Today is Wednesday.
I’m writing about Saturday.
I’m not confused, just behind. The last few days I have been either on a bus or a plane...or recovering from being on buses and planes. The Holy Land experience is one of the most incredible experiences you will ever have, but it is not an easy journey. On Saturday, our last day in Jerusalem, it rained again. We walked again. In the rain.
This time, instead of walking the stone streets of the old city, we hopped from place to place around the area of the Temple, beginning with the Garden of Gethsemane. Standing here (in the pouring rain) amidst an ancient olive grove, we remembered Jesus’ agony. It was here that he went away from the disciples to pray, “yet not my will, but yours.” It was here that he came back three times to find the disciples asleep before Judas led the troops in to arrest him. This garden sits on the side of a hill, just below the Mount of Olives. From where Jesus was standing, you can see ancient graves, reminding us of the “whitewashed tombs” to which Jesus compared the Pharisees. You can also see the East Gate to Jerusalem, where Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday.
From the top of the Mount of Olives, you can see the entire city. I believe this is why Jesus spent so much time here. We know that he prayed for Jerusalem, agonizing over her lack of faith and history of killing God’s prophets. For me, standing here, looking out over the city was like looking at the picture on the lid of a jigsaw puzzle. It became clear how all the pieces fit together. Below was the East Gate, where Jesus rode into town on a donkey. Across from the East Gate was the Temple, where he chased out the money changers. I could see Caiaphas’ House, the Upper Room, the teaching steps, Fortress Antonio, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All of the events of Jesus’ last week were splayed out before me.
Perhaps the most moving experience of our last day, however, was a stop at what is known as the Garden Tomb. You may remember that on Thursday we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the site with the greatest support for being the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. In recent decades, however, a new site has been discovered that has generated a lot of excitement: the Garden Tomb. Located east of the city, the garden tomb, if not the actual site of Jesus’ crucifiction, certainly plays the part well. The Bible tells us that Jesus was taken to a hill called Golgotha (place of the skull). At the Garden Tomb, there is a prominent cliff face that, until it was damaged just four years ago, looks strikingly like a skull. There is also an ancient garden on the site, fitting the description found in John’s Gospel. And not far away, lies a tomb. The entrance is low enough that an adult must stoop to enter. Once inside, there are three chambers: a wailing room, and two decomposition rooms. The decomposition room at the back of the cave is clearly visible from the entrance, matching the story in the Gospels. Lastly, while no stone was found to cover the entrance, there is a handmade track in front of the entrance that a stone would have fit.
To me, whether this was the actual site or not doesn’t matter a whole lot. Standing here, peering inside the tomb, Easter morning came to life for me. It was a day that began with great sorrow and yet ended with great joy.
For a moment, I forgot that it was raining.