Celebrated whenever Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Passion is Told
Just inside the door of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher – the gigantic, ancient, Church in Jerusalem that sits on top of the locations for Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection – you come across a strange sight (amongst many found in that Church, at least to us Western Catholics, who over the centuries have developed a different variety of liturgical and devotional traditions and accoutrements than the Coptic, Armenian, Russian, Greek, and Ethiopian (Orthodox) Christians, which form the most prevalent other groups visiting and praying in this tremendous Basilica). That sight is a stone slab elevated just a bit off of the uneven stone floor, flanked by large candles and situated under a rank of 8 large, glass, oil lamps. Unless you walked in just as the giant doors opened in the morning (around 5am), there is probably a crowd of pilgrims crouched and reverencing this particular stone, and bemused tourists standing around with cameras. The air around you smells of oldness and oil, the sound of the markets and streets outside has been replaced by the reverent bustle and busy-ness that saturates this beautiful, profound, mystifying place. You are standing before the Stone of Anointing long held to be where Jesus was washed, anointed, and wrapped in linen before His burial.
After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds’ weight. They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. – John 19:38-42
I had never considered the fact that all of the scenes we know so well of Jesus’ crucifixion, passion, death, burial, and resurrection all happened within a handful of yards of each other. Of course, all four evangelists indicate that Jesus was buried once Joseph had asked for His body, and that the tomb was not far away because they had to act quickly to be done before the Sabbath started. So perhaps I should not have been surprised to find this anointing stone only a handful of yards from Golgotha, and a similar distance to the sepulcher where Jesus was buried.
Still, not only does this Basilica put in perspective the distance and reality of all those locations, it also brings us close to the characters that were present at those places, on that terrible but wonderful, horrible but good Friday. His mother, and the disciple whom He loved. Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Mary of Clopas. Salome, and the other women. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The Centurion, soldiers, Simon, and the Chief Priests. They stood around these same places, but they held in their heart very different perspectives on the scenes unfolding before their eyes. Last week I put us in the shoes of Ciaphas – not exactly a saint in these scenes! – yet it is helpful to put us in the shoes of all the different characters who had the grace to be present before Christ upon the cross. Some chose to believe. Some chose to run. Some chose to deny, decry, or despair. Some chose the puzzling path of asking for Jesus’ body and preparing it for burial.
We get to choose our place as well. Will we act in our day, as the saints did then? The Sanhedrin? The spectators? The sorrowers? The soldiers? The sinners?
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has had the chance to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He will (hopefully) never forget a long night spent in prayer in the dark and locked church. It was chilling physically, but transformative spiritually. A place like none on earth: where God laid down His life, and took it up again.