Imagine Mary Magdalene at the tomb, perhaps the very cave now in the Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Where she went, we can still go. And over her lonely destination—still a dark, cramped, funereal space—are pilgrims from all the corners of the earth to celebrate Christ’s liberation from this grave. In baptism, St Paul tells us, we too die and are buried with Christ, so that we may rise again from sinfulness and death to share Christ’s risen life. The tomb in Jerusalem is not just Christ’s; it is our own.
Had Constantine’s Bishop Makarios found the tomb of Jesus? He was certainly in the right area. Local Christians might well have kept in mind that Calvary and the tomb were under Hadrian’s shrines. It is just possible that Hadrian cared enough about the Christians to bury—and so, ironically, to mark—their most sacred sites.
The Holy Sepulchre has been sacred to Christians ever since. How can we do justice to its power? Imagine visiting Gettysburg if you are American, the Somme if British, Bannockburn if Scottish. Imagine holding in your hands the Declaration of Independence or the manuscripts of Churchill’s war-time speeches. These may all sound too military; but they are all markers of victory won through suffering. Christ, too, was victorious, despite and through his death. At the Sepulchre, then, imagine not long-past events with an enduring influence, but—as Christians believe—the start of Jesus’s dominion, over evil and death, which he will wield and in which his followers will share as you read this and for the rest of time.
You may think there is more poetry here than fact. But John’s facts are not inert. He is the midwife of the spirit: his gospel and its facts have worked if they have brought us by their conclusion through a new birth to a new life in a new-born world.