Christians in the Holy Land marked Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down. Religious sites opened to limited numbers of the faithful. But none of the mass pilgrimages usually seen in the Holy Week leading up to Easter took place.
When the Samaritan woman met Jesus at the well, she lamented that the views of the time said worship had to occur in Jerusalem in order to be valid. Jesus comforted her with His words that true worship was not bound to a place. “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” He said. (John 4:23-24)
That means that even locked doors and pandemic restrictions can’t prevent God’s worship—at Easter or any time.
Last year, Jerusalem was under a strict lockdown. Sacred expressions of worship could be practiced only by small groups. Outside Israel, other nations too have had restrictions on church and worship gatherings. Many are not meeting indoors, even yet. Some which are still require distance between worshipers. But gradually, those restrictions are being loosened.
This year, Franciscan friars in brown robes led hundreds down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This route is traditionally considered the path Jesus walked, carrying His own cross. Visitors were allowed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is built on the site where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Those who came to worship there were required to be masked and to respect space between themselves and others.
“Things are open, but cautiously and gradually,” said Wadie Abunassar, an advisor to church leaders in the Holy Land. “In regular years we urge people to come out. Last year we told people to stay at home . . . This year we are somehow silent.”
Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, allowing it to reopen restaurants, hotels, and religious sites. But air travel is still limited by quarantine and other restrictions, keeping away the foreign pilgrims who usually throng Jerusalem during Holy Week.
In France, a nationwide 7:00 p.m. curfew forced churches to move Good Friday ceremonies early in the day. Traditional Catholic night processions were drastically scaled back or canceled. But God’s worship is never canceled. Paul and Silas sang His praises in jail. (Acts 16:25) They could do so because of Jesus’ perfect promise as He ascended to heaven, with our reconciliation to God completed. He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
(Christians carry a cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s old city on Friday, April 2, 2021, in recognition of Good Friday. AP/Ariel Schalit)