Fighting Christians, the Tomb of Jesus, and a Relationship Miracle

By Deacon Keith Fournier Published on April 18, 2016

The shrine around the tomb where the crucified Body of the Savior of the world was laid to rest has been falling into dangerous disrepair for many decades. It could collapse at any minute. How could Christians let such an important site get worse and worse without fixing it? Because those who all bear the same name, Christian, have been fighting one another for decades, even to the point of fisticuffs.  

Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Roman Catholic Christians all share jurisdiction over this place — called the Edicule — under an ancient agreement called the “Status Quo.” Every one of these Churches affirms the words of the Apostle Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Yet they fight. One reason they fight, the New York Times reports, is that repairing the shrine would imply ownership. 

The fist fights at the empty tomb point to the scandal of our disunity. It also points to one of the greatest impediments to fulfilling our common mission. 

In what is often called His Farewell Discourse, our One Lord Jesus Christ cried out to the Father: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20, 21).

“That they all may be one … that the world will believe you sent me.” It is sin that separates us from God, and from one another. It is sin we see at work when the Christians blessed with responsibility for our Lord’s tomb fight about it and let it fall into dangerous disrepair. 

The Way Forward

In late March, the three Churches finally agreed to work together to renovate the site — after a strong push from the Israeli government, which had even closed the site temporarily because of the risk the shrine would collapse. Each will supply one-third of the $3.4 million cost. 

What an interesting and insightful image for reflection. Perhaps it also points forward as a sign of hope. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports (subscription required) that a “source familiar with the issue said the negotiations were concluded in just three weeks, aided by the sense of urgency caused by the Edicule’s closure and the personalities of the three churches’ current leaders.”

It’s a relationship miracle. Even more importantly, it is a prophetic sign of what can happen among Christians. The urgency which prompted this recent agreement dwarfs in comparison to the urgency of this new missionary age.

The Holy Sites are symbols, and most especially the Empty tomb. Years ago I was inducted into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem as a Knight. The Order is charged with the defense of the Holy Sites in the Holy Land. Over years of ministry I have come to see that mission as including not only the physical sites, but the fullness of the faith they symbolize. 

Yes, we are still divided, broken and at odds with one another. This not only impedes our effectiveness; it breaks the heart of the Lord. But he also gives us the answer — indeed, he is the answer.

Jesus Our Peace

Paul told the Ephesian Christians that Jesus is “our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” So He is still our peace and the path to our own reconciliation today. Jesus alone can heal our divisions and create “in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” That is because of one indispensable truth, “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:14–18).

The patriarchs and heads of all the Christian communities in Jerusalem said in their joint Easter Letter: “Human suffering and agony are transformed into joy through the cross of Christ, where the divine and human realities meet and where Jesus overcomes death and suffering.” Therefore, they continue,

the empty tomb here in Jerusalem is the embodiment of divine hope for all creation. … We believe that the light of Easter must surely shine on us all. God reconciled the world to himself in Jesus Christ, and we are called to the ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ in the world (2 Cor. 5:20).

May the relationship miracle which occurred at the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem point prophetically to a bigger relationship miracle. May Orthodox, Catholic, mainline Protestant, Evangelical, Reformed and Free Church Christians rediscover our common roots and embrace one another once again in the Holy Spirit who has been given to all of us, for the sake of the world. 

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