CathBlog - Grace beats tourist fatigue at the Holy Sepulchre


It’s the unexpected, the unplanned, even the unwanted that often moves us most. 

A few days ago as I wandered through the darkness of the Holy Sepulchre – thick with incense, pilgrims, prayers and camera clicks – I was less than moved. I was ready to move on. The angel’s words at the empty tomb rang with ironic aptness: “Be not amazed”. 

I wasn’t. 

“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen. He is not here.”

No. So, where is he? 

“He is going ahead of you …” He always is, “… to Galilee,” to the margins, the backwaters, the outer suburbs, the slums, the edge

I kept shuffling along, from the upper gallery where the rock of Calvary is venerated, along the various corridors and into the odd niches and chapels, up and down stairs, even (by mistake) into a sacristy laid out with vestments in preparation for the Liturgy, finally finding myself at the end of a modest line of pilgrims (and one or two curious Israelis) waiting to go into a tiny room that can take three or four, squeezed in tightly (tightly enough for me, anyway). It didn’t dawn on me until a minute or so into the waiting that this was it: the tomb.

But, alas, I was, by now well and truly “over it”.

There was a Russian group of four, two middle aged couples, the men in tow, carrying their wives’ handbags, and looking even less enthused by all this than I was. They came out before the young Greek Orthodox priest on sentinel duty at the door had time to repeat his “Please, move along. Please!”, and I found myself stepping into this silent, empty little room alone.

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” said Paul. Visiting the place that commemorates Christ’s burial is a step out of time (as chronos), and into a memory that is our future holding every moment in being (as kairos). To enter that “space of freedom” is Christ within us “re-membering” our ultimate future. 

It wasn’t so much a “first time” visit as a “return” then.

The Holy Sepulchre is not – at least primarily – about what happened to someone else some two thousand years ago in this weird and wonderful city. It is about what happens now when the Christ within us “returns”, as it were, to the place from whence he embarks towards us as our own True Self. 

And he does it by going to the margins: of our world, our lives, our faith, our very selves, and even our “God”. And is there any place on earth that is more of a “sacrament of the margin” than is this city, this “centre of the cosmos”?

There are so many tensions, contradictions, questions, inconsistencies and complexities that this “holy city” of Jerusalem embodies. Tradition holds that David took the city from the Jebusites. The Jews were here for a five hundred years until they were deported to Babylon, returning about fifty years later for another five hundred years, until the Romans expelled them and destroyed the city. 

For the next five hundred years or so, Christians had a modest presence here until they, too, were ousted, this time by the Arabs. The Muslims occupied it – and still make up the majority of its citizens in the “old city” – for 1300 years.

That’s three hundred years more than the Jews, and a thousand years more than the Christians. The Israelis conquered it in 1967, and have since then claimed sovereignty over it – though no other nation on earth recognises it.

So whose city is it? Nobody’s, and everyone’s. The biggest landowner – after the state of Israel itself – is the Greek Orthodox Church, which even owns the land on which the Israeli Parliament the Knesset is built! 

I don’t know whether to be moved to tears or laughter by its absurdities. But one thing is becoming clear: this is the human condition in miniature; this is, in our “secular age”, exactly what the Temple was meant to be: a microcosm. And perhaps it is precisely its absurdities that make Jerusalem a sacrament of the margin at the cosmic centre.

Drasko DizdarDr Drasko Dizdar is a member of the Emmaus monastic community, and a theologian with the Tasmanian Catholic Education Office.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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