We have mere hours left in our visit but this one last place could be a favourite of mine. The Garden Tomb.
We meet a Swedish guide who tells us how a few weeks ago this place received 20 cms of snow. I shudder. He had traveled to Sweden and when he returned, he'd brought back two snow shovels, as the locals just tried to sweep the wet snow away.
Then our guide begins to tell how a man looked at this cliff once at the turn of the 20th century and saw a skull in it and wondered if this could be the site of Calvary, called Golgotha which means, 'Place of the skull'. He explains that there are clues that point to both places, but the physical descriptions favour this one. He talks about the tomb, which we will see shortly, and how it fits the description from the Bible.
The man who first suggested this had to wait 10 years to purchase this place, and still didn't know if this was a garden or not, until he found a large wine press, a sure indication there was a garden here and it was big. The tomb had been designed for a wealthy person and a cross was carved into the entrance. Inside, they found a second-century cross painted on the wall above where the body would have laid.
To preserve it, it was sealed with a special cement and a facsimile was painted over it.
Our guide jealously guards our right to see the Place of the Skull by telling the group behind us to wait as they wanted to pass us, even though ahead there is still yet another group looking at it. Some of us are pure Canadian, and would have politely allowed the group to jump the line.
I secretly cheered our Swedish guide on. I'm not a native born Canadian, you see. Smothering my smile, I follow the group up, and indeed, the cliff resembles a skull.
Our guide points out that both places have merits for being the tomb of Jesus, but we don't know for sure and perhaps it's not as important as our relationship with God. He also points to the top of the short cliff, where a Muslim cemetery is now, along with the requisite warning to Christians in Arabic there.
We go down to a quiet spot near the tomb and hold a communion service. We're allowed to keep our small wooden cups and I recall how we had communion years ago at The Holy Land Experience in Orlando and they said their cups come from the Garden Tomb in Israel. It's interesting to have this connection.
It's peaceful here, as a Garden Tomb should be. Finally, we are allowed to visit the tomb itself, and one of the group, a young pastor, goes in first. Then he pokes his head out and says, "They're right! It is empty! I checked."
Inside, I notice a slab to the right where a body would be laid. It's bigger than I imagined, and our guide says it's cut in a way that is found only in one other tomb in Israel. This style fits with Mark's account:
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
Perhaps because it's easier to see the tomb here that most in the group think this is the Garden Tomb. Perhaps it's because our Canadian souls prefer to root for the underdog and this place gets less 'action'. Regardless, it's the highlight of the trip, not just for its significance, but for its beauty and serenity.
We finally left and Allan purchased some bookmarks and baseball caps before we climbed back onto the bus.
We're given one last chance to visit the Old City and Allan and I buy 2 tee shirts before getting lost in the winding narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter. The vendors are polite but we don't need to ask directions when we spy the small sign pointing the way out.
But we made it to the bus in time, returned to the hotel to change for our long flight, and left Israel that night.
It's been an awesome trip. Rafe was an excellent guide and host, and United Christian Broadcasters and Christian Journeys outstanding in their organization of it. Allan says we will return some day. And when we do, we won't be needing to snap so many photos, but rather just experience the trip, the renewal of faith, the connection to a land and people that God blessed.
I look forward to it.
I hope you have enjoyed this trip to the Holy Land with me. Share it with friends and please comment and tell me what you think of it. It takes only a short time to write out a comment, but really being exposure to this page, far more than a comment on FB.