Saturday, April 19, 2014

Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Place of the skull-Golgotha. 
Where public display of painful death
 was inflicted on a condemned victim.
 It was about being on display
 as well as the slow and brutal form of death,
 A victim carried his own thirty or forty pound
 wooden patibulum- or crossbeam.

Paul Maier speaks of Gordon's Calvary-
"a somewhat skull-shaped hillock
 overlooking the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem,
 which British General Charles Gordon
 assumed was the crucifixion site, in 1883.
But, attractive as the location is, 
Gordon's Calvary and the nearby "Garden Tomb"
 in which Jesus was presumably buried,
 have no ancient historical traditions
 to authenticate them. 
The traditional site, 
at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, does."

For both traditional  and archaeological reasons, 
the Holy Sepulcher Church is considered 
the most likely place for the death and burial of Jesus. 
Though it is is within the modern days walls of the Old City,
 there is evidence that this was outside the 
Jerusalem walls during the First Century A.D.
According to the writing of Eusebius (c. 260-340 AD) the Christian community of Jerusalem venerated 
this area as the site of Christ's crucifixion until 66 AD. 
Then the Roman Emperor Hadrian built a Temple of Venus
 over the site in what some believe 
was an attempt to nullify the holiness of the site.
Then in 325-26 AD Emperor Constantine I, a Christian, 
ordered the destruction of the pagan temple
 and charged his mother, Helena, 
with the task of building a basilica on the site.
 In 335 AD the Sepulcher Church was dedicated.

Then in 614 AD, the church was damaged by
 the invading Persians.
12 years later they built a larger church
 on the foundation of the original church. 
Another 400 years later, the church had more destruction
 at the hands of Muslim leader- Caliph Hakim,
 and much of the preserved tomb of Christ was destroyed.
In the 11th century the rotunda was restored. 
Much of the that church seen today is from the 
Crusader time  (12-13th century),
except the dome which was more recently rebuilt.

What is remarkable of this space is that it is shared by various Christian traditions. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches all assume responsibility for various parts of the church. This includes the Stone of Anointing, the Rock of the Calvary, the Prison of Christ, the chapel of the Nailing of the Cross, and the Tomb itself. Yet, none of these groups control the MAIN ENTRANCE  which has been under the control of 2 Muslim families since the days of Caliph Omar in 637 and reestablished by Muslim leader Saladin in 1192. 

While this site is perhaps challenging for 
Western Protestant Christians to find worshipful, 
this small cross etched in an outside stone block 
became a focal point. 
The place and the site and the pieces of the story
 are critical in this Holy Week remembrance.
But, most of all it is the relationship with Jesus
 we need to be transfixed with,
 and not the trappings of all the
 religiosity of the traditions
that may tempt to draw away our focus.

We know that Josephus of Arimathea asked Pilate's permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross and bury it. 
He was helped by his colleague- Nicodemus.
Pilate continued to be amazed at the
 power of this man Jesus,
 and sent a group of Temple guards
 to make sure that the tomb was not tampered
 with somehow by his fanatic followers.
Matt. 27:63
For the Pharisees remembered what he had said
 about rising again in three days, 
and that story of deception by his followers 
would be their worst nightmare.
And our greatest HOPE. 

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