Monday, September 12, 2011

We Will Never Find the Body

Sign directing pilgrims to the Church 
A priest I know recently told a story during one of his homilies. As it goes, he was in the Holy Land, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, waiting to see the Tomb of Jesus and he overheard a conversation between two friends that went something like this:

“So this is the tomb of Jesus?” one friend said to the other.

“Ya,” the friend says, “but what I am wondering is where is Jesus’ body?”

To us, this lack of knowledge concerning the Christian faith, even if these people were from another religion, may be shocking. But after visiting the tomb, I can actually say that this conversation is not so outlandish to me.

A priest who was on the trip with us recounted an experience that he had while saying mass in the tomb of Jesus. He had just consecrated the Eucharist and he was holding the host. Suddenly, he felt like he was in a time warp and he could not take his eyes from the host. He heard voices all around him, voices he felt were the apostles. They kept saying over and over:

“It’s empty! It’s empty!”

When I heard this story I was moved but it was not until I was actually in the tomb that I understood what he had experienced.

Steps leading to Golgotha 
Now, it is not easy to get into the Tomb of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains the Tomb of Jesus, Golgotha, the place where Jesus died, and the location where St. Helena found the true cross. It is collaboratively run by several Orthodox faiths and the Roman Catholic faith. The Tomb is the busiest place in the Church with rotating masses between the faiths, morning prayers and vespers - all on an extremely tight schedule. Even when my group had a mass outside the tomb, only a few people were not able to make it inside because another mass was beginning seconds after our mass ended.

I visited the Church every morning, very early, and still the tomb was busy. I had reached a point of losing hope until one day, I believe it was on the feast of the Visitation of Mary, I happened to enter when the Franciscans were having a procession around the Church. Because the Church is so huge, the procession took some time. I could hear the chanting in the distance when I noticed two Spanish speaking pilgrims begging the friar guarding the door of the tomb to let them have a peek while the procession was far away. With a twinkle in his eye, this friar waved them in and I meekly tagged along behind them. When we got into the tomb, large enough only to hold the three of us, the two women immediately threw themselves down and began to weep. “Ay pobre Jesus,” the women cried, “Pobrecito Jesus!”

The Sepulchre - The Tomb of Jesus
I closed my eyes while the women wept and I felt transported back in time. I could hear excited whispers, “He is not here! It’s empty! It’s empty!” It was as if I were present at the moment that Peter and John found the empty tomb. It lasted only a moment but when I opened my eyes I looked around the tomb in amazement thinking, “Jesus is not here. His body is not here. He raised Himself from the dead.”

The words “It’s empty!” echoed through my mind and in a deep, profound way that words cannot capture, I realized that this tomb was not a tomb. This was not the grave of some holy man. Jesus’ body was not here. We may find the cross Jesus was crucified on, his tomb and the place he was crucified but we will never find his body. Because Jesus’ tomb is empty.

Jesus’ tomb is empty.

I had another profound realization at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that was connected with the feeling of the empty tomb. I visited the Church every morning our group was in Jerusalem. A group of us would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and make our way to the Church to pray for an hour before returning for breakfast. I am not one to deny myself sleep under any circumstances so it is a miracle of grace that I got my jet lagged bum up every single day.

Roman-rite chapel  
As we walked to the Church every morning I would plan in my mind where I was going to pray in the Church. I wanted to pray one day at the place Jesus died, another at the tomb, and another at the stone where His body was laid out but every single time I entered the Church, I made a beeline to the Roman-rite chapel hidden away on the side of the Church. Every once in a while I would pray for a few minutes at the tomb or at the place Jesus died but after several minutes I would make my way back to the almost empty chapel.

At first, I was irritated with myself. I thought, “I can pray before a tabernacle in any place in the world!” But deep down I knew that this truly was the best place to be in the Church. Jesus was not in the tomb. He was not in the place of His death. His bruised and beaten body was no longer laid out on the burial stone. Jesus was now in the tabernacle.

When I prayed about whether I should go to the Holy Land, I felt Jesus inviting me to get to know Him better. I was not sure what Jesus meant by this but it happened. It was like going to see the family of someone you love. I met Jesus in the place of His people, His home. But more than anything, I grew closer to Jesus praying in front of the tabernacle at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Jesus I met was different from the Jesus I had met before. Of course, Jesus is always the same but He chose to reveal to me another dimension of His identity. It was as if being in the place where the Paschal Mystery took place, I could understand Him in a deeper way. I have come back from the Holy Land much more deeply in love with this Jewish man from Galilee.

I pray that each of you gets the chance to visit Jesus in the Holy Land but if you do not, it is not a tragedy because He is present in the Word of God and in millions of tabernacles around the world. He is waiting to reveal Himself more deeply to each and every one of you. The offer He extended to me to get to know Him better is an offer He extends to every single person in the world. Jesus is longing to help you to plumb the mystery of Himself, of God.


This post will wrap up my series of posts about my trip to the Holy Land. I am partly relieved that the series is over so I can now post on whatever strikes my fancy. But I am also saddened because I have learned so much from writing about my experiences in the Holy Land. I hope that anyone who has followed these posts has felt at least a tiny bit like they made a little trip to the Holy Land. May God bless you!


mesc said...

I did feel as if I was right there with you. Although you will write of everyday things you will find that this trip, where Jesus invited you to know Him, which was such an extraordinary time, will find its way into your stories of ordinary time. (Much like what happens during our liturgical ordinary time readings at Mass.)

Thank you for taking me with you on this journaling trip. Love you, Aunt ME

tagnes said...

I am so glad that you enjoyed the HL posts Aunt ME. I hope you are doing well, think of you often. Love you, T

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and profound insights. Thanks for sharing them! And the extraordinary experiences of grace Jesus extended to you through this pilgrimage.