6 am. As the outlines of the trees sharpen and take shape under the dawn light, I make my way to the heart of the garden – a first century tomb cut out of the side of a rock face.
It lies empty.
I remember my first visit to the Garden Tomb eight years ago on a tour of Israel. After the hustle and bustle of the Old City of Jerusalem, it was an oasis of calm and peace. In various nooks and crannies of the lush gardens, groups of pilgrims from all over the world prayed, worshipped and took communion together.
As our group arrived at the climax of the tour, the tomb itself, our guide stood in its doorway with a twinkle in his eye.
‘He’s not here – He’s risen!’ He said.
This morning there is no guide. I’m alone with my thoughts, although behind me I can hear volunteers moving quietly about, sweeping the paths and mopping the benches in preparation for the day. I know from my conversations with them that many pray as they sweep.
Mary Magdalene comes to mind and I imagine her turning away from the empty tomb, distraught, and bumping into the gardener.
“Mary,” He says her name, and in that moment, what she thought was merely a human interaction becomes an encounter with the risen Jesus.
7:15 am. As the team assembles in front of the tomb for morning devotions, I look around the circle. Staff and volunteers are from Ireland, Holland, America, Paraguay, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia. The local team includes Messianic Jews and Christian Arabs. Together they are an eclectic bunch.
Before the doors open to the waves of pilgrims (around 400,000 a year), the team’s voices ring across the garden,
“I love you Lord, and I lift my voice…”
10 am. As we stand in front of the bomb shelter tucked away in the far reaches of the garden, I’m reminded that prayers for the peace of Jerusalem are still needed. Stephen, Director of the Garden Tomb and our host, opens the door of the shelter and invites us in.
“We’re going to turn this room into a prayer room,” he says. “In October we’re launching nine weeks of prayer – 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. We’ve seen God work in wonderful ways, but we are hungry for more. I want to see Jesus walking the garden every day. And we will know He is walking in the garden when we see salvations, healings and miracles.”
We’ve been invited to Jerusalem to help build a House of Prayer, but instead we discover that the Garden Tomb is already a House of Prayer, and has been for 125 years.
It is a House of Prayer for all nations as pilgrims from every corner of the earth seek Him in this prayer-soaked oasis and as they seek Him, encounter the risen Jesus.