Easter Oblivion

We visited Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the evening, after the crowds had dissipated. We were masked, as COVID was on the upswing among travelers, and glad that the line into the traditional tomb of Jesus was short, just a few minutes wait.

My friend Jason and I had spent the week with other pilgrims, following the footsteps of Jesus from one village to the other. Having missed the day when this stop was on the itinerary, we made the excursion apart from our group.

The church is built upon the site that is widely believed to be the burial place of Jesus. We found ourselves surrounded by a few others who, like us, had centered their entire lives around what happened in this place in ancient days.

The Christian belief is that the resurrection of Jesus was the pivotal moment of all history. It is the event when Jesus authenticated everything he said and did. It was the place where the greatest enemy of them all, death, faced its most embarrassing defeat. For us, there is no other place on the planet that both holds and lifts as much weight as this place.

Many followers of Jesus save up their entire lives to visit this place. Some approach it on their knees. Many weep while waiting quietly in line.

We were feeling the gravity of it all as we neared the entrance, the last people in line.

Before long a young couple wandered into the space, saw the line, and walked in behind us. We started small talk. The girl lived in Israel and the guy was from Italy. They met online. This was his first time in the country, and they were spending a few weeks traveling around the tourist sites that she had never thought or had a chance to visit.

Quickly after we made acquaintance, the guy, pointing to the marble structure covering the tomb we were in line to see, asked perhaps the most shocking question I’ve ever been asked:

“What is this?”

Presuming him to be very aware of the general site he was visiting, just a little lost and confused about which element of the church he was about to see, (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains not just the traditional burial site, but also the traditional site of the crucifixion and other holy artifacts), one of us replied, “Oh, it’s the tomb.”

I can’t remember if he voiced his reply or if it was just written boldly on his face. Either way, it spoke loudly: “What tomb?”

“You know, the tomb of Jesus, the site where many Christians believe his resurrection occurred.”

He shrugged his shoulder and decided that whatever it is, it would be worth their time to go in.

Soon we were being ushered into the holy place and quickly disengaged from the exchange.

But in the ten months since the incident occurred, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I think about that couple and their question at least once a week.

“What is this?”

It’s the greatest question that could ever be asked.

It’s a question worthy of being asked, pondered, and revisted often.

This is the site of the most absurd, unthinkable, glorious story that has ever be told. Despite all my deconstruction, doubts, cynical head-tilts, attempts at reconstruction, and the many ways that my fellow pilgrims believe I have lost my way, it’s still the story I cling to and sing. Come in and see!

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

Happy Easter, friends!

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