The Holy Sepulchre of Christ: the destination of the Christian
Christianity is not linked to any country or place in particular,
but is based on a historical revelation and just as there exists a “history of
salvation” there also exists a “geography of salvation”: the Holy Land.
how Paul VI described it: “The land where our fathers in faith once lived;
the land in which the voice of the prophets echoed, the prophets who spoke in
the name of God, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and above all the land which the
presence of Jesus has made blessed and sacred for the whole of the human race”.
It is “the
land of Jesus, the spiritual heritage of all Christians who desire visiting it
at least once in their lifetime.”
for every Christian, Jerusalem is the heart of the Holy Land, the synthesis of
the action of God for the good of the whole of humanity. For us as
Christians, it represents the geographical point of union between God and men,
between eternity and history. The
preaching, passion and resurrection of Jesus, the Last Supper, the gift of the
Spirit to the Church, the foundations of our faith are rooted forever, like
rocks, on the luminous hills of the Holy City.
times has its name echoed in the historical books, in the Psalms, in the
Prophets and in the Gospels! Jerusalem, always loved and desired, disparaged
and lamented, trodden on and resuscitated, reproached, consoled and glorified.
It is really a most unique city in the world!”
The centre of Jerusalem is
the Holy Sepulchre.
where the salvific presence of God is revealed in a very special way, as is his
love for all men. In the words of Paul VI, it is the “most beautiful sanctuary
that exists for the heart of a Christian." In fact, the passion,
death and resurrection of Christ have always been the central mystery of
Christianity and what gives a meaning to our life, with the liturgy that
celebrates them on the three days of Good Friday, Easter Saturday and the
Sunday of Resurrection. The primitive Christian community, here in the Holy
City, commemorated them in three different places:
- the Calvary, the place of the
passion and the answer to the problem of human grief
- Adam’s Grotto, the place that
commemorates the descent of Christ to the kingdom of the dead and the meaning
of our death as separation and suffering
- the Empty Tomb, the place of the
victory of Christ over death and the tangible sign of Christian hope
It is only in the Holy Sepulchre that the land becomes liturgy and
the salvific act becomes concrete in time and space. In many countries, the
liturgy says “Today Christ is risen,” but it is only in Jerusalem that we can
say “Christ is risen from this tomb” or “He was crucified in this Calvary.”
The Holy Sepulchre is the echo of the “good news” which is at the
basis of all the rest: Jesus died, proof of his infinite love for men and was
then resurrected as we will be resurrected for Christ, with Christ and in
Christ. This announcement explains better the reasons why pilgrims come to
Jerusalem; it explains why we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ
and why we profess our faith in a future resurrection of man.
It was exactly two thousand years ago that everything began, when
some fishermen from Galilee went around saying that Jesus had died, was resurrected
and that they had seen him. It is on this fragile and incredible testimony that
everything is based: churches, cathedrals, the priesthood, missions, religious,
Councils and theology.
The Empty Tomb is the
kilometer zero from which all the roads in the world start from,
“the navel of
the world” as our ancestors called it, the center of our history.
Pilgrims who come to Jerusalem do everything they can to visit the
Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place in Christianity, as soon as possible. On
arriving in the Holy City, pilgrims repeat the words of the Psalm “I rejoiced
when they said to me: let us go to the House of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1) as they
go towards “Christ’s Tomb”.
However, not everything is so easy. Today, the Holy Sepulchre of
Jesus is in the middle of the buildings of the Old City, surrounded by markets,
souvenir shops and minarets.
wonder where the hill, the garden and the tomb are, wishing that the principal
sanctuary of Christianity stood in majestic isolation from the rest and that
natural light illuminated it all, far from the crowd and darkness. They
would like peace and quiet around them, but they feel the confusion amongst the
five groups that occupy it – the Franciscans, the Greek Orthodox, the
Armenians, the Syrians and the Coptic Orthodox – who jealously guard their
right of being there.
actually the only place in the world where love for God is manifested in the
clearest and deepest way, but so is the human weakness of wanting to monopolize
that same God. It is
therefore important that the pilgrims, who feel bewildered, allow themselves to
be embraced by the mystery and understand that like him, thousands of other
pilgrims considered it worth risking their lives to adore our Saviour. Only
kneeling on the Empty Tomb and forgetting everything that surrounds him, will
the pilgrim be able to hear the words of the angel “He is not here! He is
risen! Come see the place where the Lord lay.”
Franciscan Friars Minor of the Custos of the Holy Land were given the task of
caretakers for the holy sites including the Tomb of Christ. It has been a goal
of the foundation, being under the Custos, to bring restoration to the tomb and
respectfully and rightly preserve the place where Our Savior laid his head in
death. The hope is to raise $4.5 million dollars which is only one third of the
total estimated cost for restoration of the tomb.
Franciscans have the privilege, along with other Christian churches, to
celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in this beautiful basilica daily.
Today the church is shared by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic,
Syrian and Ethiopian communities. Efforts of restoration have been hindered due
to infighting among these various Christian groups who continue to share
ownership of the different parts of the building.
to this basilica, holiest spot in the world, can be disappointing. The scandal of the divisions in the church,
the body of Christ, is nowhere more apparent than here. Yet it
also shows that Jesus was not afraid to embrace and walk among our seared and
scarred humanity. Here He rose from the
dead to ‘free those who through fear of death had been slaves their whole life
long’ (Heb 2:15). Here the power of
risen life is offered to all. From here,
He challenges His followers to live as proof of His resurrection.
Reflections by Stephen