“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” Matthew 28:1-7
This morning we had a very early private appointment to see and film in the “Garden Tomb”, a possible location for Jesus’ burial and resurrection. There is some evidence that points toward this location: “Skull Hill” next to it that some consider Golgotha, the tomb is evidently a wealthy man’s family tomb (as Joseph of Arimethea may have owned,) and the rolling stone tomb is consistent with others found to be approximately 2000 years old. (You can look here for more detailed information.)
The high walls and fences around this site made it easier to shut out the city noises around. It was quiet and peaceful, with birds chirping and trees waving in the breeze. Tile markers with scriptures adorned stone walkways that curved through the garden setting. Vine covered trellises, flowering plants, palm trees, ferns, and ivies enhanced the serene setting.
The door of the tomb has a sign which says “He is not here, for He is risen”. The sight of the large, heavy, round stone makes it easier to understand why the women who were on their way to the tomb wondered who would roll it away for them. Inside the low-ceilinged tomb, behind metal bars, was a low shelf where the body would have been laid.
Jon and Gary spoke of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Gary said: “The death of Jesus is made beautiful, not by its brutality, but by its victory. Jesus not only understands your sufferings, but He lives in heaven, to intercede on your behalf. But His strongest argument is that He already paid for your sin.” Jon then followed with: “The crucifixion of Jesus was a truly heinous way to die. His suffering and torment we deserved, but He stood in our place, satisfying a debt we could never pay. But Jesus died voluntarily – for the sins of others, not Himself. And now, we have an empty tomb because Jesus rose from the dead, completing His victory over sin and death.”
This tragedy was turned into triumph. There is no tomb, no marker, no definite location that we can point to and say “He died here.” John later said to me that he thinks God did not tell us exact locations, because what is important about this story is that He rose from the dead. Jesus’ death, though vitally important, was not what God wanted us to focus on: He wanted us to remember the fact that Jesus conquered death! No tomb could hold Him. And I couldn’t help thinking of the song “Because He Lives” written by Bill Gaither:
God sent His son, they called Him Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!
And then one day, I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives!
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!
We had an earlier than normal start – we had to meet for breakfast at 6:15. The dining room opened early for us, and the head waiter, Eyad, was overly accommodating. Though we served ourselves buffet style, he brought us a plate of fruit, then a few minutes later a chocolate croissant, then a few minutes later he brought two packages of chocolate pudding. When we got up to leave, he said “Please, don’t go!” I can’t remember having a waiter ever begging me not to leave.
A few minutes after we got on the bus, John (a horribly, annoyingly happy morning person) started singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”
Then the conversation went like this. John (to everyone): “In case you’re wondering, I got my best sleep last night!”
Gary (having searched for eye drops in Jerusalem): “In case you’re wondering, eight year old eye drops still get the red out.”
Mat (having been served runny ketchup the night before): “In case you’re wondering, 8 year old ketchup is not good, and is possibly fermented.”
Jon (to John): “Enough with the Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s too early.”
I don’t often get a word in edgewise around these guys, which is okay with me. I enjoy listening to them. Early mornings on the bus consist of the day’s A-roll speakers telling the rest of us what they plan to talk about and a little background about their subject. Then talk starts flying about what background the speakers are hoping for, and their shot lists, and “Stay out of my shot!” admonitions from Doug and Mat, and how much time we have (or don’t have) at each location. Some of them are practicing their lines to themselves, and Tsvi is on his loudspeaker telling us how best to worm our way into places where we can get the best shot. Yesterday he said “I am learning to theenk like a photographer. Eet ees a blessing and a curse!” John is looking at his watch and seeing how many minutes he can squeeze into our exceedingly tight schedule, and Micah and Philip sleep, storing up energy for their pack mule duties. It is fun, and I’m already beginning to dread losing their company in the mornings.
It has been interesting to me too, how all of these men, who are each so talented in their own fields and in their own abilities, manage to leave their egos out of the project. Every one of them is interested only in spreading the good news about Jesus Christ, and not looking for glory for themselves. It is encouraging to me.
After our stay at the Garden Tomb, we headed to what John kept calling the “Golden Gate”, but I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, and I wasn’t paying attention to which direction we were going in the bus. Tsvi, Jon and John were discussing how to approach the “guard” and who needed to get out and who needed to stay in the bus and if any money needed to be involved. It sounded a little sketchy, and when we stopped, I realized we were on the other side of the valley from the Mount of Olives, on the eastern slope of the Temple Mount. Which meant we were heading into the Muslim cemetery. It was decided that only Mat, Jon and Gary would go in, since they would be filming. Tsvi reminded them that they must stay on the pathway, not step on any gravestones, and not cross any fences.
I was a little concerned for them!
But a few minutes later, Tsvi told us that for some reason, there was no guard today. So we all got out, I gave myself a talking-to about being courageous, and we all headed in. Two armed, green-uniformed Israeli soldiers stood nearby smoking, and paid no attention to us. We walked through a sheltered pathway and emerged into what I had thought, from the other side of the valley, was a sea of pristine white gravestones all facing Mecca.
Instead, I found trash, dirt, candy wrappers, paper sacks, broken headstones, dirt, and complete disarray. Gravestones faced all different directions, not just south. It was deserted except for two workers putting in new tombstones. I couldn’t believe how dirty the cemetery was. I am accustomed to respectfully groomed and neatly tended cemeteries – but this was nothing like that. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at the famous photographs of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount without thinking how dirty the cemetery is below.
Jon and Gary were continuing their A-roll about Jesus’ final hours. Jesus came over the Mount of Olives on his way into Jerusalem for His “Triumphal Entry” (and incidentally, tomorrow is Palm Sunday.) The mountains are steep both ways, and I could imagine Jesus on a “colt” carefully picking his steps on their way down from the Mount of Olives into a very narrow valley, and then immediately back up the steep slope of the mountain through the “Golden Gate” – also known as the “Mercy” gate and the “Eastern” gate. Of course the gate here now is not the original one, but is from about the 16th century. The original has been built upon over the centuries and now likely lies under 30-40 feet of human civilization.
Finishing up at the cemetery, we went just outside and to the left, and we were at the “Sheep” gate. Jon had some A-roll he needed to do, so we began setting up the cameras and getting things ready for him. About that time, up rolled a big white jeep with two white SUV’s behind, and out popped five scruffy, travel-weary looking guys and a huge television camera, complete with a fluffy microphone thing. Mat was already set up in the street facing the gate, where evidently these guys wanted to be, but he refused to be intimidated by them. Tsvi asked where they were from, and they said “The History Channel”. I’d never seen the main character, but they quickly got their (non-speaking) video out of the way and headed into the old city. (Later Dewayne told us it was Scott Wolter, from America Unearthed on History 2 – seen here.) Then Jon stood in the street and prepared to do his lines, but today the “sheep” gate was instead a “tractor” gate, because tractors kept coming, loudly, down our street, along with little Arabic women in long coverings, slowly meandering past Jon, tourists stopping right next to Jon and snapping pictures, as well as angry drivers, barking dogs, and everything else you could think of that would interrupt him.
We decided to head on to St. Anne’s church to get things set up there and allow Jon time to finish his A-roll. St. Anne’s is where the Pool of Bethesda is thought to be located. John, Tsvi, Dewayne and I went, paperwork and permits in hand, to find the one in charge.
We met “Peter” (that’s all I can remember of his name,) a man who looked to be in his mid to late 70’s, dressed in a long white robe, with sandals and black socks peeking out from underneath. He was very welcoming, with a thick British accent and all of his words running together, shaking each of our hands with a firm, lingering grip. I wanted to hug him!
The story recorded in John 5 most likely took place here. It is a touching story of a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years, and wanted badly to be healed. Jesus noticed him, spoke to him, and healed him. The pool is far below ground level now, but there are “porches” or “colonnades” nearby, as the scripture speaks about.
As we waited for filming to finish, I noticed again, as I have so many times the last few days, how many cultures, nationalities, and religions are represented in this place, all vying for attention and wanting to be seen, heard, and noticed. Inside the church building, a tour group sang “How Great Thou Art” in French. Simultaneously, outside, the Muslim’s prayer call began its broadcast throughout the city.. A Russian Orthodox man dressed in his tall black hood walked by, and in the distance I even heard what sounded like a marching band.
Before we left, we gathered inside the church building and sang “It Is Well With My Soul”. The acoustics were incredible.
We split up for lunch, some of us going to have Tsvi’s favorite hummus, and others to a pizza stand in the Muslim quarter of the old city. Immediately after lunch, we headed down the Via Dolorosa, the way of grief. Around one corner, Tsvi found someone he knew, and then led us up a set of stairs and , five at a time (rather covertly, I thought) into the Islamic boy’s school Ormariyah, with windows overlooking the Temple Mount from what used to be the Antonia Fortress.
I’m sure it was prejudicial of me, but with so many little boys running around, being schooled in Islam, I wondered about how they saw Americans, and Christians in particular. I prayed that all of them would grow up to learn true peace, and the good news of Jesus Christ. I felt very definitely conspicuous. Not only the only woman in a group of men, but walking through an all-boy’s Islamic school…I didn’t feel unsafe, just noticeable.
Leaving there, back through part of the Muslim quarter, we passed the shop of a salesman who said to John: “You like junk, mister?” No thanks, we have enough of that at home!
Walking through the shops in the Muslim quarter is overwhelming to the senses. Stone streets went up, up, up, past colorful shawls, cheap jewelry, junky kids toys. The smell of saffron, curry, and cumin was strong. We were crammed shoulder to shoulder with throngs of people, each trying to swim like a fish upstream around one another.
One adorable little boy who looked to be about five turned his big brown eyes up at Micah and said something that we didn’t understand. He could tell we didn’t “get it” so he said it again, and then shrugged when Micah couldn’t understand him. He was walking with another little boy through these crowds, parents nowhere to be seen.
Tsvi led us around corners and past shops and all of a sudden we were within sight of the Christian quarter. Three teenage girls were window shopping, blocking the entrance, a mere doorway, and a huge line of people were waiting to come back through our door. I had to shove my way through, but then we were in daylight in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Rick had A-roll here, the place that seems most likely to be the site of Jesus’ death and burial. There were so many people in this courtyard, crowding into the church, it was almost claustrophobic. John and Micah were helping Mat with video, so I followed Jon and Gary into the dark, gothic, ornate church building. Immediately upon entering, I saw a group of women on their knees with their faces pressed to a long rock that was surrounded by a low barrier. Jon explained that this was thought to be the rock where Jesus was laid after being taken down from the cross. A beautiful mosaic behind told the story of His being taken off the cross.
A huge line had formed to walk up a spiral staircase with tall, shallow, dangerous steps. Upstairs, more people waited their turn to climb under a small table and touch the rock that is thought to be where He was crucified. We climbed down and made our way to the other side of the building, where Russian orthodox have built a shrine over where they thought the tomb was located.
I had such mixed feelings here. I am thankful that so many love and adore Jesus, but I am sad that they seem to worship a place. I am thankful for simple, New Testament Christianity that doesn’t require any man to make intercession for me. Jesus Christ Himself died for me.
Our final stop was the Kidron Valley, directly across the street from the Garden of Gethsemane, we walked down a white stone pathway into the green, lush valley below. John found a spot in the Jewish cemetery to finish some A-roll, and then we hiked AGAIN up 4000 steps to meet Yossi and Tsvi on the other side, directly under the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount.
Our final adventure for the day involved me, John, Jon, and a very angry Arabic taxi driver, who lectured us for ten minutes about taxi prices and bad attitudes. I was breathing a sigh of relief when we made it back to the hotel, safely!
Exhausted again…but looking forward to another great day in Jerusalem tomorrow: Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the City of David and I’m not sure what else!
FUNNY FOR THE DAY:
Passing through the Jewish cemetery, John asked Micah: “Do you know why they put this fence around the cemetery?”
Micah: “Uhhhh, no?”
John: “Because people are dying to get in!”