For numerous Christian pilgrims across the globe, there is no better place on the entire planet to observe Easter than Israel. Thousands of believers walk the footsteps of Jesus, relive his last days, and join together to remember his resurrection in this country, particularly in one of its most special cities – Jerusalem. What’s more, at the same time Christians celebrate Holy Week, Jews celebrate Passover, so this is a very exciting and special time for countless people who live and who come here.
Unfortunately, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, people across the globe have to stay at home, unable to travel or join in celebratory groups. But this is all the more reason for us to read and learn about new experiences, imagine them, daydream, and look forward to experiencing them all in reality as soon as the pandemic is behind us. We are all one global community, sticking together through the good and the bad. Let’s now leave the bad out of our minds and celebrate Easter in Israel together – through this written journey.
Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday
Our celebration starts with the first day of Holy Week. This year, it was April 5. Palm Sunday is the day thousands of Christian pilgrims climb the famous Mount of Olives, singing hymns and bearing palm fronds, that way experiencing Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. The procession commonly goes to the Church of All Nations, Saint Anne Church, and Sheep Gate, followed by the Old City and the Via Dolorosa. As these thousands walk, many more greet them along the way, singing and blessing them.
In the next four days, numerous pilgrims gather for daily masses at the holy sites of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of All Nations. The washing of the feet on Holy or Maundy Thursday is an important tradition that symbolizes Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Pontifical Mass is held in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, followed by the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament. In the afternoon, people join the Pilgrimage from the Monastery of Saint Savior to the Cenacle, the Cathedral of St. James, and the Monastery of St. Mark, after which starts the Holy Hour at the Garden of Gethsemane.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday
Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa in the Old’s City’s Christian Quarter, with many more pilgrims lining along the path, is one of the most iconic parts of Easter observance in Israel. On this day, believers commemorate Jesus’ journey up to Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion. Believers walk in Jesus’ footsteps, holding crosses symbolizing the cross Jesus carried while walking this road. Known as The Way of the Cross, it’s a deeply spiritual and symbolic procession.
The next day, on Holy Saturday, the pilgrims commonly gather at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The day proceeds with a number of events leading up to the main day of the week. Meanwhile, Orthodox Christians will enjoy a spectacular miracle – the Ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Patriarch of Jerusalem goes inside a small structure built over Jesus’ tomb, and as he prays, two large candles are miraculously lit. With these candles, he lights those of the pilgrims, and they light other pilgrims’ candles. Orthodox Christian Great Saturday this year falls on April 18.
Easter Sunday and Easter Monday
One of the holiest days in a year for a Christian arrives – the day Jesus was resurrected. The pilgrims gather for the splendid Easter Sunday Mass, filling the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the plaza, and the streets. Those who are in another city, for example in Tel Aviv, get to celebrate Easter in the largest Catholic and Protestant Churches. Lastly, with a Mass and other events on Easter Monday, pilgrims commemorate the encounter between Jesus and his two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Last but not least – a post-Easter tour! We finished our daydream of Easter celebrations in Israel, and let’s round off this incredible journey by ‘visiting’ more Christian and other momentous sites in the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, we go to the Shrine of the Book, the Israel Museum, and Yad Vashem. We tour the famous Tel Aviv, then take a drive along the coastal plain to Caesarea to see the excavations of the Roman city. The road takes us to Muhraka, the site of confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, to Megiddo (Armageddon), as well as Akko, its underground Crusader City, and crypt. We proceed to the Church of Multiplication and the Mount of Beatitudes, and then to Nazareth and Bethlehem. From here on, we visit Qumran caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, famous Masada, and finally the Dead Sea. What a spectacular trip we’ve just been on!
Israel is the place where the story of Easter happened. It doesn’t get more special than that. And though we weren’t there in person, nothing could stop us from experiencing these most beautiful sides of Israel together today.