President Harold B. Lee visited the Holy Land and wrote of his experience in 1972. He visited Bethlehem, the city of Christ’s birth, and saw the Church of the Nativity, which the Spirit told him was truly a hallowed spot. He saw Shepherds’ fields, where a chorus of angels proclaimed the birth of Christ. He saw Jordan, where Christ was baptized. He visited the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where Christ performed what many consider to be His consummate miracle—the raising of Lazarus from the dead after he had been four days in the tomb. He stood, even, in the dread Wine Press, Gethsemane, where Christ wrested power from the gates of Hell as He atoned for men’s sins. These are sites that those who proclaim faith in Christ will place next to any on the Earth and proclaim them holy.
And yet, after passing in review that glorious day before the very meccas of Christendom, President Lee said of one unassuming spot owned by the United Brethren—one his tour guide seemed embarassed to waste their time on— that “something seemed to impress us as we stood there that this was the holiest place of all.”
This paramount of holiness was no earthly palace where Christ had declared His supreme authority, no synagog where He had woven masterful parables, nor even the sacred ruins of the Temple of the King of Kings, which He had declared “Mine house.” It was a crevice skilfully hewn from a rock, designed as a tomb, and remakable for being empty.
This pronouncement of holiness is all the more remarkable when juxtaposed with Christ’s final, biting condemnation of Pharisaism. Then, He cried to the cowering rulers, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” This sharp invective was intended with all of the offense the listeners took at it. These self-styled rabbis knew full well that their tradition had decreed corpses and all things appertaining to them to be of utmost filthiness. The Holy Land is dotted with such stone-hewn tombs, and many were painted white as a warning, lest a passer-by mistakenly touch the tomb and become defiled. The symbol of an otherwise empty cavity filled with the stench and disease of putrification and decay was an apt one for both the corrupt system of power, and for many ofthe practioners individually.
For President Lee to stand in that tomb and pronounce it a place of unsurpassed holiness was more than to merely rebuke Judah’s antiquated notions of ceremonialism. For even according to modern science, an open tomb is a filthy and disease-ridden place, and wholly unfit as a place of worship. The tomb could be holy only because it had been sanctified, and that by a power surpassing all human ability and understanding.
The Garden Tomb is a holy site because it is where the great Atonement of Jesus Christ was finally consummated. Already He had suffered great pain and anguish for the effect of sin. Already He had been scourged and crucified, willfully remitting His priceless life and blood in recompense for our fallen souls. Already He had ascended into the world of spirits, and there organized the preaching of His Gospel. And in the final, consummate act, exercising Godly power that He alone possessed, He took up His body of flesh and bone, bursting the bands of death, and toppling Satan’s last bastion of power over man. It was in this tomb that Christ rose from the dead, paving the way for all to follow. It was here that angels appeared unto devout women, assembled to pay, they supposed, their final devotion to their slain Lord. It was here that Mary Magdalene, singular among women, wept and saw Him—not a specter of unembodied ether, but a Man possessed of a holy, perfected, immortal body. It was to this tomb that Peter and John, two of the Lord’s most loving and devout adherents, signally honored among all men to walk by His side in mortality, returned to see for themselves that which the women testified of. It was into this tomb that Peter and John—Jews by birth and education—entered to behold the evidence of His rising. And it is this Garden Tomb that the Lord’s living prophets of our day have beheld and pronounced holy.
How did this tomb, once first in desecration, destined to be the vile abode of unchecked rot, become first in holiness? It was cleansed—sanctified—by the touch of the Master’s hand. And if I think myself the vilest of sinners, full of the stench of my wayward wanderings in strange paths , if I am at least numbered among the repentant sinners, can not He whose touch sanctified even a tomb, do the same for me?
You’re probably already thinking of the inspired poem by Myra Welch:
The touch of the Master’s Hand
It was battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
Hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three”,
From the room far back a grey haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet,
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.
The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
“We just don’t understand.”
“What changed its’ worth?”
Swift came the reply.
“The Touch of the Masters Hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
All battered with bourbon and gin,
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin.
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Master’s Hand.