Five members of our class took advantage of one of the unique opportunities Jerusalem has to offer: being locked in the Holy Sepulchre for the night. After being greeting by a Franciscan Friar who told us the three rules (no sleeping, no singing, and no lighting candles) he said the entire Church would be ours for the following nine hours. The doors were locked, both from the exterior and interior sides, the monks went their way, and we went to pray. We found ourselves able to pray, unobstructed, at the most important sites in all of Christendom: Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre (the actual tomb of Christ). Aside from near-freezing temperatures and a few random cats wandering around, we had ample time to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s death and Resurrection.
After about four hours the doors were opened and the other Christian Churches (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Coptics, and Armenians) which have a claim to the building entered to pray their liturgies. In the middle of the night the holy sites were filled with bells, incense, chanting, and unexpectedly large crowds of people. In the Old City of Jerusalem, the streets were deserted and quiet, yet the Holy Sepulchre was thriving with actions all praising the Lord! While it was nice to have the last few hours of the night back in relative solitude, the movements of the entire evening were joyful. There was a profound joy throughout the night.
Last night we went to an empty church to pray at an empty tomb. We did not expect to find the tomb occupied, as Mary Magdalene did on that first Easter Sunday morning (Lk 24:1-9). So what were we expecting as we ventured into the tomb or as we climbed up Calvary? I think we received exactly what we had set out for: a time to pray with Christ and rejoice because the tomb was empty. He is Risen! We encounter Him each and every day, whether here in the Holy Land, back home in the States, or anywhere else we may travel. Let us be reminded of that each and every day, every time we make the cross. Let us make the saying of John Paul II ring true in our hearts: “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” Let us be joyful.