The large, round stone was rolled to one side revealing an opening into a tomb carved into the rock. One by one, we ducked our heads and stepped into the tomb. There were two sections and the innermost section had a long, flat platform on which the body would have laid. There was nothing in the tomb. It was empty. Praise God! It was empty!
The Garden Tomb
We ended our tour of Jerusalem on the highest of notes — at the Garden Tomb.
After walking down the Via Dolorosa and through the markets, we left the oldest part of the city through the Damascus Gate. Our destination was the Garden Tomb. You can find out more about it here.
According to the Garden Tomb’s website, this property was purchased in 1894 by the Garden Tomb Association, a Charitable Trust based in the United Kingdom. It is a non-denominational site manned by volunteers from around the world. Our guide was a gentleman from England who spends a couple of months a year in Jerusalem, volunteering at the site.
In the mid-nineteenth century, some scholars felt like the rocky hillside seen from the garden was the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. It was close to a city gate, had a history of being used for executions and looked like a skull. It was also close to a garden.
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. John 19:41
It was a beautiful, serene place.
A Time of Reflection
Our entire tour group gathered in an area set aside for tour groups toward the back of the garden. As the rain fell, our pastor shared a message from the Gospel about the resurrection of Christ. I closed my eyes and imagined that day. I imagined Mary Magdalene seeing the stone rolled away and the angel inside. I imagined the scene — Mary, asking who she assumed was a gardener, where Jesus’s body was. I imagined the shock she must have felt when Jesus called her by name. I could almost feel her heart beating as she raced through town to tell the others that Jesus was alive!
We ended our time in the garden by sharing communion. It was powerful to drink the juice and eat the bread, the body and blood of Christ, in this land where it all happened. It was powerful to say, “yes, I identify with Christ” in the city where he was crucified and which is still the epicenter of religious conflict. It’s easy to take communion in my beautiful, American sanctuary, but much more humbling in a part of the world where it could have much different consequences. We ended our time by singing a hymn.
The skeptic may ask the question “How do you know this is the tomb of Christ? How can you prove it”? I would respond “How do you know it’s not?”
What The Empty Tomb Means
To me, the empty tomb signifies hope. Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies that were centuries old. He told his disciples and the religious leaders that even though they killed him, he would arise from the dead in three days. He conquered death. The best thing is, he offered the same for us. If we believe in Him, even though we eventually die physically, we can live with him eternally in heaven. With so much sorrow and suffering in this world, that is a promise to cling to.
In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, you may be there also. John 14:2-3