A Way Other Than Our Own “Thin Places”
Last Tuesday night, something drew me back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Granted, it was just a few hundred yards from The Gloria, our Jerusalem hotel in the old city.  The church during the day is swarming with the faithful expressing their full emotional devotion to Jesus, their Lord, along with believers like us who are no less committed, but a bit more reserved, and all of us thrown in with the curious tourists who can’t quite figure out what to make of the whole thing. At night, with less than twenty people in the whole church, scattered among its many alcoves and chapels, it is a very different place. During the day, there is a long line to get into what I do believe is likely Jesus’ tomb, with a priest keeping the line moving by giving pilgrims just a few seconds to actually bend down and enter the tomb before indicating time was up. That night, there was a priest standing idly by outside the tomb, but the few of us still there late in the evening were able to enter and tarry as we wished. 

I don’t know what I was expecting. A new zinger from the Holy Spirit to supercharge my faith? Some inspirational guidance would have been nice, but didn’t seem forthcoming. I was with a Sister saying her evening prayers, but all I could muster was a sense of wonder that something happened here to change everything, but that something was just beyond my grasp. I discovered some years ago that there is actually a term for these places and moments in our lives when the present and the eternal touch: they’re called “thin places” and were a part of the Christian Celtic spirituality as early as the sixth century. A “thin place” as one woman said, “is a place or a moment where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.” Being in a “thin place” physically or spiritually does not necessarily translate into a spiritual breakthrough, but it is a moment when our usual points of orientation are suspended in ways that can cause us to lose our bearings, yet at the same time find new ones. 

Something happened in that tomb Easter morning, and something happened that night when the disciples were likely gathered in the same upper room where they had celebrated Passover with Jesus three days earlier.By the way, the gospel writers don’t bother to coordinate their stories of that first Easter day or the subsequent events. I have come to trust that Jesus unleashed from the tomb is Jesus present and on the move in extraordinary new ways, so that there is not one thin place, but many, as followers encountered the risen Christ in ways the disciples clearly were not expecting. The overwhelming message is that all these encounters caused them to lose their fear driven bearings and find new ones created by a transformational faith and trust that changed the trajectory of their lives. Where there had been fear, going forward there was a deep sense of inexplicable peace in the midst of lives that actually became outwardly more tumultuous. The Spirit of the Living Christ was doing for them what they could not do for themselves.   

It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)   

We walk into Easter 2019 through the Garden of Gethsemane (Maundy Thursday) and the Cross (Good Friday), trusting the presence of the Spirit of Christ to lead us to the Easter Resurrection.  May we be open to the “thin places” around us along that journey.