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Gazing on Empty

Twice on our Holy Land pilgrimage I found myself waiting in line to gaze on empty.  Despite the incongruence of my phrasing, "gazing on empty" was an activity I took part in with other Christian pilgrims in reverent silence. The first of these viewings took place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the historic church built first by Byzantines on what they thought was Golgotha (Calvary Hill) and contains the original Sepulchre (rock tomb) of Jesus.  Patiently I waited in line for a long time to finally bend low and slip into the ancient tomb (ornately decorated as a shrine).  Kneeling down I touched the stone slab that Jesus was purportedly laid on and rose from.  I gazed on empty and was moved to prayer. On our last day, we closed as pilgrimage group with Holy Communion in what is called the Garden Tomb.  This is an alternative site for the tomb of Christ, sometimes referred to as Gordon's tomb in reference to the British General who discovered it.  The beauty of the Garden Tomb has the look and feel of how I imaged the tomb of Jesus to be. Again, after our service of worship, I waited quietly in line with other Central Texas pilgrims to bend low and step inside to gaze on empty.  The carved niches in the tomb fit my imagination of the biblical story of the Christ's resurrection.  Once more I paused in prayer and wonder. The debate over which (or either) is the true sight of Christ's crucifixion, burial and resurrection I leave to others to lay out.  One of guides quoted the comment of a scholar in the matter by saying, "my head says it is the church of the Holy Sepulchre while my heart says it’s the Garden Tomb."  I concur. Yet in both places I paused to gaze and reflect upon something that was empty!  The Apostle Paul's words to the church at Corinth came readily to mind.  "If Christ hasn't been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. . . . If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else" (I Corinthians 15:14, 19 CEB). In quiet, prayer, reflection and contemplation I am repeatedly struck by the outrageous and stunning core claims of the Christian faith.  We think the God of all creation, that is of not just the stars but the galaxies!, came to live among us in a baby named Jesus.  This is what Christmas is all about.  We think that both sin and death were actually defeated -- conquered by Jesus Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection (regardless of which is the right empty to gaze on).  When someone dismissively says that "dead bodies don't usually get up and walk away" with the intent of dismissing the resurrection as false,  our outrageous answer is "your right they don't but in this case, in this one awesome case, he did!”  Death and sin are defeated.  This is the stunning claim of Easter. Or take the doctrine of the Trinity.  This is the essential claim that God is the great 3 in 1.  We know and experience God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Thus the risen Jesus commands us to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). There is more, much more, than a brief blog can do justice to.  Still I paused to gaze on empty in awe and gratitude.  In my pilgrimage I am thrust back to the heart of the faith.  It really is about God's love to us and for us in the person of the risen Christ calling us to reach out to and for others with that same love.  However powerful sin and death may appear, they are conquered by Christ!