The Church of the Holy Sepulchre ought to be the most sacred space on the planet. It houses both the hillock where Christ’s cross was planted as well as the garden graveyard of our Lord. All under one roof. And don’t forget that more than a handful of the starring Christian denominations claim holy real estate there–from the Ethiopians to the Franciscans. Think of it as the spiritual mall that time forgot.
In years past, an Ottoman potentate got so tired of the bickering that he went so far as to entrust the unlocking and re-locking each day to two Muslim families who, as it turns out haven’t gotten along so well either and now just hire the daily tasks out to a sub-contractor. But they still proudly show up themselves for the ceremonial photo ops. Yet another Sultan created a marvelous ruling called the “Status Quo Nunc” in 1852 that declared that things have to stay in appearance and set-up pretty much as they are unless things have become too dangerous or the improvements are such that all of the leaders of the denominations can all agree. Like that’s going to happen. That’s why the venerable old building that has endured marauding Persians, crazy Egyptians, radical downsizing, earthquakes, fires, wars and lots of really bad attitudes spends its days in a state of a sort of arrested disrepair.
You might think that from what I’ve just written that I don’t like the place. Actually, just the opposite. Yes, for me, at first it did have the feel of a theme park long past its prime. But now I marvel that all these different Christians, with their different languages, habits, tastes in interior design, and ways of reading God’s word still want to come and live as a family together. Sure…there are going to be dust-ups and a few punches thrown from time to time. What family doesn’t have those? I’m humbled that they still keep showing up under a leaking roof and flickering lights to pray and sing and wait instead of building a new awe-inspiring religious megamall to outdo the Muslims. I feel at home there.
That’s why a few mornings ago I got up at 4:15 A.M. to be there when the aforementioned sub-contractor unlocked the doors at 5:00. I wanted to be there to savor the quiet and let the story of Christ’s passion wash over me again. Oh yes…and take a few pictures without the crowds. And that’s where the nun comes in.
Picture this: From a wide second floor area that looks down on the daily path of pilgrims, I was lining up a spectacular shot when a diminuative nun came up from behind and jostled me–actually more like a stiff arm–ruining my picture. There were no crowds she could blame. No apology. Just a shove.
And I’m glad she did. I suspect she didn’t want one more gawker; one more tourist taking photos to amaze his friends back in Milan or Milpitas. Photos and videos can give you a sense that you’re in charge as you manage the sight and sound. They let you be detached and in control. The Church of the Holy Sepulchure is abount none of that. It warns me to come in not as a tourist, critic or consumer. But as a broken-hearted, broken promise-maker needing to be thoroughly awed by the holy grace of God in His Son all over–yet again.
We need more nuns.