I find very little opportunity in this world to be empty. I don’t know about you, but my life is full–too full! I am a pastor, a husband, a father, a quasi-lay-intellectual, a preacher, an encourager, a leader, a follower, a seeker, a teacher, and the list goes on. I have expectations, demands, deadlines, dreams, limitations, and sometimes I can’t keep up with everything everyone wants from me. I live in a world that expects me to be somebody and to have “the answers” 24/7. It shows little mercy to those who are empty of the things this world seeks from us.
I did not board the plane, for my trip to the Holy Land, empty. I boarded it over-loaded, filled yes, with excitement, but tempered with the guilt of being away from my family, church, and all my responsibilities. My mind was buzzing with things I had left undone; unfulfilled expectations, and concern for being away from my ill wife[ii] and six-year-old adopted son[iii].
From day one of this trip, we hit the ground running, marching all over The Mount of Olives, down to the Tomb of the Prophets, into Kidron Valley, and eventually walking the streets of Old Jerusalem and then, of course, on to the path of the Traditional Via Dolorosa (the way Jesus carried the cross).
There are lots of discussions, on where Golgotha and the tomb was, what path was really taken by Jesus to get there, and the use of shrines to commemorate the sites. However, this blog is not about such debates, so I will only, in brief, discuss the concerns.
The two sites most often cited are the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. The Holy Sepulcher, as the traditional site, has been honored since the 4th century. When the city was destroyed in 70 AD, Emperor Titus had the temple destroyed.[iv] But, Rome did not stop there in seeking to purge the city’s Abrahamic heritage. In 130 AD the Romain Emperor Hadrian ordered the traditional site of the tomb filled, leveled and he desecrated it by turning it into a shine to Jupiter and Venus.[v] It was after the conversion of Constantine the Great to Christianity (312 AD) that, Helena, his mother, who was also converted, sought to restore the Tomb of Jesus. With the help of the Bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, who was also the church historian, the site was found, and Constantine and Helena restored and enshrined it[vi].
The other possible location is called the Garden Tomb[vii]. This location is often preferred by many protestants and evangelicals, not so much because of the evidence but because it fits our mental and emotional image and narrative of the setting. It is a beautiful Garden, with a classic well-persevered tomb, that looks just like every typical Easter resurrection picture and sermon slide you have ever seen! However, it has a very late discovery date, having been discovered in 1867[viii]. The Garden Tomb is a beauty spot to come and reflect on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Its location, setting, and appearance fit the biblical narrative which is why it is still considered today. It also offers protestants a less, “Shrine-like,” experience to reflect on the events of the Resurrection– even if archeology and history favor The Holy Sepulchre[ix].
So which tomb is it?
Here is the bottom line… They are both EMPTY!
These are the two most probable locations, according to scholars and they are both empty!
The classic hymn says, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.”[x] But I did not go alone. I went full; full of concerns, full of dreams, full of burdens, full of plans, full of being full. And what I found at the Garden was emptiness. A Tomb that was empty, reminding myself of my need to let go of my fullness. Jesus went to the Tomb, alone, so that I could learn to be with Him by being emptier.
Empty is not bad. Empty means I have space. Empty means I have made room. Empty means God can fill me in ways that all of my graspings, seeking, and ill-fated efforts never could. And most of all… please, my dear friends, understand, empty tombs are required for Resurrection!
Are you risen? Are you resurrected? Are you living a resurrected life in Jesus? Empty is the road, empty is the way, empty is the method, empty is the true fullness, empty is the tomb that leads to resurrection!
As I sat on a dark Thursday night, in a chapel, at the Garden Tomb, I took communion with my brothers and sisters from my conference on the tour with me. I listened to the message, I joined in their beautiful singing, and I rejoiced in the joy, the glory, and the power of emptiness that awaits the fullness of Resurrection. When the bread was eaten, and the grape juice drank, and the last song sang, the words of Jesus rang in my ears, “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16). Fulfillment is not reached yet. A part of Jesus, by choice, stays empty, until He can be fully reunited with us in the Kingdom! Let that sink in, the tomb is empty, because Jesus is empty, in part, without you! You are so important to him: you so complete Him. He so loves you with all your burdens, flaws, and fullness. He refuses to be full, the One who is complete, Alpha and Omega, refuses to embrace completeness without you being present in His Kingdom!
“I serve a risen Saviour; He’s in the world today
I know that He is living, whatever men may say
I see His hand of mercy; I hear His voice of cheer