At 11:30 AM, we stepped off a crowded airplane after fifteen hours of travel and immediately crammed onto a tour bus. The melatonin I’d taken on the plane had done little to aid my rest, and it was a dark and sleepy 3:30 AM back in Tennessee. Bleary-eyed, I stared through the window, trying to soak in this reality. I was finally here.
Somewhere old. Somewhere new.
After lunch, we started with the Mount of Olives and walked down through the streets on the Palm Sunday route. The overlook outside the church on the Mount of Olives stood opposite the Eastern gate once opened for the entering Savior. Days before He was crucified, Jesus rode into Jerusalem, through that gate, under the high praise of the people who would call for His life to be taken only a few days later.
This was the view Jesus saw as He wept over the city that would reject him. Yet He rode on anyway, steadfast toward the cross.
Out of His great love, He rode on.
On our trek down the mountain, we stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane. It was Thursday, and that was not lost on me. I began to imagine that Thursday all those years ago. My Savior in this place, the night before His crucifixion. A lump caught in my throat as I read aloud the Scripture describing His moments in that place. “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly…” (Lk. 22:44a)
I saw Him there, kneeling in the dust beneath the shadow of a tree. This was the garden that had watched great drops of blood fall from His forehead and stain the earth below. I saw Him there, rocking back and forth slowly in agony.
Agony. I couldn’t let go of that word as I stared into the garden. Agony on my behalf. On behalf of every human heart and the cost redemption would require.
There are two sites in Jerusalem where they believe Jesus’ burial and resurrection may have occurred, and truthfully, the one we saw a few days later has a few more geographical points in its favor. But I wasn’t here to double check for absolute certain that the tomb was empty. I believed the answer to that question a long time ago.
I was here to worship.
Once I crossed the threshold of our final stop for day one, my heart snapped to attention. The Garden Tomb. This is what I came for, I thought. I can’t miss it. I cannot miss this moment.
But oh, how I was weary. The sights had been heavy and hard to process while moving so quickly through each stop, and the day had been unbelievably long.
I was jet lagged and exhausted, and the Israeli desert had been relentless; I was inching closer to dehydration and ready to find a cool place to sit for a while.
And wouldn’t you know, I found rest in the garden.
We were ushered into the shade of gracious trees and allowed to sit and rest our aching legs and feet.
And as I recount this story, I think how very right that is, that we should find rest there outside the empty tomb.
Because the empty tomb means rest for more than aching bones. It means rest for tired hearts who are worn plumb out from fighting for their own freedom. It means rest for the broken spirits who are weary from striving toward perfection. It means rest for all the lost and abandoned souls who have worked hard to be found worthy of finding. It means rest from grief, from loss, from shame.
The empty tomb means victory. Release. Life instead of death.
We sat in the garden just outside the tomb listening to a tour guide named Caesar share again the story of redemption. Its familiarity made it no less overwhelming. That a God like that would love a girl like me. Would love me so fiercely and unconditionally that He would wrap Himself in human flesh, live a sinless life, and die on a shameful cross, all to pay the price for my sin.
To redeem me.
It’s the greatest story ever told. The whole reason we were there.
It was a powerful moment hearing that truth spoken in the very land where it all happened, and I will never forget that experience. But here’s what is absolutely, without a doubt true: it’s a powerful story anywhere. It’s a powerful love that finds you wherever you are today. You don’t have to fly all the way around the world to find rest at an empty tomb. You don’t have to have a passport to experience peace.
The beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus came to us.
And because the tomb is empty, because He is alive, He comes to us still.
Wherever you are, whatever circumstances hem you in today, whatever battles you have looming in the distance, Jesus will meet you there. Right there in the middle of it. He has not forgotten you. He has not abandoned you or written you off as a lost cause. He has come close, and He invites you to sit in the garden, unload every burden, and rest in the shadow of an empty tomb.