This morning I went to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church is built to contain the place of Jesus’ burial as well as Mt. Calvary. The first church on this site was built by Constantine in the 4th century. The building was destroyed by the Muslims and then rebuilt and destroyed again and again. The church today is thus a mix of things that remain from the previous churches. The focal point of the church is the tomb of Christ which is situated in the middle of a large rotunda. The tomb itself is contained in a cube shaped structure that encloses the inner part of the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid as well as a kind of antechamber. This little area is known as the Chapel of the Angel in reference to the angel that appeared there to the women announcing the resurrection.
As you enter the Chapel of the Angel there is a pedestal that contains part of the original rock of Jesus tomb. The opening to the inner part of the tomb has written in Greek the quotation from the Bible, “Why do you seek the living among the dead. The Lord is Risen”. The tomb contains a slab of marble which covers the original rock on which the body of Jesus was laid.
As I came to the Holy Sepulcher for the first time, I expected it to be a holy place that was special because Jesus suffered, died and was buried here. After all, Calvary and a tomb have much to do with death…or so I was thinking. However, my experience of visiting the tomb of Jesus really changed my perspective on what the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is all about. This church is not so much about death, but is rather a shrine to the resurrection. I came thinking of the tomb as the place where Jesus was buried, but it just hit me as I was praying there that this is, more importantly, the site of the resurrection. As I entered the tomb, it just hit me in a way I hadn’t expected…this tomb is empty. The words of the angel came to my mind, “He is not here; He is risen”. In all the other places that we’ve gone to visit, we go to see “something”, some ruins, some bones, a tomb…lot’s of different “somethings”. However, when I went to the tomb of Jesus what I found was nothing. There’s nothing there; the tomb is empty! Indeed the tomb of Jesus contains nothing, but this nothing is what means everything to us as Christians. I am now a witness to the empty tomb just as those first disciples found it. Much like them, I too wish to spread this message to the ends of the world. The tomb is empty. He is not here. He is risen.
This afternoon we went to visit the church of St. Anne. This is built over the place that is believed to be the home of Sts. Joachim and Anne and thus the birthplace of the Virgin Mary. We had a talk given by one of the priests here on all the different Christian churches present in the holy land (by using the word church, I mean to use it in the sense that Vatican II uses it to refer to the Christian groups that have valid sacraments. Protestants make up a very insignificant number of the Christians here and are not considered churches). There is of course the Latin Rite Catholic Church (that’s us) as well as the Armenians, Copts, Syrians, Melkite, Orthodox and a host of others, some in union with Rome, some not. It was really interesting to see how we all fit together although it really made me long for the reunification of all the churches. There are so many different altars in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. To some extent this is a sign of diversity, but to some extent it also leaves you wondering why we can’t all just get along.
Right next to the Church of St. Anne are the ruins to the Pool of Bethesda. This is the site in the Bible where Jesus cures the lame man who has been waiting by the pool but has found no one to put him in the pool at the right time. The springs that fed the pool has dried up and mainly what remains there now are the ruins of a couple older churches built on the site. After this we were invited by the Christian Brothers to come visit their school in the Old City. The highlight of this tour was getting to go up to their roof which has a great view of the city. I took lots of pictures so be sure to check them out.