Read: Mark 15:22 – 16:8 (www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/Mark/15.html)
Sing: Up from the Grave He Arose, UMH 322
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is usually crowded, it is large, and it is complex. This can make having a meaningful visit difficult. It helps to have a basic understanding of what you are seeing and how the different parts of the church are related to one another.
There is only one entrance to the church. You can see that this one entrance was once a double entrance – the right doorway has been sealed. It is usually much darker inside so take a moment to let your eyes adjust, then turn right. You will see a stairway that will take you to the top of Calvary/Golgotha to the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified.
It is a bit disconcerting to see a place that you know was outside the city walls now on the second floor of a building inside the city walls. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion this site was outside of the city walls. The area had most likely been a quarry. The rock that was left exposed had been deemed unworthy for construction but suitable for executions and tombs. But now, what was outside is inside a room that is highly decorated with religious implements and symbols. As you wait in line you pass the place where they nailed Jesus to the cross. Then when it is your turn you kneel and bow below an altar to put your hand through a circular hole in the marble floor to touch the place where his cross once stood.
After you have spent some time contemplating the crucifixion you move to the left and away from the altar and down a different stairway. This brings you back to the entryway where, to your left, you see the place where they cleaned Jesus’ body after he was taken down from the cross. If you continue forward you will move into the Rotunda of the Sepulcher. The place where Jesus’ tomb was located is now surrounded by a structure called the Edicule. Special examinations of this structure show that what we see today is the fourth layer of the structure, each subsequent layer built around what was there before. You will probably notice a fifth layer – steel I-beams which were added in 1947 to keep the stone edicule from falling over. (These I-beams were removed in 2016-17 during a major restoration of the Edicule.)
To wait in line to go into the edicule you walk around to the left. On the back-side of the edicule there is a Coptic chapel and just past the chapel you will join the line. A priest or helper will be standing at the edicule door to let you enter when it is your turn. You will duck down to enter the outer chamber and wait to enter the inner chamber. Again, a priest or helper will signal your time to enter with one to three other people. This time you will duck lower to find the bench where Jesus’ body was laid on your right. The limestone bedrock bench is covered by marble all around and it is only the marble that you can see and touch. You have only a minute or two to kneel and pray here at our most holy shrine.