahum. This was a fishing village and appears to have had about 1,500 residents during the time of Jesus. The ruins were discovered in 1838 and there are two highly significant Biblical sites here in excavated Capernaum.
The synagogue of Capernaum is of special interest. We learn from Luke 7 that a Roman centurion helped build the town’s synagogue. It is easy to see in the ruins of Capernaum that the most widely available stone was black basalt – even the common folk of the town were able to build with this local product. The foundation stones of the first synagogue are still in place under the white limestone walls of the later synagogue, which may have been a Christian pilgrimage site. The black basalt synagogue is where Jesus taught and cast out a demon from a man (Luke 4:31-37).
When Jesus left the synagogue he went to Simon’s home where he found Simon’s mother-in-law sick and in bed with a high fever. Today, in the midst of the corona virus, this would be alarming for us. We would get her to an emergency room quickly. It was even more alarming in Jesus’ day. In those days a high fever meant she was going to die. A few people might recover but those were thought of as miracles. Jesus healed her and she started getting lunch ready.
Parts of this home are still standing today. It was specially marked by Christians in the first, fourth, and fifth centuries. First century Christians appear to have used this home as one of the earliest “home” churches. An interior room was used as a gathering space for prayer and worship. When Christianity became legal in the fourth century, local Christians and Christian pilgrims marked this as a special place. Then in the fifth century Christians built an octagonal church around the interior room. (The octagonal shape was a sign that they felt this place was especially significant.)
In 1990, a memorial church was completed over the 1st, 4th, and 5th century churches. It is a plate-shaped sanctuary with a glass floor at its center which allows pilgrims a chance to look straight down into those ancient structures. The modern church is built on concrete pillars that suspend the octagonal shaped disk over the excavated remains.
Our visit to this site was inspirational. The story of the faith of the centurion has always been one of my favorites, and now I have been in the synagogue he helped to build! Then you add to that that this is also the synagogue where Jesus taught and cast out a demon – well, this is why I came to the Holy Land – simply awe-inspiring! And then to walk just a few yards away and see a place where the early Christians worshiped together really does bring life to these stories.