Thousands at Passover and Easter in Jerusalem

Contemporary Christian Travel by Ruth Hill
19/4/2011

NORTHERN VIRGINIA, April 19, 2011 – Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week are in motion this week in Jerusalem, and the Israel Ministry of Tourism has said it expects a quarter million visitors for the timeless iconic events observed in the Old City.

Because Jesus was a Jew, his Last Supper was a Passover meal, an event at which Jews have retold God’s delivery of them from Egyptian slavery into the Promised Land. So it’s no surprise Holy Week – the commemoration of events leading to the Crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection on Easter Sunday – coincides with Jewish Passover.

NORTHERN VIRGINIA, April 19, 2011 – Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week are in motion this week in Jerusalem, and the Israel Ministry of Tourism has said it expects a quarter million visitors for the timeless iconic events observed in the Old City.

Because Jesus was a Jew, his Last Supper was a Passover meal, an event at which Jews have retold God’s delivery of them from Egyptian slavery into the Promised Land. So it’s no surprise Holy Week – the commemoration of events leading to the Crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection on Easter Sunday – coincides with Jewish Passover.

The procession ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where on Saturday, Eastern Orthodox Christians believe a flame appears in the tomb of Jesus and is caught by both a Greek patriarch and an Armenian Orthodox priest.

They share the flame with worshippers who have candles. For those who cannot squeeze into the ancient church, there will be jumbo screens outside for observance of the ceremony which is called the Saturday of Light or Sapt il-Noor. Although Protestant and Catholic Christians do not observe this ritual, Orthodox sects including Greek, Syrian, Armenian, Copts and Russian churches do.

Where is Jesus’ Tomb?

Easter pilgrims will pray and worship at two Jerusalem sites thought to be the place where Jesus’ body was laid after the murder.

Some say Catholic and Orthodox Christians claim the place to be inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and Protestants claim it was The Garden Tomb. Thousands of pilgrims will visit each this week. In times other than Holy Week, some faith travelers visit both sites for the heritage and vastly different experiences they offer.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher has drawn pilgrims since the 4th century, when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. He built the original church on this site, a much larger building than the one that exists today. Many believe it is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and empty tomb.

Today’s church retains some of the elements of that first church, but many additions and changes have been made through the centuries as it was assaulted by conquering rulers and then rebuilt. Crusaders added a facade in the 12th century and it stands today. Inside, there are multiple altars, icons, chapels, and other elements placed by the various governing communities, mostly ethnic Orthodox including Armenian, Syrian and Coptic.

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb of Jesus

The Garden Tomb is a recent addition to holy sites that have been on pilgrims’ tours for centuries. European theologians disputed the traditional tomb site inside The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the mid-19th century, declaring “Skull Hill” as the actual site.

By the late 1800s, British Anglicans organized monetary and administrative resources to acquire and develop the site, and a UK group remains the overseer today. On Easter Sunday, gates will open at 6 a. m. for several services in English, Arabic and French.

The tomb entrance is fronted by a garden which has seating areas for visitors to take communion, sing and read Scripture.

The New Testament records that Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, near a road and garden that contained a new tomb. But Jerusalem of today is very different from the city of Jesus’ day.

It has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. So how could anyone living centuries after the Crucifixion and Resurrection know precisely where Jesus was laid in death?

The answer continues to be debated and both sites are significant stops on a contemporary faith and cultural tour of Jerusalem.

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