In 2016, I met Wajeeh Nuseibeh. He is the “Door Keeper of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.” Every morning, as he has done for decades, he takes a great, iron key and unlocks the Church that holds the tomb of Jesus, a building shared by multiple Christian denominations.
Before Wajeeh had this job, his father had it; and before him, his father; and before him, his father. And when this current Nuseibeh passes, his son will assume the role of Door Keeper, as it has been for the last eight centuries. I wondered aloud how his family landed such an honorable position. He eagerly told me.
Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, took Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, prompting Europeans to raise an army to recapture the city. Try as they might, and though led by famed Richard the Lionhearted, the effort ended in stalemate. Exhausted by war, Saladin and Richard made a pact: Jerusalem would remain under Islamic control, but Christians would be granted the administration of and safe passage to the faith’s holiest sites.
But as soon as Richard returned to England and Saladin handed the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher over to the Christians, the different sects of the faith started fighting among themselves, to the point of bloodshed, for control. Saladin was forced to take the keys away from the Christians, and entrust it to the Nuseibeh family who has locked and unlocked that door for 800 years.
And lest you think all this is a ceremonial holdover from Saladin’s day, think again. Today, it is not uncommon for Israeli police to arrive in full riot gear at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as the competing groups continue to break into great, brawling fisticuffs all these centuries later.
With this information (and Mr. Nuseibeh’s business card) in hand, I proceeded into the church – soundly deflated. Christians, worshipping quite literally in the presence of Jesus’ tomb — the symbol of resurrected life — seemed spiritually dead. But I didn’t stay deflated for long.
I couldn’t, for the Church was alive with worshippers as magnificently eclectic as they were sincere. There were Africans, Greeks, Turks, Asians, and Latinos; every “tongue, tribe, and nation” seemed to be present. There were Franciscans, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists in a mosaic of colors, nationalities, ages, and appearances.
I knew immediately that this was what humanity could be — united, at peace, honestly seeking God — this was “the power of the resurrection.” It is humanity still enslaved, wearing the heavy chains of “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, dissension, and division” that remains dead — even if it has a religious label — yet to experience the power of resurrection.
Our Christian belief in the resurrection will ring eternally hollow if that belief does not change us today. For if it cannot bring life, wholeness, and renewal in the present — the power to be new creations now — it is hard to imagine that it will raise us from the dead later.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.org.