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Sunday, July 22, 2018

7-22-2018 The Real Sepulcher

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? ―Luke 24:1-5

So Lord, what is a sepulcher anyway and how can one of them be holy? I had wondered this the first time I visited the presumed site of your burial and resurrection, a place quite frankly that does not bring me a high degree of comfort or peace. The building that now entombs the tomb seems dark and foreboding to me; the antithesis of the great outcome that occurred millennia ago by your design.

I looked up Webster’s definition and so I know that a tomb carved from rock is the basic premise. I also know that the fact you temporarily inhabited the space, then resurrected and vacated its confines is reasonable cause to call it holy. However, upon my third visit to this location which appears to stir others far more than it does me, I find myself considering other aspects of holiness.

If this is a site you deem holy, why am I not “feeling it” as I have at other powerful locations? Is that an issue with my spiritual condition? Are there other factors at play? Could it be that the holiness of this place is not conferred by you, but pronounced by Christendom’s order? After all, even if this spot is the “real deal”, your body is nowhere to be found. This is a place of memories, not present-day activity. The same can be said of other sites―Shiloh as an example―where I am much more spiritually moved. I’m sure there are folks who will argue just the opposite, that the Holy Sepulcher is profound to them whereas an open archeological dig bears less impact. So if a site is holy, shouldn’t each of us be equally struck with the same force of its power?

I think the answer is based not on the term holy, but perhaps on what other words are associated with that term. Might it be that a site is not holy, but a dwelling is? Could it be that people don’t go somewhere to meet you, but that you meet people where you choose, where you can stir them most?

On our third day in the land, such a stirring took place. Not at the tomb, but in a modest chapel, built long after your physical walk on the planet. Our group attended a service that day at Christ Church near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. It’s a favorite place of mine and though you never corporeally entered its doors or sat in a pew. I sense your presence here every time I worship within its walls. Apparently so do others from all nations, because the music sung here and the words of affirmation are pronounced in multiple languages and accents by people of many races and colors. It is a place of living faith made bright by the expression given out of most participants.

It is from this worship-filled place that I guided our clan to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Lord, I tried not to influence anyone’s opinion prior to the comparison. It seemed best to let each draw their own conclusion. We wove through the masses who had come to absorb the import of the structure and its story. We watched as people knelt to kiss and touch the stones and lit candles for prayers hoped to be answered in some new and special way. We took in the gothic architecture which seemed so foreign to me (and I suspect to you, considering it was constructed long after your visit here). We exited and I could see the look of confusion on the faces of all our party.

“That place was so depressing,” summed up their experience. Disappointment was their combined conclusion. The place of your greatest accomplishment for us had been imprisoned by those whose original intent had been to protect its significance―guard and glorify its gravity.

We later regrouped at our apartment and tried to make sense of the comparison; Christ Church to the Sepulcher. We wanted to be respectful in our conclusions. After all, haven’t each of us, Lord, strived to protect iconic experiences and encounters in our lives by wrapping them within sacred memorials of protection? Even those who reject spirituality erect ideological monuments in effort to defend their ramparts of religious protocols. So, circling back to the original quandary: What makes something or someplace holy, and If it is holy to me, why not to others?

I’ve concluded that the question itself carries danger in its expression, much like the question asked of the Angel, by Joshua, prior to the siege of Jericho; “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” In other words, Whose side are you on? I hear a deeper question behind the question, “Whose values, monuments and lifestyle are more holy?”

The Angel’s answer placed all holiness in the proper perspective. “No. (by implication―neither), but I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” You God pulled rank on Josh, just as you do on us, declaring only one Creator and bestower of purity.

And now it all comes around, not to the site or the heart, but to the inspiring influence, your Spirit, who instills in each of us, the spark that ignites when the moment and place are right; so that in you, anywhere and anyone can be holy. It doesn’t have to a location of my choosing or approval, it is yours and yours alone to decide for each of us.

My conclusion may drive some readers mad, Lord. Who am I to suggest to them only one Holy Demarcationer? I won’t answer, but I will encourage those naysayers to prove me incorrect, not by condemnation, but by exploration. After all, isn’t discovering the holiness of ones journey what the journey is all about? What if…what if; the discovery of holiness is not all about me or any of us? What if there actually is a Holy One? Are we each courageous enough to give the idea honest, holy consideration?

If I dare to consider the question, I may also emerge from the sepulcher of my prejudices to finally meet you in the holy daylight of worship. I wonder, Lord, who will join me?
Mark C.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I've had all your same reactions each time I visit the place. Somehow each time I've been a little more accepting of the place. A little more, but a just little. Each time I take a group I lead my group away from the frenzy to spend time in the Garden Tomb, where the spirit of the place calms their spirits.

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