Resurrection Sunday. Easter. The weekend we celebrate the turning point of history, the fact that everything from then on is different, because Jesus was raised to new life. Although I’m sure actually being at the Garden Tomb just outside the current Old City of Jerusalem would be crazy busy at this time of year, today is a great day to reflect on visiting that beautiful place.
The Garden Tomb is a peaceful oasis in the midst of the bustling city; a good place to sit and reflect on what happened, whether here or somewhere nearby.
The traditional site of Jesus’ tomb and thus resurrection is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside the walls of the Old City. But many have noted that it doesn’t totally fit the historical story, and looked for an alternative site.
The Garden Tomb was discovered in the 1860s, and has many features which meet the description of the kind of tomb in which Jesus’ body was laid. It is hewn out of the rock, and has a channel in front for a stone to be rolled to close it.
Inside there is a burial chamber as well as a weeping chamber for mourners.
A large cistern and a wine press nearby indicate that this tomb was likely located within a garden in the first century.
So, could this be the actual tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea in which Jesus was buried for three days? It’s possible. But unlikely.
But it doesn’t matter.
My favourite thing about this place has always been this sign on the door to the tomb. Jesus is not in this tomb, or any tomb. There is no need to locate a tomb for Him.
Sure, it’s lovely to have a place to visualise what it may have been like, and to sit and reflect and remember. But the resurrection of Jesus isn’t about a place and time in history. It is about a reality that changes our very understanding of history.
For many years, Christian apologetics focused primarily on the historical evidence for the resurrection. This is helpful and interesting, but if that is as far as we go, then we have missed the central point of what we are celebrating this weekend. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the breaking into our world of God’s kingdom and a whole new way of life. Because of Easter Sunday, everything is different.
To say, “I believe in the resurrection” is to say so much more than that I believe that Jesus rising to new life was a historical event that actually happened two thousand years ago. I believe it was and it did; but to believe in the resurrection, to put my trust in it, is to choose to enter into the new life that it makes possible. It is to believe that that kind of life is available to everyone here and now, despite all appearances to the contrary.
N. T. Wright says, “Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven, but to colonise earth with the life of heaven.” Resurrection life is life where miracles are possible, where justice is proclaimed, where renewal is experienced, where righteousness is lived out. It is the breaking in of heaven here on earth, and because of Jesus, it is available to us right here and now.