A few years ago my brother came to visit me in Israel and on the day he was going to fly out we went on a tour of the Old City. The first stop was the Western Wall and he decided to buy a kippa rather than wear a borrowed one to go up to the wall. For some reason, he decided to continue wearing it. We couldn’t go up to the Temple Mount because visiting hours had been in the morning, but we did go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“Aren’t you going to take that off before we go into the church?” I asked.
“No. Why? Can’t I wear it?”
“Well, it’s a little odd to visit a church wearing a kippa, but I guess it’s ok.”
So we wandered through the many chapels of the church and finally made our way to what is said to be the actual burial place of Jesus. There was a line to get into the shrine, but my brother decided he wanted to see it.
“Seriously, you should really take the kippa off now.”
“Why? Nobody is saying anything. Are they going to stop me from going in?”
“Urm…well, no. But no kippa-wearing Jew would go into the Shrine.”
But in he went. No one said a word to him and no one gave him a second glance. I don’t know if it was the fact that I’d taken on a cautious Jerusalem mentality, or if it was just the fact that my brother was an American tourist. I think it’s pretty safe to say that my brother is one of the few people, if not the only person, wearing a kippa who went into Jesus’s burial shrine.
By Jlascar – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jlascar/10350934835/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34030982
(Small aside: Not everyone agrees that this is the right place. There are those who say it’s in a garden near the Damascus Gate and still others who say there’s a family grave in the neighborhood of Talpiot.)
With the US election next week and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, people might not have heard that Jesus’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Selpulchre was opened this week. Yep. That Jesus.
There are two great articles in National Geographic about it and a few amazing pictures. See here, and here (this one has video!).
The fact that the tomb was opened and is being explored and restored is frankly miraculous. Absolutely nothing can happen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre without all the sects agreeing on it. The “immovable ladder” is a symbol of the lack of agreement. This is a ladder that stands on a ledge that cannot be removed because the sects are unable to agree about it.
By Seetheholyland.net – Church of the Holy SepulchreUploaded by Ekabhishek, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21249405
In the end, they all agreed because the tomb had suffered some water damage and they finally got some money to undertake the repairs.
Given the centuries of discord among the sects in the church and the UNESCO resolutions in the past few weeks, it’s especially interesting to mention who holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The key was given to two Muslim families starting 1,400 years ago and to this day the families still hold the key and open the door every day.
But then I wondered if Muslims consider the site sacred too, since Jesus is a prophet in Islam. They do, but they pray in the Mosque of Umar instead of in the church.
The Patriarch offered a place for him to pray in the church and laid out a straw mat but Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) refused, explaining to the Patriarch, “Had I prayed inside the church, the Muslims coming after me would take possession of it, saying that I had prayed in it.” Tradition has it that he picked up a stone, threw it outside and prayed at the spot it landed. The present Mosque of Umar was built over this place by Salahuddin Ayyubi’s son Afdhal Ali in 1193 CE. (Quoted from source.)
The Christians are in agreement, the Muslims protect the heritage, so just maybe there’s hope for the Temple Mount. We live in a land of miracles and wonder. Anything is possible!