Father Greg Friedman, OFM. is a priest living at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. In a video reflection, he offers some interesting insights into Jerusalem, Easter and the burial place of Jesus.
The church of the holy sepulcher in Jerusalem is an interesting place. The building is somewhat unassuming…whitish tan stones, a courtyard in front with numerous people milling -round. Inside the door you are greeted by a slab of stone supposedly that covered Jesus’ tomb, to the right up the stairs is the location of the true cross. To the left around the corner in a huge open room is a mini building which houses the actual tomb of the holy sepulcher. Everywhere there seems to be all tourist and hallways and quarters leaving every which way, interspersed with locations with candles – lots of candles!
Six different denominations share property over parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher:
- Roman Catholic,
- Greek Orthodox,
- Armenian Apostolic,
- Coptic Orthodox,
- Syriac Orthodox,
- Ethiopian Orthodox.
So between the various communities jostling for control over the real estate, the number of people there at any one time, the denominations who come to worship there, the confusion of the architecture, the church of the holy sepulcher can be a somewhat confusing and – to some – an overwhelming place.
Father Friedman tells the story about a priest named Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P. Father O’Connor was an Irish Dominican, a leading authority on St. Paul and Professor of New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem.
The École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem, commonly known as École Biblique, is a French academic establishment in Jerusalem, founded by Dominicans, and specializing in archaeology and Biblical exegesis
In the Oxford Theological Guide to the Holy Land, O’Connor wrote, “The frailty of humanity is no more apparent than here. It epitomizes the human condition.” (I would argue that Father O’Connor never went shopping in Walmart in South Philly on Black Friday.)
But then the learned Dominican goes a bit deeper in that human condition. He comments on motivations, hopes and expectations of hundreds of people who visit the church whom he, not doubt, observed for decades.
“The empty who come to be filled – will leave desolate. (But) those who permit this church to question them, will begin to understand why hundreds of thousands were willing to risk death and slavery to pray here.”
Some come to church wanting to “get something” … and leave disappointed. “If God loves me then my life should be easier. But it hasn’t been.” So, since it isn’t happening, they come for a moment or a Mass or a ceremony, then dial out of this religion thing for the rest of the year.
But then there are some like the Beloved Disciple who haven’t yet seen and “believe yet still don’t understand.”
There are some, like Magdalene, who have seen and yet are bewildered – sharing a faith that is a mixture of hope, confusion, joy and sadness.
There are some for whom Lent started during Advent, continued through the Christmas season, held on a few weeks during ordinary Time, came on fully for the 40 days and is still going on after Easter.
Those – are Easter people.
They’re like that “beloved disciple” who arrives at the place of the miracle … and just peers in. They don’t enter. Subliminally they know that it’s going to cost them. There is a hesitation. We’re afraid to dive in…into this relationship with Jesus. It’s a defining moment – like asking someone to marry you. Regardless of the answer, “yes” or “no” your life will never be the same again after this moment.
I don’t know how your Lent was…. hopeful, challenging, mysterious and mystical, awe inspiring or just plain awful. I’d like to wrap it all up with a spiritual bow and say, “Welcome to Easter. Everything is just about to work out for you – even better than you had hoped.” That is true … but not necessarily in this life. In this life many of us will still be banging around the Church OF the Holy Sepulcher IN the village of Berwyn.
Here’s the good news. No matter what’s happening in your life, whether you feel it emotionally or not, whether you believe it or not, the tomb is still empty.
At the end of Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of Christ” there’s the scene where we see the burial wrapping seemingly deflate and the camera pans over to a smiling Jesus. He’s sitting down then stands up walking towards the opening of the tomb. I’ve always seen that smile as a kind of a smirk. Jesus is mocking anything and everything that’s weighing you down in your life. Jesus says, “Do not fear the world. I have overcome the world. The tomb is empty. I’m not there… I’m here with you. You can go now. Go in peace – and keep going.”