Church of Holy Sepulcher Vid from David Lamb on Vimeo.
Tomorrow (May 25, 2014) at about noon ET in the US, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church will meet in Jerusalem. Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople will meet at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Professor David of Hatfield wasn’t invited, but I did visit the church two months ago. For an eighteen second video of the outside of the church click above (ignore my sarcastic commentary).
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the supposed site of Jesus’ death and burial, the site is also called Golgatha (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17), or Calvary (based on Calvariae the Latin for skull). This particular site was chosen three hundred years after Jesus’ death while Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. She became aware of a pagan temple devoted to Venus and Jupiter that was built in 135 AD at the site supposedly to discourage Christians who had been worshiping there. Graves were found which were assumed to belong to Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea. People who doubt this site was the actual location of Jesus’ death and burial point out that the location would need to be outside the city wall, not in the center of town. It’s hard to say definitively either way, but if you’re interested in reading more, click here.
While it’s very possible Jesus died at that very spot, it was still hard for me to connect to it spiritually. Part of the reason for my lack of connection was the uncertain nature of a decision about a precise location 300 years after the event occurred. But the main thing that made it hard was the crowds. My guess is that the crowds may be bigger tomorrow for the Pope and the Patriarch.
I visited the church with a group from BTS on March 25, 2014 and we tried to get to the crucifixion location, up the narrow stairs, but the crowds were outrageous. We stood and waited, and waited, and waited, slowly pushing forward. Then suddenly an older Russian lady cut in front of us, pushed us back and informed us that she was trying to keep her group together. I’m thinking, “Yes, but you joined the mob after we did.” I got mad, indignant really, that her group was going to get to be at the right and left side of Jesus in his glory before I was (Mark 10:35-45?).
Something about the situation just didn’t seem right. People pushing and shoving to get near the place that Jesus died for my sins. The next day we visited another possible burial site, and that was a different story which I’ll talk about in the next blog. I never made it to the burial spot for Jesus, the crowds were too big and we didn’t have enough time.
I wonder if Francis and Bartholomew will have the same problem tomorrow.
The two leaders are commemorating the 50th anniversary (1964) of a meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, which was the first time a pope and patriarch had met since the 15th century. Odds-makers think this time Francis and Bartholomew will hug, more likely at least than a hug between me and that old Russian lady.
We’ll just have to wait and see about those hugs.
The split between the two churches occurred in 1054 over the filioque, Latin for “and the son” an expression that the Western church added to the Nicene Creed without consulting the Eastern church. (Twenty years ago I wrote a paper on the filioque for my Systematic Theology class, but I won’t make you read it.)
We had a similar experience to yours at The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Crowds, Lines. Waiting. Not seeing the burial spot either because of the crowds and timing. The different styles of lavish decorations did not help me experience a spiritual sense of the place either. (But I try to remind myself that they were seeking to honor Jesus in THEIR way.) So I much preferred the alternative site of the Garden Tomb Area that better portrayed the crucifixion and resurrection events for me. Our group held a quiet, reflective Communion Service there. (But it was in a private part of the Garden of Gethsemane where we did spend some time in meditation that was most moving for me.)
Marg, thanks for the comment (sorry, I didn’t get to it sooner). Your points are excellent and sensitive. We also had a quite, contemplative communion service at the Garden Tomb, which was moving as we heard worship in various languages providing the background for our own time.