On Wednesday, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I expected to be awed, wowed and even moved. But I never anticipated tears.
The line to visit the site of Christ’s crucifixion was long, and the guide of our small tour group initially stated that we would have to stand back and take photos, rather than waiting. I was disappointed, but I didn’t want to argue, particularly being the only Catholic in the group.
But Irit, who has been a wonderful guide this week, sensed my sadness. She thought for a moment and then told me to follow her as we walked around to the other side of the line — going the wrong way! Irit spoke some animated words in Hebrew to a few woman waiting patiently, and the next thing I knew, she was hurrying me to kneel in the shrine area. Once on my knees, I realized I didn’t really know what I was doing. I saw on the ground what appeared to be a gold plate with a hole in it. The plate didn’t seem hugely significant, and the hole didn’t seem to lead to anything interesting. I looked up and saw an icon of Jesus, and before I knew it, my eyes were welling up.
I couldn’t believe it. Tears. I was about to cry, and I had no idea why. All of this took place in perhaps the span of 60 seconds, but I seem to remember having the fleeting thought, “He died for me. Here.”
I tried to collect myself, and I backed out of the shrine area. Irit then handed me a taper candle and suggested I light it and say a prayer. Only then did she notice I was tearing up, and I instantly felt embarrassed. She comforted me warmly, telling me it’s an emotional thing to see and then saying with a smile, “This makes my day.” I thanked her so sincerely for working to get me to the head of the line. I have no idea what she said to do so, but I am grateful!
As I lit my candle, my immediate thoughts were of my grandfather, age 90, thousands of miles away from me at that moment. All at once, I prayed for his continued good health, thanked God for blessing me with him, and asked for as much more time with him as possible.
I nestled my candle in the sand, smiled at Irit, and off we went, down the stairs to the Anointment Rock, where Jesus was washed and prepared for burial. Again I found myself feeling teary-eyed.
Where was this coming from?!
I have always been Catholic, but in truth, I’ve always focused more on my relationship with God, the Creator. I’ve had to admit before that I don’t really feel as though I know Jesus. To me, He was a complicated man, someone I don’t always understand and someone I even fear at times.
Why, then, was I so emotional at the site of His death?
My hope is that maybe this is the start of a real relationship between Him and me. Maybe on this trip to Israel, I’ll come to understand Jesus better and see Him as someone more knowable, in some small way.
But even if I don’t, I’ll cherish today forever — my eyes full of tears I never saw coming.