Some of you know that I’m in Jerusalem at the moment on a tour of Israel. Today we had a chance to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as part of our itinerary.
It is my first time in Israel and I am both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by what I am seeing. Underwhelmed because the reality of the holiest sites of Christianity is not at all what I had imagined them to be and overwhelmed for exactly the same reason. I now understand better what a friend of mine meant when she said that Jerusalem is a place of profound paradox.
The Holy Sepulcher, at least as I experienced it today, is crowded, noisy, hot and incredibly human and mundane. People stand and talk as others are falling on their knees and weeping with what they are experiencing. Children run and laugh, tour groups pose for staged pictures, and guides seek lost tourists just like any other major tourist attraction I’ve ever seen. And yet, in the midst of all of this teeming life, there is the reality that something profound happened in this place that changed the course of human history.
A companion of mine and I were later reflecting on a short passage from the Book of Acts where it is related that St. Paul said “these events did not happen in a corner”. They happened in a busy city, in a place where people have always gathered and where people still stream to visit for many reasons other than the fact of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Seeing the Church drove home to me that point that Paul was making. This happened in a mundane, human scaled place. It is hard to get my mind wrapped around the simple small scale of a church building which easily contains the place of the crucifixion and the place of the resurrection, but it is just as it is, and just as it was. Small, noisy, and common.
And it seems to me that it really couldn’t have happened in any other sort of place – at least now that I have been there.