All the major religions have their holy sites. The holiest Christian site is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. We can’t be certain but scholars are agreed that it is the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The original church was built by the emperor Constantine.
His mother Helena is credited with finding the true Cross. The original building had a pagan shrine built over it and many churches were built and destroyed on the site. The present building is the result of major renovations that were undertaken in the 1950s. It is a major centre of pilgrimage for Christians.
I was there for Easter Sunday 2005 and concelebrated Mass with priests of many different nationalities under Calvary and in front of the Tomb. The chants and prayers in different languages added solemnity and helped reflection on the enormity of the event we were remembering.
The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. The Father called him out of the darkness of the tomb of death to a new triumphant risen life. He is alive. He is with us. He has risen from death. We now look on death in a different way. It is not a destructive end. It is an opening to new life. His death looked disgraceful and final. But Mary and the disciples were surprised and delighted to see him alive on that first Easter Sunday.
He appeared to them a number of times before the Ascension and it completely changed their lives. They believed and they shared their faith with others. They witnessed, by their preaching and the way they lived, that Jesus had risen.
St. John says, ‘The night is over and the real light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother or sister is still in the dark. (1 John 2:8-9). We can now live ‘in the light’. Life can be full of difficulties, we can be buffeted from all sides with bad news, everything can seem dark, but Jesus has risen, there is now hope and meaning to our moments of darkness and difficulty. Jesus went from the despair of death on the Cross to the triumph and joy of the resurrection. If we faithfully follow him we too can triumph over our weakness and difficulties and come to glory with him.
We are challenged to change and live in a new way. ‘Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ you must look for the things that are in heaven where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things not on things that are on the earth because you have died and now the life you live is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed, you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.’ (Colossians. 3:1-4).
The people who visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre this Easter and every Christian who worships in their own church will be celebrating new life and pledging to live that life to the full in their community.
– Fr John O’Brien SMA, SMA House, Ranelagh, Dublin 6