On the edge of the Sea of Galilee

March 30, 2007


Sea of Galilee    It was Sunday morning in January on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. I was four days into a 7-day trip with 11 of my Minneapolis downtown area Senior pastors, including a rabbi, a Muslim imam, 2 Black Evangelical pastors, an Episcopal Dean, a Unitarian and UCC pastors, a Presbyterian, 2 Methodists, and a Lutheran; 4 women and 8 men, pastors of large and small congregations.

    We are friends and colleagues who decided to travel to the Holy Land together and more deeply test our friendships by encountering the religious and political differences that define and test this 21st Century and that test our commitment to stay in conversation and friendship with each other.

Temple Mount    I was the designated prayer leader on this Sunday morning.  I chose a small intimate area on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee on a hill above Capernaum.  The day was unusually warm for January, the sun bright, the water calm, and everything very quiet and peaceful.  Small commercial one and two-person fishing boats slowly made their way casting their nets – Peter, Andrew, James and John – 2000 years later.

    Our prayer services were to reflect our own tradition and be inclusive – quite a challenge for our group.

Mosque    I asked the imam to begin our prayer with a blessing of the morning and then I led a traditional word service like the first part of the Catholic mass; two readings from Hebrew Scripture and two from Christian Scripture with the Matthew 5:1-8 Beatitudes.  The Rabbi read the Isaiah reading; we chanted the Psalm; the Lutheran read the First Corinthians 13 – soliloquy to love and I read the Gospel. Then we had prayers of blessing and intercession.

    My “homily” was a short acknowledgment of the joy I felt in gathering some of my dearest friends and religious colleagues at the most sacred place for me on earth—the place where you can sit and read the first nine chapters of Mark’s Gospel and, with the exception of one reference, see everything that is described with one’s own eyes.

Tomb stone of Jesus    After my comments I placed a breakfast roll on the table in front of me, cautioned my very diverse friends that I wasn’t trapping them into Roman Catholic Eucharist but rather inviting them to pass the bread and partake of a secular breaking of bread—the symbol of God’s daily bread that nourishes and sustains us and united us on this pristinely beautiful morning.

Yad Vashem    I also apologized to those Christian colleagues that, while many of them had invited me to preach and participate in their congregations, I had never reciprocated because I am not allowed to give non-Catholics Communion.

    I wept and said that there is nothing more sacred in our tradition than Holy Communion and too many of our people and leaders have made it an instrument of exclusion rather than inclusion; food for the elite and not for the hungry.

Walls    I have rarely felt so close to people I love than that sacred morning in that most sacred place.

Rev. Michael J. O’Connell is Rector, Basilica of Saint Mary and Pastor, Church of the Ascension, Minneapolis, MN.  Photo credit:  Rev. Michael J. O'Connell.

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