I Corinthians 11:23-26 “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper, He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
In choosing to go to Israel, our purpose was to learn more about God and the Bible in order to connect more deeply with Christ and to strengthen our faith. The desire to go had been building for years, and we finally had the opportunity to spend the time and money in 2023. It was an investment for my husband and I to connect in a new way with the Lord by experiencing the Holy Land.
My unspoken expectation was that I would experience something spiritually “special” when I went to the Temple Mount. As I lined out in Part 1 about my trip to Israel, that did not happen for me. Granted, the Temple Mount is a grand space surrounded by a vast and impressive view of hills covered with buildings and ancient ruins and all sorts of modern-day activity. There’s a lot to behold. The walls are massive and the architectural structures that took years to build using amazing materials, ingenuity, and manpower tell of the magnificence of that ancient era. God’s presence had literally dwelt at the Temple for a time as a set-apart place for His spirit. But I did not experience a sense of worship there.
The day after our trip to the Temple Mount, though, the deeper connection I desired came unexpectedly. Not in the grandeur of the Temple, but rather in the quiet reverence of Jesus’s probable burial place. A hush fell over our spirits as we waited in line to go into the tiny cave-like tomb. A small group of Latino believers were ahead of us in line and sang songs in their language while playing instruments (guitar and accordion). Our hearts sang along, knowing they shared our adoration of Jesus. They led us in unplanned worship as we approached the entrance to the tomb carved out of the rock mountain. Giant pansies were planted in a terra cotta planter next to the entrance, but no other adornment decorated the tomb. I had been taking photos and videos of everything on our trip for 8 days, but as I got closer to the tomb, I felt compelled to put my phone away and let the moment imprint upon my soul.
My eyes began to tear without reservation. I quietly wept as I imagine Mary Magdalene did all those years ago as she went to the tomb the day after the Sabbath following His crucifixion but found that Jesus’s body was gone. The angel had her look into the tomb to verify for herself that He was gone and then she was commissioned to run and tell the disciples that Jesus’s body was no longer there. With the newness of His resurrection stirring her soul she ran with a mixture of emotion (both joy and fear) to tell others what had happened.
At our turn to go in, six of us were allowed to enter the tomb together and stood there looking at the place where Jesus’s body laid for three days before the resurrection. Prior to entering the tomb while waiting in line, I had seen one of the Latino women ahead of me come out from the tomb entrance and her face beamed with joy as she exclaimed something for all to hear. I think what she said was “He is not here, He is risen!” I wanted to come out from the tomb and say the same thing in my own language, but my more reserved personality prohibited me from doing so. I proclaim it now, though, in print, for all who read this. He is not there! He is risen! THAT is what makes the Garden Tomb special…the fact that He is NOT physically or mystically present there in that space. He is risen from the dead, demonstrating His power over death. THAT is what stirs my soul. My faith in Him, His sacrificial work on the cross on behalf of my Sin, and the powerful love He has for me.
The only time Jesus asks us to commemorate something about His life is when He instructs His followers to take communion. We are told to remember the Lord’s death until He returns. He does not instruct us to commemorate His miraculous birth, life events, or His ministry and miracles…only His death. As Christians, I feel like we are most reverent when taking communion. My focus in preparation for receiving communion has been on examining my heart to identify my sins and move toward repentance. I still believe that is a priority for communion, but I have a renewed impression to remember Jesus’s death in a way that deeply honors His sacrifice.
So, in stark contrast to the nearby, visually impressive Temple, the modest little tomb powerfully impacted my soul, inspiring me to reverently remember Jesus’s death. The place of Jesus’s sacrifice and burial was of profound eternal significance in comparison to the Temple. The Temple had started out as a holy place dedicated for God to dwell with the Israelites, and for them to seek atonement for their sins through sacrificial offerings to God. It eventually had become a place of greed and dirty politics. They pulled away from true worship of the Lord and made the sacred place about their political and religious power over the people. Subsequently, God withdrew His presence from them.
At the Garden Tomb, in those few moments shared with other visitors, is where I connected at the soul level way I had initially desired to experience Him in Israel. I had anticipated the Temple Mount to be THE place of awe for me. Instead, it was the place of burial that captured my heart as fellow believers worshipped in a language I only partially understood. Their love for Jesus and their reverence for His sacrifice ushered me into His presence and I joined into their reverent sense of awe. During every communion I will now remember the death of Jesus with this memory of my encounter at His tomb pressing on my heart.
As we approach the week of Easter, I encourage us all to reflect upon and gratefully remember the Lord’s death, since it was for us that He died. You don’t have to physically be in Israel to experience the power of His Word, the work of the cross, and the touch from His presence. Thankfully, it is accessible wherever we are, for He now dwells in the hearts of His people and wherever we gather in His name. He is not at the Garden Tomb. He is risen!