Of all the sacred places in Jerusalem, I love the Garden Tomb most. It is a haven of stillness in the middle of a busy, honking, bartering city. The first few times you visit, the British woman, who lets you in, asks if you have been there before. Soon she recognizes your face and no longer asks.
The garden is well manicured with all kinds of flowers. You wend your way through it, searching for the perfect bench to sit on, and you are surprised by the quiet. You hear the birds, the crunch of small white rocks beneath your feet, a tourist group singing. There is a large amphitheater at one end in which a hollow room is carved out of stone. The room has a wooden door that remains open most of the time, and on it a sign reads, “He is not here. He is risen!”
That statement is the most glorious thing about the tomb. It is empty. Inside, a long slab of rock stretches the length of it and you can imagine where Jesus’ body might have lain. But there is no body. He is not there. Because He is alive!
On Easter Sunday, sixteen years ago, several friends and I decided to wake early and journey down the hill to the Garden Tomb for the Sunrise Service. We put on our dresses and sandals and stepped out into the pale morning. A large full moon hung low over the city. We felt like the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee – hurrying to the tomb before dawn.
When we arrived, the amphitheater was full of people who had come from all over the world to celebrate the amazing scene that took place there. We slid onto a bench and began to sing. As the eastern sky filled with color, rays of light slowly moved over us. I imagined Mary – kneeling, distraught, and weeping as she petitioned the Gardener to please tell her where they had taken Jesus’ body. Then I listened for the gentle sound of his voice when he spoke her name, “Mary.”
John tells us, “And she turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say Master.”
We cannot understand how hard it must have been for Jesus’ weary band of disciples to believe that he would rise in three days. No one had been resurrected before. All they knew appeared to crumble as Christ was nailed to the cross. It seemed the world was right and he had been wrong. But on that glorious Easter Sunday, all was made right again, and hope took on new meaning.
A good friend of mine who has been raising chickens recently bought two new bantam chicks. They keep their baby chicks in the bathtub under a warming light until they become teenagers and can venture outside. Her son, Gabe, took charge of the little ones. They became his love. But last week, on a rainy morning, he came to his mother sobbing, “Mom. I think the baby chicks are dead. I thought they were sleeping but they won’t wake up.”
With a prayer on her forehead, she pulled him close and together they walked to the bathtub. The chicks were gone. Silent and still. She and Gabe climbed into her bed and cried.
“Maybe” he choked, “Maybe, we only have to wait three days and they will be resurrected.” She explained a bit and together they decided that all people and all living creatures – even baby chicks – will be resurrected when Christ comes again.
Some might deem this a small death, but even the smallest deaths can spark a desire in us to hope for the resurrection.
We cannot have hope in anything. We must have hope in Christ. And when we do, we recognize him as most capable, most understanding, most knowing, and the giver of the best gifts.
At the close of the Passover meal, it is likely that Jesus and his eleven apostles sang these words, known in Jewish tradition as the Hallel (Psalms 113-118).
“Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling” (Psalm 116:8).
In my heart, I sing with them.
Catherine K. Arveseth is a mother of five, part-time writer and editor. She studied at the BYU Jerusalem Center in 1995.