‘The earth shook, rocks split apart and tombs opened’

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A NUMBER of years ago I visited the place where Jesus was crucified. It was a moving experience, especially to stand in the Garden Tomb at dawn on a Sunday morning, until the curator of a nearby museum whispered in my ear: ‘Of course you know that this is not the site of his burial, don’t you? It was over there!’

As part of a group of magazine editors, I was guest of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and we had dinner in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem one evening with the minister. I got on quite well with the man, Rabbi Binyamin Elon, or Benny as he insisted on being called, and I asked him what I thought was a reasonable question:‘What do you think of Jesus?’

‘O, we love him,’ he said. ‘He makes us lots of money.’

It’s a shame that the shekel has seriously dented the credibility of the Jesus story, specifically the Easter story; he was buried here, he was born there, he was baptised in the River Jordan over there, there’s the upper room. And then I was shown a car park adjoining the Jerusalem bus station at

the foot of the hill still known as Golgotha, ‘The Place of the Skull,’ so called because viewed from a certain angle it resembles a human skull.

‘That’s where he was crucified,’ said the curator, who accompanied us together with four Israeli soldiers bristling with weaponry, as he pointed at the car park. They were our armed guards.

And it was explained that the reason why Jesus did not hang from a Roman cross atop the hill was to maximise his humiliation.

Two thousand years ago, the place that was now the car park was a busy intersection of a number of roads, one of which was the main highway from Jerusalem to Jericho, 15 miles or so to the east.

Up on the hill, he would have had a modicum of privacy, but you can picture the scene on a Friday afternoon, the day before Shabbat, at a major road junction; hundreds, perhaps thousands of travellers could stare at the naked bodies of the crucified felons.

Now, was Jesus no more than a crucified felon? Certainly that is how many people of his day saw it, but no, it was an event of cosmic proportions, and there’s another dimension that many overlook.

You can read it in only one of the four Gospel accounts. Matthew tells us that as Jesus died, ‘The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the

holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.’

Isn’t that incredible? As Jesus died, not only did the physical world tremble, but the spirit world too reacted as many men and women, who perhaps had been dead for years, were spewed out as the bodies of many godly men and women were raised from the dead.

As we enjoy the Easter break, knee deep on chocolate bunnies it would be good to remember the event of seismic proportions that changed the course of history and made it possible for the likes of you and me to have a personal relationship with the creator of the world – but do enjoy the chocolate bunnies!