The Holy Sepulchre

P1070628It is a long queue to visit the Holy Sepulchre.  There are works in progress, so to our left there is boarding covered in thin, dirty plastic. To our right are railings keeping the queue in place. Ahead of us there is an altercation and someone calls for the police. I think she may have been pushed but it is around the bend and I can’t see what happens.  Behind me two women talk.  There seems to be no air of expectation; we could be queuing for anything. It is hard to focus.

When we reach the head of the queue we are told that there will be a further half hour wait.  There is going to be a procession.  I sit down on the stone floor and write up my impressions of Jerusalem on the leaflet from the garden tomb.  By the time I have finished my mood has changed. I actually enjoy the procession – but why is it all so serious? Where is the joy of Easter morning?

Eventually it is our turn to enter the Aedicule, the tiny chapel above the tomb. Only a few of us are allowed in at a time; I have to wait while the others kneel to pray and light candles. When it is my turn, I light a candle and wonder what to say. I have prayed for so many people and situations since I came to Jerusalem, what do I say here, in this tiny, light filled place?  The words on the plane come back to me: “He is not here, he is risen.”

It is only as I walk away that I realise that this is the place where they were first spoken.

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Jerusalem – on the way

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“Are you excited yet?” asks my friend Su. We are on the plane, travelling to Tel Aviv on our way to Jerusalem.

I wish I could say yes to Su, who has been excited for months. She has been to Israel many times and her frequent phone calls are full of excited plans.

But even now, when the trip has acquired some kind of reality, I am not excited.  At this moment in the plane I am just a person in transit who would rather be reading…

But perhaps there is more to it? Surely Jerusalem is a pilgrimage place, a place all Christians should long to visit – and in one way I do.

But I  am also wondering if a visit to the actual Jerusalem will interfere with the Jerusalem I carry inside my head – Jesus’s Jerusalem with its temple priests, watching soldiers and the crowds surging in for Passover. Will I find that this Jerusalem has been lost under the trappings that have attached themselves over the last 2000 years?

What about my encounters with God?  Might they too be diminished by this visit to the holiest city in the world?  I have found God in many places; I’m not sure I’m expecting to encounter Him here.

He is not here, he is risen. These words, unbidden, come into my head. I find them comforting.