Rowan Williams on the Church and the tomb

The cave with tombs at the Holy Sepulchre site was quarried away by Constantine’s stonemasons to make way for the building of the first church. The church is now crowded by a press of other buildings. I like this meditation on the Church as tomb, the history of the Church, history and the church.

Constantine knew, of course, just what he wanted:
smooth verticals and marble, crushed glass rolled underfoot,
room for archangels with their orbs and wands,
space for cool power to stroll, relaxed and heavy-footed
Out to the little scented hedges, under a cross that shimmers,
silver and rubies, soft shadows lapping at the ankles.
He cut and smoothed, leveled and piled and spread:
light; crystal; breezy veils; a new, enlightened holy hill.

History (or something) disagreed. The centuries squared up,
exchanged curt, recognizing nods, moved in,
folded and packed, crumpled and stripped and boxed:
the shadows shook themselves, lurched up and smiled

From a new height; people found other things
to do with silver.  Air from the marble lungs
is punched out, and the colonnades are crushed and processed
into a maze of ditches, damp stone capsules,

Whorls, cavities, corners with don’t ask smells
and fairground decoration. A collapsing star, screwing its stuff
into the dark: soaring heat, density, a funnel
spinning towards the opposite of anything.
                      *     *     *
Saturday afternoon, the bodies squashed, wet, boxed,
breathing into the shadows full of smells and tinsel;
flame leaks and spits out of the singularity,
sparks a cracked bell. Iron, rope, smoke

Pant in the tight dark, a light-footed,
hight-strung passing. Afterwards we breathe,
dry of the sweat and crying, ask what history
is after, bullying us into waking, into this oppositeness.

Rowan Williams — “Easter Eve: Sepulchre”


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