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

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lock the Holy Sepulchre Part 5

From an emotional stop at Golgotha I came down to the first floor once again right inside of the front doors. The Stone of the Anointing rests there and is well worn from the hands of many a pilgrim and pleasantly oiled with oil that they have poured on this stone. According to tradition is here that Jesus’ body was laid when he was taken down from the cross. Sunset was rapidly approaching which would begin the Jewish Sabbath. Joseph and Nicodemus quickly prepared his body for burial by anointing him with precious oils and wrapping his body in linen.

Here too I rested in front of the stone on my knees, my forehead upon the stone. I ran my hands over the stone soaking up what oils from the day that I could. I placed my fabric bookmark on the corner of the stone so that it could also soak up the oil that had collected in that area. Even now and then the aroma of the sweet oil still permeates my bookmark and upon the pages of the Bible where I had placed it.
Above the stone are hanging lanterns which are eternally lit and maintained by the sister churches of the Holy Sepulchre. There is a newer mosaic behind the stone which depicts the scene of Jesus’ body being taken down and anointed. The mosaic is too large to capture and to do it justice by camera. I focused on the three crying angels above the entire mosaic and upon Mary and Jesus’ faces. To me they tell the story. This entire area is a beautifully colored from the mosaic and the natural lighting from the outside.
By now it was approximately 11:30 pm. It was time to go to the tomb. I sat down outside of the edicule, the Chapel built over the tomb of Jesus. There was a woman inside of the tomb and a nun sitting outside of it and in front of it like me. I looked at its walls adorned with icons, the hanging lanterns and candles. It is laden with gold and marble. It was peaceful but had an energy that I can’t quite describe. Maybe it was leftover energy from all of the people who had patiently waited their turn to go in. Or maybe it was just an energy emanating from Christ’s resurrection. I could feel a cool breeze light upon my face, it felt so good.

After some time I got up and walked up to the tomb, paused, and then went inside. I left all of my belongings behind me. The antechamber is a small area with an altar in the middle which is where the angel kept vigil. It is called the Chapel of the Holy Angel. There is not one part of the crucifixion and resurrection story that is left un-memorialized. In fact in all of the Holy Land every aspect of Jesus’ narrative is celebrated. And, that’s good because each part of the story speaks to each one of us in many varied ways.

According to tradition it was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where Jesus was laid. The other woman in the tomb was praying out loud but in a hushed; she was speaking Greek. She prayed and prayed every now and then moving herself into a different position. We acknowledged one another with a bow of the head and a slight smile and then we adjusted for each other’s space.

My goal was to stay there at least, if not longer, until midnight. My mother died at midnight in March of 1986 which happened to be the midnight between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. At my former church I always sat vigil in our chapel from midnight until 1:00 am in honor of my mother. It didn’t matter the exact day, what was important for me was the time, midnight between Saturday and Easter.

I knelt for a while and then sat back inside of the tomb. This was a luxury. If you have been there you will know that the Greek priest is a pretty tight gatekeeper and will usher people in and out quickly who have waited so long to enter the tomb. Now, I had the tomb to myself (almost!) for as long as I wanted. No Greek priest was in sight! I sat back against the wall and thought about my mother and prayed for her and to her. I prayed for my father as well who twenty years earlier had also passed away. I began to doze off in the airless and candle lit tomb listening to the quiet prayers of the other woman and gazing upon the icon of Jesus lying on the stone in the tomb. Then, like Jesus calling to Lazarus, “Lazarus come out” it was time for me to also get up and come out. So I listened to what was in my heart and mind and I came out. I was healed from the experience and perhaps even brought back to life. It was 12:30 am.
The Holy Sepulchre comes alive with bells and sensors by the Greeks, Armenians, Coptics and Latins. From then until 5:00 am the Church was never silent. The Greeks celebrated mass for over an hour at 2:00 am and then at 4:00 am the Armenians also celebrated mass. It was beautiful to see and even more lovely to sit back, close my eyes and to listen to the sound. I left the Church after it had gotten light around 5:30 am. I was tired, not feeling well and completely satisfied with my experience in the Holy Sepulchre. It was an extraordinary way to say goodbye to Jerusalem.

1 comment:

Dina said...

The soft light in the pictures and the light coming to you is just awesome. I'm just sorry this series here ends. What a night!