Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lock the Holy Sepulchre - Part 2

I arrived a little early at the Holy Sepulchre before the doors were to be closed for the night. You could tell that it had been another busy day because the tourist energy that engulfs the sanctuary was beginning to wane. There were still some people spread throughout the holy place adorning the altars and chapels. Some were sitting silently with their eyes closed in prayer. Some were kneeling down with their Bibles in hand, reading for a moment and then glancing up to reflect upon the Word.

I walked around visiting each altar and side chapel knowing that some of them I would become very familiar with in the next 8 hours. I tried to envision were I would spend most of my time but then that seemed too planned, too controlled for me. I decided to go wherever the ruach, the breath and spirit of God would blow me. The priests were cleaning up for the day, the candelabras were scraped of the wax that had built up during the day and the taper boxes were replenished ready for the next. The day was winding down.
There is an eerie organ sound that echoes throughout the Holy Sepulchre. The organist is tuning the massive pipe organ one note at a time. I wasn’t sure if this was part of what happens each night or if I just happened to choose this night when the organ was in need. You could not see the sunlight any longer through the rotunda over the Sepulchre, Christ’s tomb. The sun had set and the sanctuary was dimmed.

Then, I hear a loud knock; the priest raised the doorknocker and let it fall on the wood of the front doors of the Holy Entrance. It reverberated throughout the stone walls and columned halls. It is 8:30 pm and one of the large forbidding doors is closed. People leave for the day and walk out. They take a moment to turn around and make the sign of the cross upon their forehead, heart and shoulders. The Exterior Courtyard outside in front of the doors is lit with dim artificial light and empty. What an unusual site that is to see the Courtyard void of pilgrims and picture takers, police and priests.

It’s so warm; I wondered how I was ever going to go the night with long sleeves and a shawl over my head. So I sat quietly on a wooden bench by the Holy Entrance hoping to catch the evening Jerusalem breeze that every evening cools down and relieves the heated stone. I thought about the thousands of people, of all faiths, who have crossed this particular threshold. I thought about the keeper of the keys, a Palestinian Muslim man who is part of the Nuseibh family who, since 1520 CE, under an order of Sultan Suleiman, has held the keys to the Holy Sepulchre. Several times I sat on that same bench to talk with him about the Sepulchre. He showed me places in the Holy sanctuary that not many people get to see. He recognizes me now when I go to visit. I thought, these are things that I’m going to miss about Jerusalem.

I can hear other Church bells ringing in the distance, another day has ceased and the stores and the streets of the Old City are closed up for the night. I can still see the sky outside and the stars have emerged, a planet is visible, it could have Venus or Mars maybe even Jupiter.

At 8:50 pm the knocker at the Holy Entrance bangs again loudly and the lights are turned out save for the remaining lanterns that are perpetually lit. The one remaining door is partially closed with only a foot of ‘escaping room’. Don’t think for a minute that I didn’t consider bolting, it was getting spooky and I wondered what in the world I had committed to now, why did I ever think this was a good idea. The priests who are on night watch gather at the door, there are three Armenians – one of them my friend, three Franciscans, and one Greek priest.

At 9:00 pm the door is shut and a loud imposing slam echoes throughout the Church. The sound of the latch being closed and locked from the outside was even echoing louder in my head. The small little door inside of the larger door is opened and the ladder that is used to reach the lock on the outside is now inside. The priests disburse except Fr. E who comes to me. No one will be back until 5:00 am when the small door is opened and the ladder is retrieved by Mr. Nuseibh. I am locked in the Holy Sepulchre and Fr. E said, ‘The Church is yours”.

More to come

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