Happy Easter from the Holy Land! Jesus Christ is risen today! Rodolfo and I have been very blessed this week to celebrate Triduum and Easter in the places where it all happened. We attended Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) Mass at the Holy Sepulchre (the most famous church in Jerusalem, the large Crusader-era church that contains the entire hill of Calvary and Jesus’ empty tomb), followed by a walk to the Cenacle, the “upper room” where the Last Supper actually happened. Then, in the evening of Holy Thursday, we attended a Holy Hour in Gethsemane, the garden where Jesus prayed so hard that he sweated blood. Then we, along with hundreds of other pilgrims, walked in a candlelight procession from Gethsemane through the Kidron Valley to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the church that commemorates Peter’s three denials of Jesus before the rooster’s crow. In the catacombs of this church is the first century jail where Jesus was imprisoned on that night, as well as the ruins of the house of the high priest Caiphas and a set of first century steps that Jesus almost certainly walked up on his way to the jail. Then we attended Good Friday service at the Holy Sepulchre and then walked and prayed the Stations of the Cross along the actual Via Dolorosa. Then, this morning, we attended Easter Sunday Mass again at the Holy Sepulchre. It’s so amazing to not only be able to celebrate these events in the correct places, but also the correct days. Every single event was completely packed to the brim with people. In some cases, it was so full and so chaotic that it was hard to follow or even hear the Mass. Today was especially chaotic because it’s Palm Sunday for the Eastern Orthodox denominations, and several large processions of Armenian, Coptic and Greek Orthodox pilgrims arrived at the Holy Sepulchre in the midst of our Easter Mass. Also, because of the politics of the church and the way that it’s shared among six Christian denominations that are constantly at odds with one another, every Catholic Mass we attended at the Holy Sepulchre was held first thing in the morning; 7:30 am, 8 am… including the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper! At 8 am! Perhaps instead they should call it the Mass of the Lord’s Breakfast! Photos to follow later this week.
Backing up for a moment to Palm Sunday last week… Rodolfo and I were interviewed while participating in the procession and featured in this video about the procession by the Franciscan Media Center!
Also, this week is Passover (Pesach, in Hebrew) for our Jewish friends, and Rodolfo and I were exceedingly blessed to be invited to a real Passover Seder meal at the home of one of Rodolfo’s Jewish work friends!
The whole point of a Passover Seder is for the benefit of the children; Jews are required to teach their children about their ancestors’ escape from Egypt in the time of Moses, and how the Lord miraculously delivered them from slavery with miracles like plagues on the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea for their escape. There are six special foods that are eaten in a certain order as part of the ritual meal that aid in the telling of the story: two types of bitter herbs (romaine lettuce or horseradish), charoset (a sweet apple jam), karpas (celery), a meat shankbone or chicken wing, a hard-boiled egg and matzah (unleavened bread). There is also a bowl of salt water used for dipping for part of the story.
This particular family that we celebrated with are Persian Jews, with roots in Iran, and their culture has a fun and silly tradition of beating each other with long green onions at a certain point in the story, during the singing of the popular Passover song “Dayenu.” According to David, our friend’s father-in-law and our host for the evening (and the man in the video below), this is both to symbolize the whips of slavery and also to celebrate freedom, because the children, who are always required to treat their elders with respect, are allowed to joyfully beat them with spring onions this one time all year. Their family has many small children, and because of their young age, I’m not sure they got everything out of the seder story that they were supposed to. However, they REALLY liked the part where they get to beat grandpa with an onion! It was hilarious!
Passover brings a whole new meaning to the concept of spring cleaning. Did you know that, before Passover, Jews have to completely clean their houses to get rid of every single speck of “chametz,” or flour and leaven, in the house? Kosher laws prohibit having any leaven in the house during Passover. Our whole neighborhood was in a cleaning frenzy all last week. In fact, the week before Passover can be an incredibly stressful time for Jews that need to do a lot of cooking and cleaning. And even though they really are only required to get rid of the crumbs in the house, many Jews use this time to clean the whole house, donate things to charity and give the whole house a good spring cleaning. Read more.
Rodolfo and I are going to the Galilee for a day or two this week to help on an archaeological dig! I have mentioned that we attend church at a hotel in Jerusalem. They are building a similar hotel-church in the Galilee, in Migdal, or Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene of the gospels. While surveying the area and digging the foundations for the hotel, they happened upon an amazing discovery: a beautifully preserved first century synagogue buried in centuries of rubble! This synagogue was, without a doubt, one of the places that Jesus taught throughout the Galilee during his life. The synagogue will be incorporated into the pilgrims’ center, which is now under construction, but there is still much work to be done in digging out the synagogue and cataloging the many coins, pottery shards and artifacts found in the rubble. Learn more about the Magdala Project, including how you can support it, here.
All next week I will be in Bethlehem at an icon school! I will be learning how to “write,” or paint, icons at a weeklong immersion workshop at a Greek Catholic monastery. Rodolfo and I really love icons and, in fact, we collect them. We have two large ones, a Pantocrator that Rodolfo’s parents commissioned during their own pilgrimage to the Holy Land 20 years ago and gave to us as a wedding gift, and an antique feast day calendar of the month of August (our anniversary month) that we bought here in Jerusalem as our Christmas gift to one another. Also, this week we visited an art exhibition of icons done in aquarelle watercolors by a Russian iconographer named Irena Yureevna Rofa. The technique seems quite difficult; there is no white pigment and so the artist has to work with the white of the paper to get white shades in the artwork. The technique I will be learning is more traditional, with natural pigments and egg tempura on wood. Learn more about the icon school.
Since I will be in Bethlehem next week, the Sunday Seven will return two weeks from now. Have a wonderful week and Happy Easter!