Culture & Religion
April Sun 12, 2009
The Old City of Jerusalem is considered holy or sacred by the three main monotheistic faith traditions namely Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is a city that is characterized due to its great wealth of religious monuments. Surely three of the most famous which cannot be ignored are the Western Wall, the Mosque of Omar and the Holy Sepulcher. The reason as to why the Jews have chosen as their prayer space the Western Wall is mainly because of its proximity, or better said it is the remnants, where the Holy Temple was built during the Herodian period. The Muslims venerate the rock from which, according to Islamic tradition, in the dark of the night Muhhamad ascended into the heavens. Nonetheless, the place of prayer from Muslims is the mosque of Al Aqsa which is located in what would have been southern portion of the Holy Temple.
The third of these monuments is a church built over a Jewish tomb, the resting place of Jesus of Nazareth. It is very common to find buildings over the remains of famous persons in remembrance and to honor their memory. The most interesting characteristic of this tomb is that it is empty. It has been empty since the second day in which the body of the Crucified one was placed in it to rest. What happened to his remains?
The body that was placed inside this tomb disappeared. Yet, his body did not dissapear because it was stolen or re-located, but because he resurrected. Today this tomb is marked by a Church with the name of the Holy Sepulcher but its very first edifice was identified with a very different title, that of anástasis. This was the will and decree of the Emperor Constantine whom mandated the first edifice to be built due to the insistence of his mother, Elena. Anástasis, means “Resurrection” and it alludes to what occurred, what occurred in that very spot that Jesus of Nazareth Resurrected among the dead. That he resurrected does not mean that he came back to life after some time in which there were no vital signs, we have many of these phenomenon recorded in both history and in recent times. The resurrection of the Crucified one did not consist of coming back to the life that he had before death. That is to say his body was not reanimated or revived. Those that have had this done to them after some time face death and their body is buried and naturally corrupts. We can escape death once, perhaps a couple of times, but not indefinitely. Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, conquered death once and for all; He abandoned the sepulcher in glory.
The oldest books of Christianity, depicted under the name of the “New Testament” record this event and refer to it in various forms such as “Jesus was exalted,” “he is seated at the right hand of the Father,” “he was glorified,” “he was invested in power”, etc. All of these expressions attempt to describe something unique, new and definitive. What they attempt to capture is that He possesses true life, life that is not subject to degradation, suffering and/or death. Rather, He lives eternally and death has no power over Him.
Would it be possible that something of the like can occur to a man? According to the latest news reports the answer is quite simple, no. All men—free or slave, famous or unknown, educated or not, rich or poor—have deceased and remain subject to death. Benedict XVI in his homily on the Easter Vigil of 2007 stated “the iron doors of death are closed, nobody returns from there. There is no key to these iron doors.” Yet, after the first day of that week in the year 30, in history oddly strange and peculiar news emerged. The news stated that a Jew crucified under Pontius Pilate, the roman prefect of Judea, had resurrected. That crucified Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, opened the doors of death. For “Christ, has this key,” the Holy Father continued. “His cross, the radicalism of his love is the key that opens the doors. This love is stronger than death.” It is not a surprise that this news would have struck a chord in both the human ear and the heart as something fantastic, surreal, out of this world, something that suppresses the normality of daily life. Is this perhaps because of this very fact as to why this building, the Holy Sepulcher, has been threatened to be destroyed throughout the ages?
As a matter of fact, the tomb that has been excavated out of the rock that housed the body of Jesus of Nazareth no longer exists. In the year 1009, the Muslim Caliph Al-Hakim ordered the destruction of the tomb. Some years later, after this incident, Christians were successful in rebuilding a small and humble chapel over the site of the sepulcher that was destroyed in a fire during the early XIX Century. The unappealing building that pilgrims and visitors encounter today inside the Holy Sepulcher was built by a Greek architect many years later over the ruins of the small medieval building.
Apart from the destructions which are the fruits of incredibility and human skepticism the Holy Sepulcher continues to serve as a witness to the victory of a man over death, namely the victory of Jesus of Nazareth. For as Christianity professes that through his resurrection Jesus returned to the glory of heaven and was constituted Lord of the Universe, judge of the living and the dead. Henceforth, he has the authority not only to promise but to also to offer eternal life to whomsoever believes in Him. For as it is written, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (JN 11:25)
Furthermore, precisely because he has resurrected he lives and is present here and now manifesting and attracting all of humanity towards him. He attracts all humanity simply to make each and every human person participants in the fullness of life and with that bringing the full dimension of humanity to its fulfillment. The resurrection of Jesus, as the Holy Father reminds us “is a qualitative leap in the history of the ‘evolution’ of life in general towards a new and future life, towards a new world which departing from Christ enters continually in this world transforming it and bringing it towards himself.”
For this reason that place, the Holy Sepulcher, is the foundation of all hope for humanity. It is a sign of hope and trust towards the fact that the future will be positive, that is that my life will be fulfilled, that my desire for happiness will find a response that is not born of my own capacity or any luck I may have. There is hope because of what occurred in that very empty tomb.
To cancel, forget or be indifferent to that empty tomb is to go against that which we all long for and desire, that is true happiness. The well being of society and of every man takes root in the adherence to that eventful moment.
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