The Old City of Jerusalem crowns the hilltops of Judea, a magnificent testament to over 3,000 years of Jewish and Christian history. Although possession of the city has changed hands many times through the centuries, it has always been the center of worship for Yahweh. Jewish and Christian pilgrims faithfully journey to Jerusalem each year on Passover and Easter to take part in spiritual celebrations that have endured for thousands of years.
Israeli officials anticipate approximately 130,000 Jewish and Christian tourists will visit the Holy Land this year for Passover and Easter. The week-long festival of Passover, or Pesach, begins at sundown on April 3rd. That same weekend, tens of thousands of Catholic and Protestant Christians from around the world will celebrate Good Friday and Easter with prayer services in various locations throughout Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, full of churches and synagogues and ancient holy sites, is never more exciting than at this time of year. For many, coming to Jerusalem for Passover or Easter is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. This longing for Jerusalem is ingrained into Jewish tradition, and is particularly associated with Passover. For thousands of years, while in exile in foreign lands, Jewish families have ended each Passover meal with the prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Many Christians share the longing to visit their spiritual homeland, and this desire fuels a frenzy of tourism during the holy holidays of Passover and Easter.
The festivities for both religions kick off on Friday, April 3rd. While Jewish families gather in their homes to eat the Passover meal together and remember how God delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh, thousands of Christians will attend Good Friday services. Catholics are likely to flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the final stop along the Via Dolorosa, in a huge procession through the Old City’s winding streets. Protestants are more likely to celebrate Good Friday with a visit to the Coenaculum, the traditional site of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples. Another popular destination for Christian pilgrims is the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There are actually two sites associated with Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed on the night he was arrested. The first site is the beautifully decorated Church of All Nations at the foot of the hill, where visitors can walk among ancient olive trees and meditate on all Jesus went through that night. The second site is a little further up the hill, tucked into the side of a Franciscan monastery, where ancient Christian tradition says Jesus and his disciples spent the night in the shelter of a large grotto that once housed two large olive presses.
Easter Sunday services throughout churches in Jerusalem celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Again, Catholics are likely to celebrate at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Protestants often prefer to hold services at the Garden Tomb, a beautiful location believed to be at the foot of the skull-shaped rock known as Golgotha where an empty first-century tomb reminds visitors that He is risen!
Wherever one wishes to celebrate, there is something for everyone in Jerusalem.