|Sign directing pilgrims to the Church|
“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|
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|
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.
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!