For over twenty years we have guided Bible study tours to Israel. There is nothing that compares to a visit to the Holy Land. As my daughter once remarked, "It turns your black-and-white Bible into living color."
At the end of each tour, we gather feedback questionnaires that critique the trip: what each person liked best, which elements might be improved, etc. Invariably, the visit to the Garden Tomb rates as the high point for everyone. Reviewing the Gospel account of Jesus' death and resurrection, and then sharing communion, right in the presence of what appears to be the actual location where Jesus Christ was buried and rose from the dead, is among the most significant events in anyone's lifetime!
Although the location is always presented as simply a "representative" site, there are over a dozen details from the Scriptures that appear to validate that specific location. Having studied this extensively, I personally believe it to be the actual site [See last month's article "The Empty Tomb"]. Golgotha and the nearby empty tomb can still be seen almost as they were 2,000 years ago. These two locations apparently are the very locations where the greatest sacrifice and the greatest miracle in history took place. Could there be any more significant place than this?
Thanks to the dedication and commitment of a British trust, for over a hundred years visitors to this place of prayer and worship have enjoyed it without charge. It has always been supported through the gifts and donations of the faithful. Now, ironically, the site needs its own miracle.
The current intifada has gone on for over a year and a half. The events of September 11 have tragically compounded the problem. The drop in tourism to Israel has dropped to the worst level in 30 years. And the operating costs, the necessary conservation work, and capital improvements needed have placed the Garden Tomb Association in a critical financial crisis.
Over the past several years, conservation work has been necessary to stabilize the cliff and rock from which the tomb is cut. These efforts cannot be deferred but must be diligently and continually addressed. Also, the great cistern is in need of repair in order to retain the winter rainwater, which is essential for the dry summer months.
All of us have been the beneficiaries of the vision, dedication, and commitment of the Garden Tomb Association, which has so diligently preserved the precious discoveries of General Charles Gordon, who first identified the site in 1883. But now we have an opportunity to render critical assistance and support to keep the doors of the Garden Tomb open and free until the Lord's return. There are, of course, adversaries that would love to see the site closed. It is in a Muslim neighborhood inside a Jewish state. You can imagine the challenges they face daily.
I can't imagine a greater archaeological tragedy should that site be forced to close. These faithful stewards desperately need our prayers and financial support. You have an opportunity to join us in helping to maintain this joyful witness to the life-changing impact of the risen Christ. As the angel said on that first Easter morning (Mt 28:6,7):
"Come and see where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead..."
We encourage you to contact them directly at: The Garden Tomb Association, P.O. Box 19462, Jerusalem, 91193, Israel.
Their website is www.gardentomb.com.