Reflection: The navel of the universe
3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
In the middle of Old Jerusalem stands Holy Sepulchre Church, and has stood in some form since the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mom had it built in 340 A.D. Ever since, Christians have been making pilgrimage there because it con-tains, in one bewildering, dark and mas-sive building, both the rock of Calvary and the tomb of Jesus. They’re like the big rides at Disney World you know you’ll stand in line for.
But if you wander a little off the beaten track in Holy Sepulchre you’ll come to an odd little monument that no one stands in line for, a carved pink marble stone, knee-high. It’s what the Greek Orthodox call the “omphalos,” meaning “navel.” For the Orthodox the omphalos is the center, the navel, of the universe. It is at the center of Holy Sepulchre Church, which is in the center of Old Jerusalem, which for several faith traditions, is the center of the universe.
In itself the omphalos is not that impressive compared to other places in Jerusalem suitable for reverence and awe. But last year, as I stood next to the unassuming monument, I realized where I was. I looked west about 20 yards to see the pilgrims waiting in line at the empty tomb where Jesus had been buried. And then about 25 yards southeast are people crawling awkwardly under an altar and looking through a hole in the floor, trying to see the rock on which stood Jesus’ crucifixion pole, the prime expression of the depth of God’s sacrificial love for humankind.
That’s where I want to live, in sight of the cross and of the empty tomb. We Christians keep the cross in our sights because grave illness continues to take our loved ones, because children are dying of hunger in Syria and being burned alive in Nigeria. Jesus emptied himself to join us in our suffering, and when the time has come, carries us past suffering into something so wonderful we can hardly imagine it.
We live with the empty tomb before us, too. It is a reminder that in our deepest darkness, in our most personal defeat, in spite of rampant brutality, there is hope. Death no longer has the last word. Evil is a losing bet.
When we experience Christ joining us in our suffering and opening our eyes to life forever with him, we stand at just the right spot, the best spot in the universe.
Merciful and Loving God, in Christ you join us in our journey, taking on the world’s griefs and sorrows. By the power of Jesus’ resurrec-tion, turn our sorrow into joy, tears to laughter, and despair into certain hope of life forever with you. Amen.
Pastor Doug Kearney