01 March 2010
He is not here, for He is risen
Standing before an empty tomb just outside the wall of Jerusalem's Old City, many visitors are deeply touched by the message of the first Easter morning. Richard Meryon reports...
While the world most obviously celebrates the birth of Jesus, it is His death and resurrection that are the foundational blocks of the Christian faith. Nearly a quarter of a million visitors travel each year to remember these events at the Garden Tomb, a little-known British secret that also happens to be an Alliance member.
Located just north of the Damascus Gate into the Old City, this is a place of tranquillity and peace on the edge of a bustling city that is charged politically, militarily and of course spiritually, as it's the geographical focus for three faiths.
In its simplicity, the Garden Tomb offers visitors the opportunity to ponder the claims of Christ. Each individual or group is guided by believing Christians who show them the hillside that has the natural form of a skull face ("golgotha" in Aramic), first identified in 1883 by General Gordon. Nearby is another quiet spot that reminds us of the garden owned by Joseph of Arimathea, complete with its empty 1st century tomb.
A powerful place
People have different reactions when standing in this place. A group of Germans who were shown around stopped in their tracks as they stood before the empty tomb at sunset, realising that Jesus has risen.
A charismatic Anglican pastor from Australia came with his "hotblooded Italian" Catholic wife, who stood in the tomb and railed at God: "What have you ever done for me?" He quietly answered her: "I died for you, didn't I?" She crumbled to her knees. Now, 11 years later, their joint ministry and marriage has never looked the same.
"Like an idiot, I went to check that the tomb was indeed empty"
Major General Tim Cross, of the Iraq inquiry, gave his life to Christ during a visit to the tomb. "The guide that day just happened to be retired British Army Artillery Colonel Orde Dobbie," he says. "He showed us around and together we looked at the relevant Gospel stories. We were with him for quite a while, but at the end of the discussions he looked hard at me and said that, while all that we had talked about was interesting, it was all pretty irrelevant unless of course the tomb had been empty on that first Easter Sunday morning. If it had indeed been empty then that fact changed everything. 'So go and have a look,' he said. 'See for yourself.' And like an idiot, I went to check that the tomb was indeed empty.
"As I stood at the entrance I suddenly realised that if he was right and this tomb was empty on that first morning, that something quite extraordinary had happened - something so extraordinary that any intelligent person couldn't just ignore it. It wasn't quite a Damascus Road experience, but it was close to it, and in the quiet of the evening in the Garden, I resolved to take this all a lot more seriously. That Sunday was my 30th birthday, and it was effectively the day that I was re-born."
Many visitors finish by breaking bread together and having their own time of worship, often a unique and pinnacle moment in their time in Israel. Every day is resurrection day in this garden, whether or not this is where the events actually took place. (Many consider that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is correctly located.) But the important fact is that Jesus is risen and that, of all the world faiths, we serve a living God who has overcome death.
- Richard Meyron is CEO of the Garden Tomb, which was founded by British Christians who purchased the site for £4,000 in the 1890s. For more information, visit: gardentomb.org