Holy Ground

Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy

John 20;19-31

That story of the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples is remarkable for a number of reasons, but to highlight just one point, and perhaps one that is not immediately obvious, strictly speaking Christianity has no holy places.

Those encounters between Jesus and his friends are assumed to have taken place in the Upper Room, the same place where the Last Supper had been celebrated only a few days earlier. What memories, what associations that place must have held for them all, not just in the turbulence of recent days, but also, going forward – betrayal of the Lord by Judas, one of the brotherhood on the negative side, but on the positive side, scenes of great emotion – breaking of bread and sharing of a cup, washing of feet, unparalleled teaching from the Master, and now resurrection appearances.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Appearance Behind Locked Doors [Wikimedia Commons]

What a holy place that must have been! And yet there is not the slightest evidence that it became a place of pilgrimage in the years and centuries that followed, that the hundreds and thousands of converts to the new faith regularly resorted there for spiritual inspiration, that the souvenir sellers’ stalls blocking the streets as they sought to sell mementoes to all and sundry.

Contrast that with, say, Islam, which expects its followers, or at least the men, to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and the other holy places, or indeed how Jews from all over the world used to come to Jerusalem for the festivals of the Jewish year. Now of course in practice certain places have acquired for Christians a special significance, and it is natural that, for example, the route that Jesus took on his way to the Cross should have a deep place in Christian hearts. Even at the local level, that there are particular church buildings held in great esteem by the community, as places that are somehow the repository of community and personal memories. Being an unashamed traditionalist I’m glad for that, but we still have to hold on to that essential truth, that the incarnation, God becoming man in the person of Jesus, has made the whole world holy, the world, and not this place or that, is the holy place for Christians. That means that not just my local church, or your local church or Westminster Abbey, or indeed St Peter’s in Rome, are more holy, but the factory floor, the supermarket, the hospital, the classroom, the high rise block, the pub and the club are holy ground as well.

This concept of the Holy ground being everywhere has the profoundest implications for us as Christians as we seek, however imperfectly, to continue the Lord’s work of building the Kingdom. And especially as in the beautiful Springtime of 2022 we mourn for the battered people and cities of Ukraine and weep over the images of devastation that we see, we must never lose sight of this great truth – there too is holy ground. We live on holy ground. Not only can we meet the Risen Lord anywhere, we must also be prepared to live his risen life anywhere – the holy people of God must make others aware too that, wherever they are, they are standing on holy ground, made such by the birth and dying and rising again of the Son of God.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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