Matthew 27:33-37

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.

And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Matthew 27:33-37

When you travel to Jerusalem you might be very surprised, as I was, to discover that there are two very different places where the death and resurrection of Jesus are remembered.

One is inside of a cathedral, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a strange place, bustling with tourists, divided into zones which “belong” to various Christian communities. You climb some steps to the altar table controlled by the Orthodox church which, they tell you, is on top of where the cross was planted.

Down on the main floor you pass the rock upon which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial.

And then you find, right in the heart of the building, the Roman Catholic Church controlled ornate altar hidden from view from the main floor where, they tell you, Jesus was laid in the tomb. I was there for a week and was never able to see back in there because it was always roped off for the special “invite only” masses booked long in advance. So there is that.

But then there is another place in town. Right behind the bus station. Called the Garden Tomb, it is quiet and reflective. Its most prominent feature is a rock formation that really does look like a skull. And, down below that, another tomb for the body of Jesus. This place has long been pretty much a Protestant thing.

Is it surprising that Christianity is so divided that we cannot even agree on the place where the most important historical event in our faith took place? Or could it be, like the four gospel letters, that the point is about being righteous, not being right? Could it be that the Christian faith is a conversation more than a set of conclusions? Could it be, in the wonderful diversity of life, that seeking unity which embraces diversity is more faithful than seeking uniformity which tramples diversity?

Matthew notes that the soldiers “divided his clothing” as an allusion to Psalm 22, “They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” To this day, we continue to end worship on Maundy Thursday by reading Psalm 22. The altar is stripped bare. The lights are turned low or off. We leave the sanctuary in silence.

Like those soldiers, we watch.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, like any family, the Christian family which continues to carry your story to the world has long been divided. Like your clothing on that day, we divide things because we all want a special piece of the pie, a special seat at the table. In our sin, we seek power, position, privilege, authority. We seek to be served rather than to serve. We seek to be right more than we seek to be righteous. Yet you bind us together. You bind us by your blood which was shed for all people. You bind us together by your love, which you seek us to demonstrate in the lives we lead. As your arms were stretched out on the cross, you embrace us in our divisions and, in that love and mercy, we find healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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