Early Friday morning we began with a short trip to St. Peter Gallicantu which marks the place where Peter betrayed Jesus and then repented after he heard the cock crow (Gallicantu = gallus/rooster + cantus/singing). Remember that immediately after betraying our Lord, Peter caught the sight of Jesus and wept bitter tears of repentance (Luke 22:54-62). Being at the church and having Mass there gave us the opportunity to reflect on how, like St. Peter, we have a deep love for Jesus but, so often, we fall through sin. However, we can only find peace when we catch the beautiful gaze of Jesus as he looks at us in mercy.
After the church, we traveled to Hezekiah's tunnel which is the underground water tunnel that was made during the reign of King Hezekiah (697-729 BC) with the intention of diverting the Gihon spring into the City of David. A few of us built up our courage and trekked through the narrow pitch black tunnel as water rushed under our feet. It was very interesting and exciting to have to duck through certain passages that were about 4 feet high and then also squeeze through the more narrow sections as well.
The greatest treat, however, was not until eight of us has the opportunity to spend the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We originally had the intention of finding a cozy place and sleeping on an empty pew but we were told right beforehand that we were expected to stay awake and keep vigil throughout the night! Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience. Remember that in the church, the entire passion, death and resurrection of Jesus took place.
Usually during the day, the small room that marks the tomb of Jesus is impossible to get into because of the ever present line of over 100 people who are waiting to get inside for a few seconds before being asked to leave. However, during the night, the tomb, the Sepulcher itself, is open from 9:00 PM to midnight. During that time, we had the chance to spend as much time as we wanted inside of the tomb. The tomb itself has been covered over time by a marble slab which has been worn away by the many pilgrims. For myself and the other guys who stayed there, we were able to kneel next to the tomb and rest our heads on top of it as we remember the Lord's rising from the tomb and also prayed for all of you and your intentions. Also, we were able to spend as much time as we wanted in the Calvary Chapel where Jesus was crucified.
After the dramatic closing of the doors, which is done by a Muslim family who keeps the keys, the church keeps a steady buzz of liturgies has prayers throughout the night. Things start to pick up at midnight when the Greek Orthodox begin their liturgy that takes place at different places in the Church. Next the Armenians have their own liturgy at 4 o'clock which is then followed by the Capuchins (the Catholics) who have Masses inside of the Sepulcher from 5 to 9 AM.
What particularly struck me throughout the night was that our whole pilgrimage is centered around visiting a tomb that is empty. In some sense, the emptiness can appear disappointing. Why are we crossing the globe to visit something empty? But as I spent time through the night hovered over the tomb, I was able to reflect and pray about how the emptiness of the tomb is really our deepest hope and cause for joy! Jesus truly conquered the grave so that we might live with Him forever and be free from the shackles of sin and death! The Resurrection is really the truest sign of how the love that Jesus poured out for us on the cross has changed everything forever. We really have cause for eternal rejoicing that we can now approach the Father through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Fortunately, a few of us where able to sneak off to one of the more secluded chapels and nap for an hour to get some needed rest!