Thursday, March 24, 2005


Last October, Dave and I went to Israel. I can't even express how much that trip affected me. When I've had sufficient time to process all that I saw and heard and experienced, I'll no doubt write more about it. But today, I'm thinking of the tomb.

Two sites claim to be the burial site of Jesus. The one we didn't see is the source of much conflict. Six or seven churches have established shrines there and each will tell you, vehemently, that their little corner is the exact spot where Jesus died.

We went, instead, to a garden just to one side of a small hill, a hill on which you can see the indentations of a skull if you squint just right. It's not the enormous hill you picture when you imagine those three crosses. It's short enough that hecklers below could easily call up insults. It's short enough that a man nailed and dying could easily look down and see his mother's devastated eyes.

"We think this is Golgotha," our guide said. "Skull Hill." Whether it got that name because of the eye socket-, nose- and mouth-indentations on the side or whether it was because criminals were tossed over the side of that cliff and their bones left in a rotting heap, he didn't know. I shuddered to imagine the fear a condemned man would feel as he looked down on that pile of untouchable shame, knowing his bones would soon join the skeletons of those other sinners below.

When the group ahead of us had finished, we took our turn at the tomb. It felt surreal to walk up to the exact spot (I'm convinced) where they laid Jesus' lifeless body--the same spot where, three days later, the breath came back in his lungs and his fingers twitched and his eyes opened again. I'm still not over the wonder of it.

Our guide gave us some background about this particular tomb. "We know whoever owned this tomb had money. First, the cave contains two slabs. This meant that if there were two deaths in the family, they'd be prepared for both bodies." He told us that when we went inside, we'd notice that one slab had an area carved out for feet; the other did not. That indicated that only one slab had ever been used, and for whatever reason, after that one body had lain inside, they never finished the second slab.

From outside, he pointed to a small window above and to the right of the door. "That's a soul window," he explained, "and that's the second reason we know this tomb belonged to someone wealthy." Bodies were kept in tombs until the flesh rotted away and only bones remained. Those who could afford to do so often had small ventilation windows cut out so the odor of decay could escape.

The window, to me, is proof that this spot is the authentic burial site of Jesus. For we read this in John 20:4-5:

"So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in."

John outran Peter. He reached the tomb but did not go in. And somehow, filling that small doorway--and blocking the light from outside--he was able to see Jesus' burial cloths lying on the slab.

The door to that tomb has been enlarged over the years. But if it were small enough then for John to have to stoop down to look through, he would have blocked the light from outside. That meant in order to see the slab, there had to be another light source.

When you stand in the doorway of this particular garden tomb, a shaft of light from the "soul window" pierces the darkness of that room and shines directly on that one finished slab.

I didn't cry when I entered that small room and stood and stared down at the empty slab. Instead, I thought, You're not here.

The bones of every prophet, every great teacher, every king and emperor and religious leader throughout history can be found right where they were laid.

But this room is empty. He lives.

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14 Comment:

At 3/24/2005 9:59 PM, Blogger Alicia had this to say ...

I love reading your blog. This entry as especially good. Thank you for bring a smile to my face today!

At 3/25/2005 5:20 AM, Blogger Jennifer had this to say ...

Thank you.

At 3/25/2005 8:27 AM, Anonymous paul had this to say ...

very cool post. thanks.

At 3/25/2005 12:29 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

Thank you, Alicia, Jennifer and Paul :)

At 3/25/2005 10:43 PM, Blogger Ginger had this to say ...

Amen! This is exactly the way I felt when I visited the Garden Tomb. The point at which I got goosebumps was when I looked in the door and saw the sign, "What do you seek? He is not here; he is risen!" That was 25 years ago, and I still remember how that jolted me out of "tourist" and into "devotee."

At 3/26/2005 6:52 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin had this to say ...

Thank you, Shannon, for the post and the insight. I hope to visit Israel some day. Keep up the good work on this blog.
Terry The Writing Life

At 3/26/2005 9:12 PM, Anonymous pjs had this to say ...

This blog was beautiful, Shannon. Thank You!

At 3/27/2005 10:47 AM, Blogger Becky had this to say ...

Hi Shannon...thank you for visiting my blog. If you like, read my March 17th entry entitled "The Scent of Spices Still Lingers". I lived in Israel for a year and that particular blog is about my time at the Damascus Gate. Enjoyed reading your entry. Have a wonderful Easter.

At 3/27/2005 12:54 PM, Blogger ZZ OpenWeb Staff had this to say ...

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At 3/27/2005 5:18 PM, Blogger Kris had this to say ...

Great post. I'd love to have the blessing of visiting Israel sometime.

At 3/27/2005 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

Happy Easter Shannon.

Jake from Westlund

At 3/27/2005 11:00 PM, Blogger Cara had this to say ...

Amen and Amen! What an awesome post. I found you via blogexplosion and God must have led me here. I'll be back more often to read your other entries.

At 3/28/2005 6:59 AM, Blogger Jimmy had this to say ...

Thanks for sharing such a personal and emotional experience, Shannon. As I read your words, I could feel the goosebumps on my arms as if I were there that morning long ago and realized that Jesus was not there, but had risen as He promised! You helped to start my Monday after Easter off on a great note.

At 5/28/2005 8:51 AM, Blogger Macromoments had this to say ...

Shannon, I am relaxing this morning, catching up on reading. Your blog is such a source of inspiration. This post about the tomb really grabbed my heart and tugged. I have always longed to go to the Holy Land, and your writing took me there.

What a blessing, to see the tomb and to realize that it is empty!
Thanks for blessing me this morning. Bonnie


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