Today a solemn procession carrying the relic of the Cross of Christ entered the newly dedicated Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, almost seventeen centuries ago.
The site of our Lord’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection had been covered over by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who hated Judaism and Christianity. He had built a pagan shrine on the site.
But the Cross, as well as the tomb of Christ, remained buried underground for almost two hundred years. The Christians of Jerusalem knew precisely where the holy sites were located. We can safely say that, from the first Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday on, not a single day passed without a Christian going to pray at these locations.
So we can keep today’s feast as an occasion to rejoice in the genuinely amazing faithfulness of the Christian faithful through all the tumults of history. And our forefathers and foremothers in faith have been faithful not necessarily because they had so much virtue—though many of them certainly have had great virtue. The main reason, though, is that it’s all true. All of it has been remembered faithfully and handed down to us because it’s true.
Let’s look at it this way. A man regarded by the authorities as a delusional political nuisance was executed as a common criminal on the outskirts of a ramshackle city which the Romans thought of as an outpost in Barbaria. If CNN had been reporting world events at the time, the chances of this execution getting mentioned by Wolf Blitzer was zero.
The executed man was buried nearby, in a tomb that did not belong to his family, His family being altogether too poor to own any tombs. The chances that the location of this grave would have been recorded in any written form: zero.
In other words, it is hard to imagine anything more obscure and forgettable than the death and burial of this man.
Except for one thing: He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit.