1. The Garden Tomb.
In just a few weeks Christians around the world will remember Christ's passion and celebrate his glorious resurrection. At this time every year my thoughts and personal reflection travel the 6,289 miles between Charleston, South Carolina, and Jerusalem, Israel. Every remembrance of our seven trips to Israel inspires and challenges me, two more than all the others. They are memories of the proposed sites of the empty tomb.
One is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the Christian quarter of ancient Jerusalem. Consecrated in 335 A.D. and constructed by Constantine the Great, it is said to house two of the holiest sites in the ancient city: the place of Christ's crucifixion at Golgotha; and the empty tomb of Christ. It is governed under The Status Quo, an understanding between the major Christian denominations about the sanctity and use of the nine most visited sites in Jerusalem. Today, the church is also headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. The structure houses a Greek Orthodox monastery and many chapels for worship of various religious sects. It is an imposing structure of Barogue and Roman architecture. As many as 3.5 million pilgrims visit the church, crucifixion, and empty tomb sites annually.
While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the longest standing proposed location of Christ's passion and burial, it is difficult for visitors to visualize the hill of Calvary or the actual tomb. The facility is adorned with lavish artwork, hundreds of oil lamps, hallways, entrances, prayer rooms, more than 30 small chapels, and devotional corners. Liturgical tapestries, religious symbols, Scripture quotations in many languages, ornamentation of Eastern and Western church influence, thousands of candles and incense stations, are the dominant visuals. The Hill of Calvary is in a small room up several flights of stairs, The empty tomb is but a small cubicle surrounded by the sumptuous decor. It's hard to imagine these places being a first century execution or burial site.
Then, there is the Garden Tomb, pictured above. Unearthed in 1867, it is located just outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. Archeologists have dated the site to the 8th and 7th centuries BC. This tomb is adjacent to a hill known as The Skull, which many scholars and historians have identified as the place of Christ's crucifixion. It is a very compelling site, The Garden Tomb. The British non-profit organization that maintains, raises funding, and manages tours of the Tomb never claim it as the authentic place of Christ's resurrection. However, many contemporary Bible scholars and archeologists affirm it's location as more consistent with ancient teaching than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It's natural beauty and simplicity are an accurate depiction of an ancient punishment and grave site at the least. There are no churches constructed around the Garden Tomb, no lamps, chapels, monasteries, adornments, or imposing structures. There's no argument that it is a genuine tomb. Of the two places, my heart and mind would choose the Garden Tomb as the site of Christ's resurrection. Millions visit the tomb and celebrate communion in one of the plain Garden areas. It's not commercially or liturgically adorned. It is a natural, simple olive garden.
Which is the actual site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection site? Who knows for certain. None of us were there and the historians can't agree. There are similarities in them though. They're both empty. And, lives have been changed in each.
Simon Peter was one of them. Join me this week as we reflect on what happened in Simon Peter's life at the empty tomb.