November 17, 2005

To Israel, part 7

The last day of our tour in Israel was really meaningful. Piling onto the tour busses that morning, we drove to a place called the Garden Tomb. We entered and were given a talk by a small elderly man with a thick Scottish accent. He was a member of the Garden Tomb Association of London, the caretakers of this beautiful place, full of green foliage of all types, which cool the air and put your heart at peace. He enthusiastically told us about the history of the area, why they believe it is the place where Jesus was buried and rose again, and then showed us the tomb. The tomb is in a place of bedrock, partially used as a quarry where they got stone from to build in Jerusalem. It is in the side of a hill….a small hill…that looks distinctly like a scull from the front. Unfortunately, and as with a lot of the historic sites around Israel, it is right beside an Arabic bus terminal. The scull is still visible though and I got a very eerie feeling looking at it, knowing this could be the place Jesus died, paying the penalty for my sin. They can’t be sure of course, but it is most like the garden tomb described in John 19:41-42. After viewing the hill, we got to step inside the tomb, which had two areas carved out for bodies. Only one had been used. They know this because when they laid the body in, they cut a place for the feet to slip in under the rock. Tombs were made a uniform size, then made longer at the feet depending on how tall the person was after they had died. At the entrance to the tomb, there was a track cut out of the bedrock to put a large round rock in and roll it into place.

Gathering at an outdoor seating area, we heard a sermon about the resurrection and read the Scriptures about the women coming to dress the body, finding the tomb empty and running back to tell the disciples. We pictured John and Peter running in and finding the burial clothes and the linen cloth folded neatly and set aside. The pastor who spoke has researched this greatly, as well as studying Jewish traditions and life. He told us something we had never realized before. The Jewish men put on a prayer shawl, a talit, when they go through bar mitzvah and they wear it every day until they die. It is precious and holy to them, it symbolizes a lot of reminders about the Law and God to them. When they die, their tradition is to wrap it around the man’s body to be buried in it. This is the linen cloth that the disciples found, lovingly folded and left as a sign to them that Jesus had risen. What a wonderful thought, and so meaningful.

After we heard the teaching, we had communion there in the garden. Part of the history of the area is that a large cistern was found under the ground, the third largest in Israel, to collect rainwater. Also found was a large winepress, so the garden was most likely a large vineyard, watered from the cistern. Our communion was provided free of charge by the Garden Tomb Association, unleavened bread and wine served in small olive wood cups. The curator told us to keep the cups as a memento of our visit….they are beautiful. We sang hymns about the cross, the words pounding into my mind the real meaning….He died, suffered torturously, willingly paid my penalty. I just wept and ached from the hard truth, from the gratitude welling up powerfully inside me and drank the cup with trembling lips. It was the most meaningful moment of the trip and perhaps of my life. Until now I haven’t been able to put all of this into words. I’m thankful to have the medium to take my time and do it.

One more thing before we left the country…we left a gift, each of us planting a small tree in a forest park. Planting a tree is symbolic of growth in the blessings of God for Israel’s future:

“Let the field be joyful, and all that is within it; then all the trees of the wood will rejoice before the Lord.” Psalms 96:12

There were a lot of trees planted there, each watered by hoses with holes in them running along the rows of neatly planted seedlings. Israel was a blessing to us…it was a blessing to see their courage, strength, ingenuity, and generosity. It was a blessing to see the carefully preserved Biblical sites and to be safe while doing so. We are praying for the peace of Israel and the coming of Christ, so the Jewish people we met may be part of the remnant of Jews who believe at His coming.

Please join us and pray for Israel.

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