I saw the empty tomb

By Lenard R. Mahaarachchi

We seem to think that being born into a Christian family, receiving a religious education is adequate to make us feel good about religion. The life and times of Jesus remains a mere story for most of us, as we take religion for granted. But that changes when you go on a pilgrimage to the land where Jesus lived and died, two millennia ago.

I had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land last year and seeing the places He visited and where his miracles were performed. With a visit to the Holy Land, the life and times of Jesus come alive and a strange chilling sensation overtakes you when you feel that you are walking the very soil that Jesus trod.

Christian worshippers pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City March 31. REUTERS

One can see the pillar to which Jesus was tied, stripped and whipped by the Roman soldiers; the dark dungeon where He was kept till dawn awaiting His trial; the places where He may have fallen over the weight of the cross; the spot where He met His mother on the Via Dolorosa and other places mentioned in the Way of the Cross. We said a prayer near the stone slab where Jesus’s body once taken down from the cross, was dressed for burial before entombment. Our tour group was able to kiss the stone slab where the body of Jesus was laid at sundown on that fateful Good Friday.

As advised by a cousin of mine who toured Israel earlier, I took with me a few yards of white cloth which was kept on the stone slab of the tomb and sprinkled with scent. Back home I gave little pieces of the cloth to my friends and relatives as mementos of the Lord’s Resurrection.

The Empty Tomb is not the only witness to the Glorious Resurrection of Christ. There is also the Shroud in which the body of Jesus was wrapped, which is miraculously preserved even today at Turin. This relic too should come to Jerusalem and be kept near the empty tomb.

Jesus who died at sundown on that fateful first Good Friday, rose again on Easter Sunday. The Synoptics and John are all agreed on the rising of Jesus accounts of which the foursome have reported in vivid detail. The Shroud of Turin is proof of His Resurrection.

The Shroud by the way is to be exhibited from April 10 to May 23 and already over a million have registered ( 93% via internet ) to come to Turin. It was last exhibited in 2000AD.

The Shroud which is in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy since June 1, 1694 is 4.36 metres long and 1.10 metres wide. Latest studies have revealed that it was this very cloth that was laid over the Last Supper table on Holy Thursday, which adds more value to it. The cloth has burn marks due to a fire caused in 1532 AD at a chapel in Chambury in France where it lay then. The Gospels are silent on the fate of the Shroud left in the tomb by Jesus that Easter dawn. But apocryphal writings abound with stories one of which says that “ Jesus handed over this cloth to a servant of the High Priest.” The shroud emerged in 593 AD when church historian Evergrius mentions it. In 639 AD the Saracens stole it away and it is said to have been bought by one Athenaeum, a nobleman.

From here the holy relic came to be venerated after the Council of Constantinople permitted it in 691AD. In August 944 AD the Shroud came to Constantinople and there is a reference to it in a sermon preached by Pope Stephen 111. Geoffrey de Charney came to possess it in 1502 and 30 years later the relic caught fire while in the chapel of Chamberly castle. In 1578 it was taken to Turin from where it got its name. Pope Pius XI made the Shroud an object of veneration in 1933 and in 1978 the world saw it on TV for the first time.

A committee of 44 scientists appointed by the late Pope studied the Shroud and declared that the blood on it was human blood belonging to AB positive blood group. Studies show that the body of a six-footman aged around 30-35 who weighed 175 lbs and was crucified was wrapped in it. They confirmed that the crucified man had 20 wounds in his head area, 13 on his brow and that he carried a weight around 60 – 70 kilos injuring his right shoulder, that he had fallen a few times injuring his nose and lips, that he had an injury between his 6th & 7th ribs, blood from which had freely drained on the Shroud and that he had suffered around 175 to 200 whippings as shown by the burial cloth.

In 1983 the Shroud came under the custody of the Vatican after Pope John Paul II travelled to the Lisbon residence of its then possessor.

For those who cannot go to Turin to see the holy relic there is a replica of it with the Benedictine monks at “Monte Fano” monastery in Ampitiya, Kandy. This gives an idea of the original, and during Lent pilgrims flock there to view it reverently.

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