|Edicule of the Tomb, Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (source)|
Christianity is a religion that 1) is rooted in history and 2) requires an act of faith. A recent excavation in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem reminded me of this truth. The Holy Sepulchre is built upon the sites where Jesus was crucified and buried. Hundreds of years ago, a small chapel called the Edicule was built over the tomb of Jesus. Each day crowds wait for their chance to enter the Edicule and venerate the marble slab covering the place where Jesus was placed after He was taken down from the cross. This year, long overdue restorations began on the Edicule. Several weeks ago, this project made international news as the crew had the chance to peel back the marble that covers the stone tomb of Jesus and see what was underneath. What they discovered was quite remarkable. When they removed the venerable marble slab, they discovered a thick layer of debris. Beneath this, they found another marble slab which archeologists think dates from the time of the Crusaders in the 12th century. When the restoration crew removed this older slab they uncovered beneath it a stone bench, which is most probably the spot on which the dead body of Jesus was placed.
When I looked at pictures of this original stone slab, the historical aspect of Christianity struck me. Christianity is a religion that is rooted in real places and events. It centers around a person who lived in a certain place at a specific time. Christianity is not about vague concepts but is a religion firmly rooted in history. The news coverage of the restoration also reminded me that Christianity requires an act of faith. Though archeologists can tell us that this is the location where Jesus was placed after His death, they cannot say that this is the place from which He rose from the dead. The Resurrection is a matter of faith. We know when and where Jesus lived, died and was buried, but it requires an act of faith to say that He rose again. In this act we choose to believe witnesses - the disciples - who tell us they saw Him after His Resurrection.
Christianity is a religion rooted in history that requires an act of faith. We see this in our lives. The good relationships, beautiful nature and wonderful things which surround us are historical facts. Whether or not we choose to see these people and things as a sign of God’s love for us is an act of faith. That the world is full of suffering people and injustices is a fact. Whether we choose to believe that the needy are the presence of Jesus inviting us to love Him or that God calls us correct injustices is an act of faith. Being a Christian requires paying attention to the real, concrete facts in our daily life and responding to them with faith. As we enter Advent, we are reminded of the Incarnation: God became man and dwelt among us. That a man named Jesus was born some 2000 years ago is a fact. To say that He was God is an act of faith that changes our life.