Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In a Garden Far Away.

At the end of two years of religious service, I had an experience that I will remember forever.  My family and I traveled to Jerusalem.  We didn't have a lot of time so we went with a tour group that could show us as many of the highlights as possible in the short time that we had.

A large bus picked us up at the port.  There were a lot of people in the tour group, and the tour guide told us how important it was for us to stay together (in fact she told us often).  There were many people in the cities and it would be easy for us to get lost.  In order to see all of the "major sites" in a day, our group was on a strict schedule and if they had to, they would leave anyone who wandered off.  It wouldn't be fair to the rest of the group to have less of an experience, just because someone got a little too adventurous.  

We asked the tour guide if she could take us to the Garden Tomb, a place that some believe to be the tomb where Christ was buried.  She didn't think there would be time to visit the Garden Tomb, but we were going to spend about a half hour in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. 
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in another place that many believe to be the location where Christ was buried.  It is a fairly large church "shared" by various religious organizations... though not always as peacefully as one might hope.  Each group now has their own corner of the building where the faithful can express their devotion through money, or worship, or I suppose nearly any method that they choose. 

A friend of ours told us we had to see the Garden Tomb, so we decided to break from the group, and see if we could find it. Our tour guide gave us a look that let us know she would leave us, if we got lost.  A few minutes later we understood just how easy getting lost was.  The streets of Jerusalem are narrow and they were packed with people.  We had taken a wrong turn and we were, in fact, lost.  For a second we thought about turning back and rejoining our group at the church, but we decided we would keep trying for a few more minutes.  We had a map, but we weren't 100% certain what it was telling us.  There were streets marked on the map, but to us all the streets just looked like crowded alleys. We couldn't tell if what we were seeing in front of us was on our map or not. 

With a little effort, and perhaps a silent prayer or two, we made it to the city gate we were seeking. As we emerged from the city wall we noticed that there were still a lot of people walking around, but now, there was a little more space. There were people and cars swirling all around us.  In the city, it was noisy and busy, outside the city wall it was even more that way, and the traffic was heavy. With the dull roar of engines and the honking of horns, it was almost hard to hear yourself think. It was almost impossible to hear someone else.

We made our way across the street.  From our map it was a little difficult to know just how far we had to go, so we started to run. It didn't take long till we saw a sign that said "Garden Tomb." It was actually closer than we thought. There was a little sign hanging out from the wall, but if we hadn't been looking for it, we very easily could have missed it. It was nearly lunchtime, and they were just about to close the garden, but thankfully we were allowed to come in.  The garden was beautiful; off to one side was a wine press, a stone basin where grapes could be pressed into wine. At the time of Christ wine was used at a variety of feasts (perhaps most significantly when the savior used the wine to represent his blood while dining with his disciples). The garden was green and well maintained, but above all this, it was quiet. Just seconds ago we were lost in the clamor of the busy streets of Jerusalem, now it was peace.  No distractions, no cars, no bustling people. We were not far from the city, but somehow, it had all just disappeared. As we approached the part of the garden where the tomb was located, we noticed there was quite a line already ahead of us, there was no chance that we could see it and make it back in time.  But a lady, hearing our plight couldn't imagine us leaving without entering the tomb. We had come all this way, and we needed to see the inside of the tomb. There was a large group all waiting to get in, but when she told them about us, they all stepped aside. We were instantly moved to the front of the line. 

We entered the tomb, just a few at a time, and there to the right was a space, carved into the rock, where a body would have been laid.  For a while we just stood there, taking it all in. Then, when we felt like our experience was sufficient we turned to leave. On the door was a wooden sign that read "He is not here- for he is risen."  

That day, in that place we felt something special.  On the other side of the wall, and barely minutes away the hectic world was doing it own things, but here it was different. In this place it was peaceful, and the people were kind. This may or may not be the place where He lay, but now this is undoubtedly a sacred place. A place where people from different denominations and different backgrounds can come together and be of one purpose. It was as though we were visiting his house, because with great certainty, His spirit was there. 

But one need not travel to Israel to feel the things that we felt there, because I have felt those same feelings both before and since that time, And I know that those feelings are available to us still. They are available not just to me, but to all who will seek him. And if we seek him and repent we can be where he dwells. I know that He lives. He is the great redeemer of us all.  I am grateful that he atoned for my sins and transgressions so that I may return to be where he is. I know that I could not do it without Him.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, 
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
- The Gospel According to St John 3:16 -      

Everlasting life; through him we can receive it. May we all remember Him, and what He's done for us; at this time and always. And may that remembrance help us to be more like He is.  May your Easter be filled with the joy that he brings, and may we strive to be a little better because of Him!


Sarah P said...

Happy Easter, Doug! Thanks for sharing this experience with us. :)

warnser said...

Sarah, thanks... and you're welcome. and congratulations. It's good to hear from you. :)

tearese said...

I remember Brother Cloward talking about those places a few times. It was great hearing your experience!