Inspiration - April 2010 - Garden Tomb
Thousands of people visit Jerusalem’s Garden Tomb each year and many find it’s a life-changing experience, says its director, RICHARD MERYON
It's hard to imagine a quiet, scenic garden in Jerusalem, a city that like New York never sleeps. Yet, just outside the city wall, on a busy intersection, is a place that might have been where Jesus was crucified and then buried by Joseph from Arimathea.
And behind a busy Arabic bus station is a craggy escarpment in which you can clearly see the face of a skull. Today, the tarmac is at mouth level and all that can be seen are the nose and eye sockets, but when General Gordon of Khartoum fame looked out from his friends’ home on top of the city wall in 1884, he saw the whole skull face. He was convinced that this was Golgotha, the place of the Skull, described in the Bible as where Jesus was crucified.
Just a stroll away through this delightful garden is a first century grave carved out of a rock face. Scripture tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who owned a garden, probably a citrus orchard or vineyard. Here in this garden is a huge water cistern, the third largest in Jerusalem at a quarter of million gallons, and a winepress, both vital when growing grapes.
With Nicodemus’ help, Joseph took Jesus’ body and placed it in an unused tomb. The tomb and the Garden completely fulfil the biblical account.
The Garden may or may not be the right place for Jesus’ Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection (we are careful not to make such a claim, pointing people not to the place but to the Person), but it offers a wonderful visual image. Many of our international, multi-faith visitors will picture it in years to come when they read the Gospel stories.
Well over 200,000 visitors from all around the world come to the Garden each year. Some are pilgrims, others tourists of many faiths or none, but in the Garden they all touch its serenity.
We have Christians available as guides who also share the Gospel. This is most unusual for Israel’s ‘holy sites’.
Some visitors stay for just 20 minutes, others sit and ponder for half a day. Many groups, after entering the empty tomb, use a quiet corner of the Garden for a time of worship and communion in their own style.
Many come to faith here: our Lord God speaks to people in the Garden week by week. To see the empty tomb reminds us of what those angels said to the women who came that first Easter morning: “He is not here; he has been raised” (Luke 24: 5-6).
And this is the message of the Garden – that Jesus has risen, that death has been overcome; concrete assurance for those who believe.
Without the Resurrection, the Christian’s faith and hope is indeed in vain. But Jesus is risen!
THE IMPACT OF THE GARDEN TOMB
- “This is the highlight of our time in Israel – I am so glad it was our last visit.”
- An Israeli tour guide who is a secret Believer, secret or her Jewish husband would divorce her, loves to bring groups to the Garden, and is offering to help us make the Garden even more effective.
- Eleven years ago an Australian pastor brought his wife for the first time. She came from a passionate Italian Roman Catholic background. She railed at God when in the tomb: “What have you ever done for me?” “I died for you, didn’t I?” the Lord replied. She crumpled to her knees, and the pastor said his ministry and marriage have never been the same again.
- An American, on Thanksgiving Day, said: “I’d give up every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had to have been here today”.
- Some German visitors wept before the tomb as they realised that Jesus actually died for them, and that he is risen indeed.
The Garden Tomb Association is a British charity. For more information visit: www.gardentomb.org or write to: The Garden Tomb, PO Box 19462, Jerusalem, 91193, Israel.