When all hope seemed gone
There’s a small Chapel, just off the main Rotunda in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, dedicated to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who comes to Jesus by night in today’s Gospel perplexed and full of questions. It’s a powerful story, but it’s also not the last time we meet Nicodemus. The man who would be a secret disciple eventually finds the courage to claim his friendship with Jesus by asking for his body after the crucifixion and burying it in his own tomb. That’s the reason for the Chapel at Holy Sepulchre, to remember the man who lovingly cared for Jesus’ body when all hope seemed gone.
If you visit the space during the week, it seems rather cave-like, tomb-like. But if you visit on a Sunday, the day of Resurrection, as a group of us were able to do a few weeks ago, the space is transformed by carpets and icons, candles and incense, spectacular vestments, and soulful chanting in Aramaic — every sense engaged and delighted by the news that “he is not here, he is risen, just as he promised.”
This is is what Christians do, first and foremost: we are called by God to be people who gather, week by week, to marvel at resurrection, to proclaim a love that knows no bounds and is stronger than death. How exactly that worship is offered varies wonderfully among Christian churches, and even within churches. That’s one reason why we offer annotated bulletins a few times a year (including today!) to help teach about why we do what we do at St James’.
But whatever the differences in form or expression, the essence is the same. Jesus gathered his disciples at the Last Supper and commanded them, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). After his resurrection, he appeared to two of them on the road to Emmaus and they “knew him in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). When we gather to share bread and wine, after feasting on the riches of the Scriptures together, Jesus is present with us, in us, among us, calling us and empowering us to carry his love out into the world.