Standing inside the rustic grotto known as the Garden Tomb during my first trip to Israel was as close as I came to apprehending that Jesus really did everything the Gospels said he had done. Not that I doubted the Scriptures; I believe them with all my heart. But something about feeling the dampness of the cave walls, smelling the musty air, visualizing the strain with which Joseph and Nicodemus would have heaved Jesus' lifeless body through a narrow entrance, and fathoming the darkness that would have swallowed it up once the daylight was sealed out of it startled me with the brutality of the Incarnation and the grisly cost of our salvation.
Prior to this moment my musings had focused on catching a phantasmal glimpse of Jesus walking the dusty hillsides of Nazareth or hearing his distant echo on the Mount of Beatitudes. His ghost was remotely perceivable as we crossed the Sea of Galilee when the mist on the lake brought me within an angel's breath of seeing him out there walking on the water.
But the physicality of the tomb brought me down to earth. Jesus' corpse seemed to lie beside me inside that cave, even though our guide persistently reminded us, "We can't say for sure that this was where his body was laid." But standing there puts you in the situation as it would have occurred, he said.
The irony of my climactic moment in the Garden Tomb lies in the fact that the site was not part of our tour's itinerary. Our escort and guide from the Israel Government Tourist Office, Tsion Ben-David, insisted on bringing us to the Garden Tomb because "evangelicals like going there."
The Garden Tomb is regarded as a distant third cousin of the Christian "holy sites." Prior to this stop we had toured the other Christian holy site attributed ...1