"Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance. "—John 20:1 (The Living Bible)
The Garden Tomb sits on a hill just outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem. Although the traditional site of the empty tomb is in an inner sanctum in The Church of the Holy Sepulcre, as we gather around the rocky face that looks like a skull, something is hauntingly different about this place. From afar, the picture of a skull stands out clearly, which led to its discovery in the 18th century. Skull Hill lies beside a major highway that would have been a major thoroughfare into the city, so anyone crucified here would have been visible to passersby, and would serve as a visible reminder that the Roman Empire was not to be opposed.
Near the rocky face of the skull lies a little tomb in a garden that was likely a vineyard. The cistern in the garden dates back to at least the first century and would have been used to water the crops in what was likely a vineyard or orchard. As this is an enclosed property, it is likely that the owner was wealthy and could be the same man as the one identified in the Gospels as Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb, carved out of the rock, sits alone and quiet. The door of the tomb is short, so we have to stoop to go down inside the tomb. Walking into the tomb, we see that it is small, barely tall enough to walk in, and has 2 chambers: an antechamber (used for gathering and preparation) and a burial chamber, still unused to this day. The words of the Gospel writers echo in my mind, “He is not here. He is risen, just as he said.”
As we walk through the beautiful garden that surrounds the tomb, we can almost picture Mary Magdalene weeping alone here because the body of Jesus was missing from the tomb. It’s easy to understand why Mary would have mistaken the man for the gardener. In a way, Jesus is a gardener, and the earth is his vineyard – his garden. A few years ago, longtime evangelist and master gardener, Michael Guido, passed away. I remember him from his visits to our high school when I was a teen. He would come to share some “seeds” of God’s word with us, and I used to love to hear his devotionals on television and radio. He spread “Seeds from the Sower for the garden of your heart.”
As we gathered together with others in the garden for a service of Holy Communion to mark the end of our journey in this far away place, we remembered that even though the day is not a Sunday, in a sense, every day is a Sunday, a Resurrection Morning. Each new day, we can meet with the Gardener and hear him as he calls our name. Each day, we are reminded that the tomb remains empty, a sign that death no longer has the last word. Each day, we can remember that we have a week of Sundays, a month of Sundays, a year of Sundays, and even a lifetime of Sundays to experience the Resurrected Christ.
How are you experiencing the power of the Resurrected Christ in your life? Will you spend some time with the Gardener today?
Rev. Jan McCoy is the Associate Pastor of Covington First United Methodist Church in downtown Covington. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.covingtonfirst.org.