De sextonibus; or, on the Work of the Church

Last Month, I was in Jerusalem, traveling for my Employment. I was, again, struck by the Beauty, the Majesty, and the Intensity of that city. It is a locus gravus, a place its Inhabitants could rightly describe as kavod – weighty, heavy with Meaning. I have been moved by the Question of how it came to be so, and found an insight in a Place at once unexpected and undeniably meet.

The Morning after my arrival, I arose with the Dawn, and embarked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is among the holiest Sites the Faith, the Ground of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of the Christ. And I am obliged to admit…it is stunning.


I was attending the first-hour Latin Mass at the Tomb itself (because, obvious to my long-time Readers, I am, as the Romans themselves would say, ille nerdus). It was a strange Relief to hear those ancient Words spoken in that Spot – they spoke briskly the Gospel to the assembled Tourists and Pilgrims, and then lived it out in the Breaking of Bread.

As we ascended the step to take of the Elements, I noted one Man out of Place. He stood, like the Priests and Monks, but was garbed in a Shirt for Equestrian Sport, and all his Mien was Impatience – he was poised, as though awaiting a secret Signal.

And, surely, when the benedictus concluded, he charged the Chancel, and snatched up the Pulpit. Swiftly he denuded the Forefront of the Tomb of all the Trappings of Worship, pulling up even the Pews and withdrawing them to the far Corner. At once it was clear – this man was, lacking a better Term in Context, a Sexton. His Duty was the Preparation of the Space – this an Adaptation to smooth the Friction of the various Sects and Denominations that lay Claim to the Church in its Parts.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, mapped
This, as I walked again those sacred Stones, was of a Piece with the Revelation of the Weight of Jerusalem. So much Passion and Rhetoric and Blood have been spilt on and for these High Places that it is trivial to lose Sight of the grinding Work that has gone into their Maintenance, Repair, and Cleansing.

The Armenian Church administers a Grotto in the ̠difice, and at present, they are embarked on significant Remodeling Рperhaps in the first Time for Centuries. The Chapel is sadly wrought, the Flags torn up and Tools scattered about the holy Rocks.


This, of course, is so elemental a Clarity as to be made of the very Stones themselves. That which renders Jerusalem so weighty, our Churches holy, our Lives replete with Meaning is not the Presence of God. Our Faith teaches a God Omnipresent, attentive ever to all the Universe.

No, the Holiness of Jerusalem is a product of Hands and Hearts and Tears and Blood. We serve as Conduits of God’s Holiness, and imbue Compassion and Love into the very Earth. Tragically, of course, we may serve also as Channels of Fear, Rage, and Hatred, and our Choice is not Boolean – we have, always, the Responsibility to choose high Goods, and must make such Decisions over and over again.

Often, that Decision, that Job, is as simple as raising the Stone, or cleaving the Wood. It is sweeping Floors, and hauling Pews. It is Vacuuming and Dusting, it is laying Cable and folding Worship Folders. It is hanging Curtains and responding to Electric Mails. It is listening to one another Grieve as we dig Holes in the Soil to plant Chrysanthemums.

This Morning, my Kindred in Faith and I come together to Witness and Celebrate the Life of a beloved Sister. We find ourselves full up on religious Leaders and Authorities. We have the Liturgy and the Music we shall need. What we need are Hands to Staple and to Scrub, to Bake and to Boil, to Hammer and to Heave. In those Tasks, we find Blessing. We find Meaning. We find God. And we find one another.

Be blessed, Sisters and Brothers of the Church. The work goes on, from St. Helena St. in Jerusalem, to Dorchester St. in Southie. Work, and be blessed.