Although we started our Biblical year in spring and we are just in autumn, the key Biblical feasts have run their course. There are other minor festivals, some of them Biblical, some traditional, some civic, and they all tell a story. Unfortunately we do not have the room to tell their story here. But our seven main festivals – Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Shavuot (Pentecost), Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles – all tell a consistent story on three different levels. Firstly, they mark out the seasons, reminding us of God’s provisions for us in season. Then they lead us through the narrative of Moses and the Exodus, leading us from captivity in Egypt to the formation of a nation on the way to the Promised Land, being helped and guided by God every step of the way.
Thirdly, this whole process also has a parallel in the Christian life. Coming out of Egypt is also a Biblical metaphor for leaving behind the old godless life and we can follow every stage of the story in Exodus and pause in wonder at how God leads us through our own personal Exodus when we become a Christian. The blood on the doorposts is the saving blood of Jesus, crossing the Red Sea is our statement of faith through water baptism, the pillars of cloud and fire are the Holy Spirit guiding our journey, living (or tabernacling) in us, just as the Children of Israel lived in temporary booths in the wilderness. There is so much more, we have just scraped the surface, believe me – the Old Testament narratives and the story of the Biblical festivals have such depth, all we need is the time to learn and study more – I can see another book coming on here …
Then, of course, we see Jesus … everywhere. Every one of the seven feasts tells us something about him, about his life, death and subsequent career. The spring feasts speak of his mission on Earth and the autumn feasts tell us of his mission from Heaven. All part of the same story, except that the final autumn events have not yet happened.
So we have the January to December calendar, named after Roman pagan gods and loosely ordered by Christian traditions. Then we have the Nisan to Adar calendar, curiously named after Babylonian pagan gods (why oh why couldn’t we have had something like – Abruary, Isaacary, Jake … etc), but at least tightly ordered by Biblical events. What do we do next? Am I proposing the dumping of the Western calendar and going Biblical? Do we jettison everything that is forged at the altar of tradition as unbiblical? Do we all become grinches at Christmas? Do we shoot the Easter bunny and serve up rabbit at the Passover meal?
The solution is actually simple. As Christians there is only one festival, or sacramental act, that we are obliged to take part in and that is the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me”.
He never actually told us to do anything else in remembrance of either himself or any Biblical event, in the Old or the New Testament. If this is all we do then that’s fine. But of course we all like to get together on special occasions and so we should celebrate the festivals of the Lord. We don’t have to celebrate them, we are not commanded to celebrate them. It is simply about blessing. All who partake in these festivals will be blessed in their understanding of Jesus and will also have the opportunity to better understand their Jewish neighbours and friends. But more of that later.
The Jewish festivals, the Biblical festivals, are so instructional, so rich in meaning, so bursting in Jesus, that it can do us nothing but good to be aware of them, at the very least. It is totally up to you. Personally Christmas has gone full circle. It started off as a Roman pagan festival, marked by debauchery, overindulgence and revelry and that’s how it has ended up. I say leave it at that, by all means meet with family and friends and give presents, but don’t bring Jesus into it. Yes, I’ve said it! I’ve spoken what is unspeakable in many circles. If you feel a need to celebrate the Nativity then perhaps sing your carols at the Feast of Tabernacles, but it really isn’t any concern of Jesus’s so perhaps it shouldn’t be ours either.
Having said that, the last impression you would want to give to those family and friends who are not quite on the same path as yours, is of one of those kill-joy, humourless religious nuts who seeks to drain life out of everything that surrounds them. Whatever you decide it would be worth heeding the principle behind these words of Paul.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)
Be real, be sensitive to others, be joyful.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book How the Church Lost the Way)
What is the overall significance of the seven Biblical feasts?
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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