The final segment in the Holy Week/Easter sharing: after the intensity of Good Friday, we had a more leisurely Holy Saturday. We walked over to the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane and then through the Kidron Valley, up the steep path, to the Christian Quarter. There, we encountered barricades related to the Holy Fire service beginning at 1 PM at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. So many people try to cram the Church, they limit access to it with major crowd control corridors and heavy security. Some people wait in crowd-controlled areas by the Jaffa Gate or New Gate, or even in West Bank towns for “runners” to come with candles lit from the fire from the Tomb. From those traveling candles, the candles of the faithful who can’t get near the Church are lit. This is a big deal for many people. They come from far away and wait for hours to get some of this “first fire.” (The picture is from the Internet and shows the Tomb before all of the repairs; there is no scaffolding around it now.)Image result for free photos Holy fire church of the holy sepulchre

As the fire came out of the Tomb, carried by the Greek or Armenian patriarch, the bells began to ring. They rang for over an hour!

We stopped by the Church last evening on our way to Easter Vigil. The building looked like the aftermath of a major stadium event: trash everywhere, people moving the barricades that had been inside and outside, crowds still lingering in large numbers with a long line to get into the Tomb itself. There were many Ethiopians in the church and on the streets, dressed in their beautifully decorated white outfits. Families even had matching  ones: father down to baby. They had an all-night service in their small Chapel inside the Holy Sepulchre and up on the roof, the areas that constitute their “territory” within the Status Quo.

At 8:30 PM, we joined the throng at St. Anne’s, the gorgeous Romanesque church at the traditional site of the Virgin Mary’s birth and childhood home, just inside the Lion’s Gate. It was mostly in French with about a third in English but French African as it is run by the White Fathers, who have a strong presence in Africa. The music was post-Vatican II with an African twist, including drums for accompaniment, and, of course, the acoustics were fabulous. It began in the entrance courtyard with the lighting of the Paschal candle, a real trick in the wind. A wonderful two-and-a-half hours!

Seven o’clock this morning found us on the upper terrace at the Ecce homo convent for a just-after-sunrise service. That was also mostly in French with some English. We then zipped across to the joint Lutheran English/Arabic service at Redeemer Lutheran. Again, a mix of languages, which makes worship more “work.” The Bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) preached, once in Arabic and once in English. The Arabic Lutheran organist played.

We then strolled through the Christian Quarter, aware that for Muslims, this was just another “Monday” morning. For the Jews, it is the day after Shabbat but still in Passover (which ends Monday at sundown in Israel, Tuesday night in other places). Even for the Christians, Easter is centered around food and family. We saw very few decorations and no commercialism, though people definitely dye eggs and egg hunts for kids are common. As we left church at Redeemer, there was a big basket of dyed hard-boiled eggs for worshippers to take with them.

The celebration ended tonight with Easter dinner at the Ecce homo convent as guests of Sr. Rita. Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Alleluia!

Shalom and good night.