Walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The street was flanked with stalls stuffed with everything a pilgrim would need—holy candles, holy incense, holy icons, holy water, holy oil, holy everything. The church is a sprawling structure that has endured the ravages of fire and war and at least one more devastating earthquake since the one that occurred as “the curtain of the temple was torn in two . . . and the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” The ancient edifice shelters the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Both early church history and archeological evidence support the claim that here are the sites of Golgotha and the Empty Tomb.

The great doors to the ancient church must be nearly 20 feet tall and are of wood and iron, scarred by time and smoothed by pilgrims’ hands. Each morning a Muslim key-keeper unlocks the church doors—a curious practice that dates back more than a century, necessitated by the bitter fighting among Christian groups over control of the holiest pilgrimage site of Christianity. The Muslim decree, known as the “Status Quo,” forced a truce among the competing Syrian, Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Roman Catholic churches. It gave them joint-access, but turned the key to the church over to a neutral Muslim key-keeper. I guess it’s not surprising—religion is all about who has the best brand, who gets the naming rights. But the Gospel—what Jesus did here—blows away all that kind of thinking because there is only one Name that really matters—and that’s His, “the name that is above every name.”

Inside, the air was heavy with incense and echoed with the chant of monks. Black-robed priests were busy with their sacred tasks of lighting candles and eyeing the offering boxes. Within the church, the way to Golgotha was along a dark passage flecked with candlelight—it matched the mood. When Jesus was crucified, it was likely on a small prominence in an abandoned limestone quarry outside the city walls. Much of that rocky rise has long since been removed, but a precious remnant of Calvary’s rugged hill is enclosed in the church, and in places it can be seen behind glass. It was stunning to stand there. In a sense, I’ve been here before—at least I had a hand in this place. For here, as Isaiah said, “He was pierced for my transgressions, he was crushed for my iniquities.” I thought of the words of the hymn*:

I saw one hanging on a tree
In agony and blood
Who fixed His loving eyes on me
As near His cross I stood
And never till my dying breath
Will I forget that look
It seemed to charge me with His death
Though not a word He spoke

My conscience felt and owned the guilt
And plunged me in despair
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
And helped to nail Him there
But with a second look He said
“I freely all forgive
This blood is for your ransom paid
I died that you might live”

Took my place in line to enter the tiny chapel that shelters the site where Jesus was buried and rose again. When my turn came, I stooped to enter the little chamber built over the place of Jesus’ tomb. Inside, a stone marks the place where His body was laid. The marble slab is polished smooth by millions of hands and lips that have caressed that sacred spot. It was good to touch the place where the death of death occurred, for our faith is not tied to myth and make-believe. We have a real Saviour who came to a real place in a real point in time—facts and history as hard as this stone. As I came out of His tomb and worked my way out of the crowd, suddenly all the clutter and spectacle seemed to disappear. “He is not here! He is not here!” rang in my heart! That’s all that matters. My death-defeating King is full of life-giving Life, and though surrounded by the dark walls, dark priests, and busloads of tourists, nothing could distract me from worshipping Him there!

Tim Keesee

"The Look," used by permission