The earliest and strongest Christian tradition traces the place of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection to a site that today has no reminder of its original appearance.
Just the name of the church can evoke eerie images—Holy Sepulcher (sepulcher means “a crypt or tomb”). After entering the building, many who are accustomed to Protestant worship may indeed feel aghast: gold drips from the icons, incense rises between the cold stone walls, and the sounds of chanting replace our more familiar choirs, organs, and pianos.
Six sects of Christendom—Armenians, Catholics, Copts, Ethiopians, Greek Orthodox, and Syrians—display jealous rivalries over the goings-on within. Because of this disunity, an Arab keeps the key to the building.
But if we squint past the stuff of traditionalism to the tradition of history, we find an unbroken connection to the central event of all time. The Jerusalem community held worship services at this site until AD 66. In the fourth century when Constantine prepared to build a church to commemorate the place of Christ’s resurrection, he tore down Hadrian’s pagan temple (built over the site in AD 135). But in 1009 the Muslim ruler al-Hakim razed the church and had the tomb of Christ hacked down to bedrock.
The church was built, rebuilt, and expanded throughout the centuries (much of what we see today is from the Crusader period). And while different religions, races, and sects have obscured the original site, Christian tradition declares that Christ was buried and rose again in this very place.
And here, as the “religious” fight over rights, rules, and whose faith is in charge, the need for Christ’s death remains clear: religion can’t get us to God—we need a Savior. The central shrine of Christendom thus demonstrates the need for the One whom it hallows.¹
- Adapted from Wayne Stiles, Going Places with God: A Devotional Journey through the Lands of the Bible (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 2006). Used by permission.