Jesus’ Real Tomb . . . and the Garden Tomb

I had a marvelous experience today.

All credible scholarship points to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the true site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The problem is, every time I’m in Israel, the queue to view the Tomb of Jesus has a line two hours long. I have waited for years to see the actual location of Jesus’ resurrection.

The sunlit dome over where Christ rose from the dead in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The sunlit dome over where Christ rose from the dead in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

So this trip, I determined to get there early.

Like, really early.

I left my hotel at 4:45 AM and caught a taxi to the Jaffa Gate. The dark Jerusalem morning scattered a light rain across the Old City as I made my way through the shadowy streets.

I arrived at the church . . . and to my surprise, there were already many people there—at 5:15 AM! I got in the short line for the tomb and I was the next person to enter. Suddenly, a priest stepped in front of me with a chalice and communion wafers. Oh no, I thought.

Another priest dressed like Friar Tuck shoved me out of the way (literally), allowing a group of Americans to enter in front of me. The doors to the tomb were shut in front of me.

For the next half hour I listed to the private Mass occurring behind the old, wooden doors. A bystander who spoke English told me that there would be consecutive Masses every half hour for the next three hours! The reservations are made two years in advance, he added.

My heart sank. I had waited for years . . . I had traveled thousands of miles . . . I had arisen early . . . and now I was going to have to wait again for what stood right in front of me!

Holy Sepulcher

Holy Sepulcher, just before I entered

When the door cracked and the people started to exit, I looked this way and that, and I wiggled in between the worshippers. After the three people remaining in the tomb finished their prayers, I ducked in the low-hanging entrance and knelt before the cold, stone slab where Jesus laid those three days . . . and from where He rose from the dead. After a brief prayer of gratitude for His resurrection, I left the tomb.

I searched for a place in the church where I could be alone. I finally worked my way to the lowest part of the building. As I entered the room, I heard the Mass above me begin with beautiful music.

(Want to hear the music I heard this morning at the church? Here’s a brief sample. iPhones are great.)

I knelt and read the resurrection account from Matthew 28:1-20 while the music filled the nooks of the church. It was a beautiful and spiritual moment I will always remember.

As I exited the church around 7 AM, the rain had surrendered its gloom to the bright morning sun.

Later this morning, Chuck led a communion service at the so-called “Garden Tomb.” To be honest, I wish the Garden Tomb was the real spot. It’s a beautiful place to meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But what a privilege to visit the real place alone this morning, then to celebrate Communion with other believers immediately afterwards.

What a beautiful day it has been. Tomorrow . . . we head home!

Thank you for taking this journey with me—and for praying for us.


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  • Chris Vise

    How do you know that this place located in this church is the REAL place where Jesus was located? 

    • Thanks for asking, Chris. It’s really a combination of tradition, common sense, and process of elimination. The only other viable option is the Garden Tomb, but it wasn’t “discovered” until the 1800s. There’s very little likelihood that the location of the most central event in Christianity would be lost.

      The Holy Sepulcher as the location dates back to when Christians venerated the site from the first century. That’s a tradition very, very difficult to sidestep. The church built over the site of the Last Supper is oriented not toward the Temple (as one would expect), but toward the Holy Sepulcher.

      When Hadrian reconstructed Jerusalem in the second century, he built his pagan temple over the site of the Holy Sepulcher when it would have been more convenient to build in an open area nearby. He clearly was trying to replace something significant.

      When Constantine’s mother, Helena, came to Jerusalem and asked the locals where the tomb of Christ was, they all pointed under Hadrian’s temple. Eusebius was there when the tomb was unearthed, and he recorded it in his work, The Life of Constantine.

      In short, there’s way too much history and tradition that points to the Sepulcher as to the authentic place.

  • Michael Berry

    Nice testimony. I was at the tomb in May of this year and on a tour. We didn’t have time to wait in the two hour line and the Church was packed (Orthodox Holy week). The Garden Tomb was a totally different and much more Christian spiritual experience. In a way I felt that the Holy Sepulchure destroyed what it tries to venerate.
    Be sure to see both.

    • I know what mean, Michael. It’s ironic that the church shows the need for the place it hallows. I have been to the Garden Tomb many times and enjoy the opportunity it gives to meditate on Jesus’ resurrection. I’m glad you got to go. May is a great time of year in Israel.

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