In November 2013, my mom treated my sister and I to a guided tour of the Holy Land.
One day, while we were in Jerusalem, I broke away from the group to spend time with a friend my daughter had met through a discipleship training program she’d attended in California. Josh has dual citizenship in America and Israel, and I was very excited to see the ancient city through his hometown eyes.
Josh jokingly told me that the locals call the type of whirlwind tour my family and I were on “The Run Where Jesus Walked Tour.”
He took me several places off the beaten path, and then asked what I’d like to see that hadn’t made its way onto the crowded itinerary of my tour.
“We’re going to Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” I said. “But we don’t have plans to visit the Garden Tomb.” Located near the Damascus Gate just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, the Garden Tomb is a possible location for the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. “Can you take me there now?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re actually not far.”
My excitement grew as we walked the short distance, but just as we turned onto the street with the entrance to the Garden Tomb, Josh stopped abruptly.
“I just remembered,” he said shaking his head. “It’s closed today.” Back then, the popular tourist attraction was closed on Sundays. He started to turn around and my heart sank.
“Can we just keep walking? I want to see the entrance and look inside. Even for a glimpse.”
Josh shook his head. “You won’t be able to see anything.” He knew what I had yet to discover. The garden was surrounded by a high wall with solid, metal gates for doors. When he realized that I was not easily dissuaded, he followed me the final stretch.
I prayed with everything in me. “O Lord, grant me favor. Please, please, please let the doors be open to me.” I approached the giant metal gate and it was ajar! Not for a moment did I stop to consider the potential consequences of trespassing through that entrance. The way I saw it, God had answered my prayer.
“Look!” I exclaimed to Josh. “It’s open. We can go in.” Josh reminded me the facility was, in fact, closed, but graciously offered to wait for me right where he stood.
“Hello?” I called out as I gently pushed on the door that was certainly taller than Goliath. “Is anyone here?” I heard a chainsaw start up way off in the distance, but didn’t see or hear any people. So, I ventured in, following a path until it opened up into a beautiful courtyard of stone surrounded by lush greenery that framed what surely must have been the Garden Tomb.
I drank in the serene scene and thanked God for his private invitation. Without another soul in sight, the picture I took was postcard perfect.
I began to worship God by singing the first song that came to mind: At the Cross by Hillsong. I have received vocal training and recorded a few CDs, so I know how to belt out a song. I lost myself in the beauty of my surroundings as I sang at the top of my lungs, tears pouring down my face.
When I finished the song, I felt that strange sensation of being watched. I turned around and about a stone’s throw away stood a far-from-menacing-looking man with silver hair and bright blue eyes. “We’re closed today,” he said in a delightfully British accent.
“The door was ajar and I couldn’t help myself.”
He tried to hold back his smile. “We’re felling trees today. It could be dangerous.” The chainsaw started up again in the distance, as if to prove his point.
“I understand,” I said. “I will leave now.” I turned back to drink in the scene once more, and must have lingered a bit too long.
The gentleman spoke up. “Do you need help finding your way out?”
I looked back at him and smiled. “No, thank you.” In that moment, I realized God’s grace in leaving the door ajar was matched by this man’s mercy. Who knew how long he had stood there while I sang my heart out? But he never interrupted me.
The gentleman left me to find my way out, and I began my ascent up and away from the Garden Tomb. Suddenly aware that my boldness could’ve landed me in a heap of trouble, I thanked God again for the gift of his mercy and grace. I also gave thanks that Jesus’s death and resurrection has given us access to private and awesome encounters with God.
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. — Hebrews 4:16 NLT