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Looking Back: Communion at Golgotha

In March 1970, Jim Martin penned a beautiful article about an emotional Communion at Golgotha.

March 1970


In A Sun-Dappled Garden

Jim Martin at Golgotha

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is really six churches in one. No fewer than that number share ownership of its shrines – Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Abyssinian and Latin (Roman Catholic).

This makes the interior a bit of a conglomeration, and the whole building is often a disappointment to the first-time pilgrim.

Yet there is little doubt that far below the cross adorning its central dome is the spot where Jesus was crucified and not far away the place where he was laid to rest.

All the evidence supports this conclusion, and the tradition in its favour goes back at least to 336AD, the year Hadrian’s Temple of Venus was pulled down. This temple, it was said, had been built by Hadrian over the burial place of Jesus as a deliberate affront to the Christian faith.

Underneath the rubble was discovered an old tomb which was thought to be the tomb of Jesus. The Emperor Constantine immediately ordered a place of devotion to be erected there. Ever since, most Christians have regarded it as the site of Calvary and the Resurrection.

Very Old Tomb

The church built there has had a violent history. Several times it has been burned. Once it was reduced to a mere ruin and remained so for years.

In time another church arose and this, in turn, was rebuilt by the Crusaders in the twelfth century. Part of their building remains to this day.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the probable site of the resurrection. Yes indeed. But it has little of the atmosphere of Resurrection or of victory. There is too much seeming confusion and obvious decay.

Close behind the Damascus Gate of the Old City is an area of ground lovingly cultivated with flowers and shrubs and trees. It contains a very old burial place set in the rock and some say this was where Jesus was buried and later raised from the dead.

This is what’s known as the Garden Tomb and the Resurrection of Jesus was never more real to me than when I had Communion there.

The Garden Tomb has little or nothing to support it historically or archaeologically. It came to the fore only last century when General Gordon did some research on a little hill not far from the present city walls, and identified it as the Hill of Calvary.

Later, an earlier burial place was excavated close by, and this, in turn, was claimed to be the Holy Sepulchre.

In appearance and in atmosphere, the Garden Tomb is much more satisfying to most pilgrims. The neighbouring Hill of Calvary has two deep holes in its sloping sides, and gives from some angles, a vivid impression of a skull, hence ‘Golgotha – the place of a skull’.

St John tells us that “in the place where He was crucified there was a garden”. The tomb lying empty and open reminds us that “He is risen’.

Sure Of Faith

It was a moving experience to join in a celebration of the Sacrament in that place, as I did one glorious Sunday morning.

As we took the bread and wine in obedience to our Lord’s command and in remembrance of Him, I was acutely conscious of the skull shaped knoll over my left shoulder and of the empty tomb just behind me.

Even the air seemed to breathe “The Lord is risen indeed”.

I did not regard this as the exact location of the great events of the first Easter Day. I thought it much more likely they had occurred some little distance away, in the area enclosed by the rather unattractive Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

I was pretty sure, in fact, of the relative merits of the sites. And I was pretty sure too, of my Easter faith. Pretty sure that Jesus was risen. And the atmosphere of the Garden Tomb was much more in tune with my conviction.

Nor was I alone. One of my party had explained that he would attend the service but would not communicate because he was unhappy about a Communion service held in this fashion.

As I, respecting his wishes, made to pass him by with the elements in my hands, he gripped my arm and took the bread and wine. Was it that the Risen Christ had become so real to him that he now felt compelled to partake?

What did it matter whether it was here, or there, or somewhere else altogether that the Resurrection took place? What did it matter if we could never know exactly where? What did it matter, indeed, whether or not we could ever fully understand?

As we stood that morning, In the sun-dappled garden, the difficulties and the problems attaching to the Resurrection story seemed of little account in the end.

We knew, you see, we really knew, that the Lord was risen. For we met Him there.

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