The Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be two very different places. During the week, later in the day, it is packed with pilgrims; moving around can at times be difficult, finding a peaceful corner a challenge. If you want to get to kneel at Golgotha or enter the Sepulchre then be prepared for a couple of very long – hour long at times – queues. Of course it is worth it but, if you are in Jerusalem on a Sunday morning it is worth sacrificing a little time in bed and going down early.
Today was a gift with an extra hour in bed as the clocks went back overnight. So I thought I would use that hour to go to the Holy Sepulchre.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. (John 20.1)
It wasn’t dark but the streets and the market were basically empty. Most of the shutters were closed on the stalls, a few people were moving around but most were just shrugging off the night as the day began.
The great doors to the church were open, with their huge locks and bolts. There were some pilgrims already there, but we weren’t many, enjoying the space and the atmosphere, the wonderful chanting coming from the Copts worshipping at their altar. A Mass was underway at the XIth station but there were only a couple of people ahead of me at Golgotha.
They were preparing for the procession which would come to the Sepulchre, but I could walk straight in and make my devotions.
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20.8-9)
I sat opposite the tomb and said Morning Prayer. I had taken a version of Common Prayer for travellers and the psalm appointed was so gift-laden for where I now was.
So would I gaze upon you in your holy place,
that I might behold your power and your glory. (Psalm 63.3)
The clock was now approaching 7am and all of a sudden the bells began. They were rang simultaneously and the biggest bell boomed out. The sound filled the church overwhelming the liturgies going on.
‘Go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead”‘ (Matthew 28.7)
I made my way to the Franciscan part of the church and the altar with a reredos showing the encounter of Mary Magdalene and the Risen Jesus somewhere in this part of the building.
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (John 20.16)
In the early light of the first day we hear him call us by name and call us into new life. As George Herbert wrote in his poem ‘The Call’
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.
I left the church as the worship continued, as the news of the resurrection was shared once more and as an extra blessing I then met the pilgrim group from the Diocese of Southwark on their way to the Holy Sepulchre.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20.18)
There is no greater news that we can share than the mystery of our faith, our past, present and future reality.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.