Jesus is unstoppable

This past spring break, I joined a group from Notre Dame for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a wonderful, beautiful experience, and our 10 days were densely packed; so, I have much to pray with, still. I hope to share the fruits of some of this contemplation here in this column and in several to come.

One day, we went to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the ancient site of Solomon’s Temple (which was destroyed by the Babylonians); the Second Temple (where Jesus taught and healed); and what it is now, a mosque called the Dome of the Rock, commemorating where Mohammed received the command to pray five times a day.

Our guide told us about an early belief that Jesus would arrive for the Second Coming from the Mount of Olives, where he ascended, which is due east of Temple Mount, just across the Kidron Valley. When the Muslims took over the Mount, they figured that, at Jesus’s return, he would come through the east gate, the Mercy Gate, to what had been the Temple—so they sealed the Mercy Gate and made the hillside outside the wall a graveyard, thinking that the dead bodies would keep him away by virtue of Jewish purity laws.

But mercy is not blocked off, no matter how much the physical gate is sealed and obstructed. Jesus is unstoppable! Stone won’t stop him—he’s walked through walls before (Jn 20:19, 26). The dead won’t stop him—he’s been dead before. Purity laws no longer apply, nor did they ever, really, apply to the Eternal Word made flesh.

In a way, it is bitterly ironic that the Mercy Gate is sealed. In another way, it is deeply tragic that people essentially threw their dead in the way – to use their bodies as a barrier to stop Jesus. In yet another way, it confounds me that the people who built these barriers believed enough in the Christian religion’s Messiah to take such preventative measures and have this heavy-duty backup plan. They believed in Christ enough to really fear the possibility of his return – enough to seal an ancient gate and begin a new burial ground. Perhaps their primary motivation was to insult early Christians who may have held this precise belief about the Second Coming; but whatever the case, they did act on the strength of this belief.

The strangely refreshing thing, though, is that none of this bitter irony or deep tragedy really matters. Christ will come again whenever he intends, and no cemetery or cement will stop him. Of course, the division among our human race and the impulse to resist Christ’s coming are truly sad, so the pilgrimage presented a good opportunity to pray in hopeful anticipation for the life of the world to come. As we profess in the Nicene Creed, I do look forward to it. So, as I walked the grounds of the Temple Mount, this site of so much sanctity and strife, I sang in my heart the conclusion of the beautiful weekly night prayer at Moreau Seminary: “May grace come and this world pass away! ‘Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!’” (Rev 22:20).