SEEKING JESUS Part V in the Holy Land – Church of the Holy Sepulcher/Tomb of Jesus Christ
by Sonja Harris on March 27, 2018 at 1:42 PM
It is impossible to go to the Holy Land Seeking Jesus and not visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that is inside the Old Walls of Jerusalem. The church location has a history of being destroyed and rebuilt and is located in the Christian Quarter of the old city. The main dominations that share the church are the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. The site where the church stands today has been revered by Christians because it is where Christ was Crucified and buried. It covers and protects Calvary where Christ died for our Salvation and His tomb where he was laid to rest.
Hadrian, a Roman emperor from 117 to 138, disliked the Christians so much that he built the Temple of Venus a pagan goddess over this area to discourage Christians from coming. In the 4th century, the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great ordered that the pagan temple be wiped away to make way for the church. The church that Constantine the Great built honoring Christ crucified was destroyed by Persians and again by Muslims in 1009AD. In 1149 the Crusaders completed reconstructing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 2013, Catholics are the most numerous of the pilgrims from around the world that visit the Church. Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives and the Church are their favorite destinations. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher closed its doors recently on February 25, 2018 and reopened them the following Wednesday, February 28. The closure came after a controversial plan by the Jerusalem Municipality to tax church-owned properties that are not being used as houses of worship. It would be tragic for the Christian world if the doors were to close permanently.
Before we were introduced to this ancient glorious church that stands in testimony of scripture, we walked the Way of the Cross or Via Dolorosa, where Christ journeyed carrying his cross to his crucifixion on Calvary.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him and the criminals there, one on his right the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
We started our walk at 5am so that we wouldn’t be disturbed by the hundreds of visitors and shoppers to the tiny stores on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We stood before each Station of the Cross and were reminded in prayer of Christ’s suffering. As pilgrims, we took turns carrying a smaller and lighter cross from one station to the next. Bill took the head of the cross and I followed behind on our segment. I think we all wondered how Christ in His infinite mercy could have loved us so much that He would endure so much pain and be so humiliated all for the sake of our salvation. The last four Stations of the Cross are in the church itself. All of this seemed so chaotic until I realized that the church has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times.
We crossed into the courtyard of the church from the Via Dolorosa by way of a very small entrance and it was not what I had expected. One of the doors to the entrance of the church was bricked off. It is thought that the Muslims shut the right entrance in the 12th century.
Upon entering this ancient church, you immediately see the Stone of Unction with lamps burning oil above it. This marble stab is where Jesus was placed after his crucifixion and wrapped in his shroud. There are beautiful wall paintings depicting the story of Jesus being taken down from the cross, then placed on the marble slab for burial preparation and finally placed in the tomb.
Matthew 27:57-60 (Fourteen Station of the Cross)
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen and laid it in his new tomb and departed.
The tomb of Christ is in this magnificent church. Roman Catholic Mass is said between 5am and 8am and we heard mass at 7am in the most sacred part of the Church, Christ’s tomb. There is a waiting area in front before the priest comes to open the doors to the tomb. At this moment while we wait it is inconceivable of what is inside the doors. Members of the tour waited patiently on hard wood pews prayed and took in the highly ornate entrance. The actual tomb is decorated with marble carvings and allows only 6 adults and a small altar for the priest to say mass. We took random turns entering the small tomb while the priest said mass. To be in the very place where Christ lay was awesome enough but it was a special blessing for Bill and I to be two of only four in our group to receive the Eucharist in the tomb.
Mark 16:1-11 The Resurrection of Jesus
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; He is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.’” Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How blessed are the people that travel to the Holy Land and experience visiting the place where Jesus died and resurrected. If anyone has the opportunity to go to the Holy Land, please do not hesitate, you will never regret following Jesus’ steps.