Parallels--Jewish & Christian Spring Celebrations - Printable Version

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Parallels--Jewish & Christian Spring Celebrations - DeanZF - 04-14-2009

I offered this as the first in a series of classes on the calendar that God established for the tribes of Israel. It was shared with the adult Sunday School class at Church of the King on 3/29/2009.

The Church Calendar & Spiritual (and Mental) Health

Dean Thomas

March 29, 2009
This is the first of a series of classes on the calendars of the Church and the calendars established by God for His people Israel. [I could easily spend hours just on the introductory thoughts!] The basic reasons for this class are:<LIST type="decimal">
  1. <LI>
  2. that there is a relationship between the Christian calendar and what has become the Jewish religious calendar, and that we are better served if we are aware of the richness involved in both;</LI>
  3. that God set some things in place through the people we now call "the Jews";</LI>
  4. that Bishop Michael (our pastor) has a profound love of Israel and its people (as do Dean, Helena, and others at CCOTK), and wants to communicate that love and infect you with it;</LI>
  5. that Bishop Michael is the ICCEC representative and main contact for things having to do with the Middle East, including geographic Israel (so we can more intentionally pray for Bishop’s assignment and responsibilities); and</LI>
  6. that God is not yet finished with His people, Israel.</LI>
</LIST>Leviticus 11:45 is the key verse for that book, and actually for all of everything having to do with our relationship with Him. In it God says (and Dean paraphrases), "You be holy, because I am holy; you need to strive to be like Me."

It's so very hard to put so very many thoughts, feelings, and symbols into a single 40 minute presentation. That's part of why such historical religious holidays are annual events-it gives the opportunity to present some new material as well as some standard material over and over until it colors the fabric of our lives like grape juice or purple dye on a white shirt. Multiple applications will deepen the color, making it richer with each dip in the dye. It's my hope that this initial dip in the dye of Jewish history will cause a hunger for an unquenchable deepening of knowledge and appreciation of the Jewishness of our Savior, Y'shua ha Mashiach, Jesus the Christ. Like Moses, Jesus was the physical seed of Abraham, a Semite, specifically a Jew. He was born to a Jewish mother, raised in a Jewish home and community, and committed to ministering to the Jews. But unlike Moses, Jesus was first and foremost the Messiah, the Kinsman-Redeemer, the God-sent Salvation of the Jews. Then and only then, His salvation was offered to the Gentiles, through the Jewish genealogical lines, but across the cultural barrier. We are the heirs and beneficiaries of His ministry, joint-heirs with the Jews. "First to the Jews…" (Romans 1:16)

We must be careful in our application of scripture when it comes to the people of Israel (the Jewish people) and the gentiles we call the Church. Most of the Revelation has not happened yet! We WILL BECOME the "New Jerusalem", and in a prophetic sense, we are already, however, God continually proves that He is not finished with Israel. Paul teaches us that we are JOINT HEIRS with them. We're also carefully taught that God doesn't often repent, especially when it comes to promises made to His people and when it comes to gifts. There are a few times when God shares that He's pretty fed up with various people groups, but every time He backs away from the anger and redeems both the people and the situation. Truly, He is the God of the second chance--and more! We must carefully avoid replacement theology and look at what New Testament verses say about Israel in the end times. Israel is a barometer for what is to come. We must watch the signs of the times and how God deals with Israel if we want to be aware of the prophetic, apocryphal clock's ticking.

As Bishop Michael has shared so many times, it's important to know some details about the information surrounding an event. The original, Egyptian Passover was a singular event. The Passover Seder that Jesus shared with His disciples was a singular event, but it was one celebration among thousands of years' worth of Passover Seders. The annual question (usually asked by the youngest, reading child at the table, often seated immediately to the right of the head of the house) is "Why is this night unlike all the other nights?" John was the one seated at Jesus' right hand.

Bishop Michael has also shared many times that the Church calendar can be a positive and powerful influence on the mental health of individuals. Why would that be? The first time I heard him say that I had some serious doubts about where he was going with the premise, but the more I listened and thought with a Hebraic mindset instead of the Greek mindset that plagues us westerners, the more I could see it. Health is based on standards and stability. Stability is based on repeated and recognized patterns. It is very much like the whole concept of the liturgy of the Eucharist being seen as a framework on which our worship and praise is built, rather than an end in and of itself that cannot be adapted. The calendar gives structure to my spiritual life, just as it does my physical life. It gives predictable pattern and signposts and seasons along our spiritual journey. What comes to mind when I say "seasons"? Holidays, predictable events, colorful leaves, daffodils?

Like the Church, Israel and the Jews have two distinct calendars, one religious, one civil, and the two do not ever coincide. Again, the Church in the USA starts its liturgical year on a totally different day than the non-liturgical year. The Church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays prior to the celebration of Christmas. Our civil year begins January 1 and is a solar year. And on what do we base the civil calendar or the months or days of the year? Most of these time periods are named after "gods" of Rome, Scandinavia, Greece, and elsewhere. I'm not whining, that's just the system we inherited. The Jews have a different system, as do the Arabs, the Chinese, the Hindus, and a few other cultures around the world. Most have some relationship to lunar or solar years. I get a kick out of the Christians who get their hackles up when people call the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord by the name "Easter"; "The name had its roots with Ishtar and so should not be used!", they say. I've come to the point of asking if they've been to temple to worship Thor on Thursday recently or on Friday to worship Frieden. They don't seem to worry much about that regular usage in their daily and weekly vocabulary. The name is not so important. The reason for the celebration is of ultimate importance.

We have both secular and sacred calendars. The Jews have both secular and sacred calendars. Neither of them matches ours, but there are definite parallels. Those parallels are really what these classes will be about.

Some quick but important basics:

We use three different names for this group of people. It will help as we go on to find out who they really are.<LIST type="decimal">
  1. <LI>
  2. Hebrews--The descendents of Abraham through Isaac, through Jacob/Israel, were the twelve tribes of Israel. They lived in what came to be Canaan until they ended up in Egypt making bricks and then avoiding plagues. Then Moses came on the scene some 10 generations into their "Egypt period". In some "high" liturgies, they are known as the Hebrew Children. Hebrew is a term that has obscure roots. Some say it is related to a tribe of people in the area where Abram originally settled. Some say it means "pass over" or "pass through"; these say that it might have to do with Passover, or that it might have to do with crossing River Jordan or the Red Sea. Gen. 14:13 mentions "Abram the Hebrew". Another school is that it is related to Hebron, an area about 20 miles south of Jerusalem where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and some others of the patriarchal clan were buried and where they probably lived at least for a time. Abram in some of the ancient languages would be pronounced EEvram and have an "ear" relationship to eevRON, the modern city of Hevron or Hebron in English. It also was an ancient people group and their language. Scripture often refers to Jacob’s descendants as Hebrews, especially until the exodus.</LI>
  3. Israel--When they returned from Egypt and moved back into Canaan, the children of Israel's sons become the nation Israel; it eventually split into northern & southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Israel is the name that "the man" gave to Jacob after they wrestled all night and after "the man" touched the socket of Jacob's thigh and caused him to limp the rest of his days. Israel is translated as either "he who strives with God" or "God strives". For hundreds of years, "Israel" was a people, not a place. "Sons of Israel" was a very common expression through most of the Pentateuch. It slowly changed to mean the conglomeration/congregation of people known as Israel. When the exodus ended with the tribes taking land in what had been Canaan, the nation (people-group) called Israel began to take form as a geographic entity. As a result, today most Jewish communities do not have much regard for the physical place where they worship. It's really only a tent. Their concern is about the congregation of people who gather. That's one reason they do not generally name their places of worship "temple" or "synagogue", even they might call their services temple or shul.</LI>
  4. The Jews--After the destruction of the temple and all of its records, and after the complete annihilation of the northern kingdom of Israel, they took on the identity of Judah and eventually were known simply as "the Jews". The Jews refers back to the end of the kingdom of Israel. From a loose confederation of states named after the sons of Jacob/Israel, there rose war and division. Saul was the first king of the Israel that included all the tribes. At some time after Solomon, war created the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel become godless and was eventually annihilated. The kingdom of Judah became the only recognizable remnant of Hebrew lineage. When the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed, almost all the records of genealogy were destroyed. A few records survived through the time of Jesus and Paul, but most tribal lines and group identities were lost. The remnant became known as Judah and that got shortened over time to simply “the Jews”.</LI>
</LIST>To avoid confusion in the class, we're going to talk about all of these folks primarily as "the Jews", but it's important that you see that's something of a misnomer. These are the legitimate descendants of Abraham through his only begotten son Isaac. This is the family tree/vine into which we are grafted through Christ Jesus. The same "sap" flows through the veins of ALL the legitimate heirs of Abraham, including the Christians. Without their roots, we have no heritage and no Messiah. We need to learn about our relatives!

Now then, when it comes to calendar issues, along came the Church. We took a lesson from Israel and realized that there is great benefit in the regular remembrance of what God has done and is doing. We celebrate important days in the history of the Church and sometimes spend many days or weeks creating a whole season to celebrate and reflect. The Jews? Not so much. They have their holy days (holidays) that are usually called feasts. They have major and minor holidays. The majors are those ordained by God Himself. The minors commemorate very important times in Hebrew history, both sacred and secular, if you will, although for a believing Jew, the dividing line is pretty thin since God acts through and throughout history to affect the lives of His people Israel. It's not unlike Americans celebrating July 4th with a church service.

We're going to move from calendar to catechism. Bishop has shared lots of interesting and sometimes unique interpretations or definitions of words over his time with us. I think he found a definition for catechism that dealt with "speaking into the ear". Catechism itself has come to mean a question and answer type education with a strong implication of rote learning of important facts. The point of catechism is that through repetition of points of information, a new Christian learns the important aspects of faith, of doctrine, of liturgy, of Scripture, and all else important to his spiritual life. This is still important but how much more so when the vast majority of Christians could not read. Rabbi Shmuel Hirsch (1815-1889) taught, "The catechism of the Jew consists of his calendar." At every major feast and at most minor feasts, the events are rehearsed in detail at the family level so that those things are re-membered or brought back to vivid life complete with details. The Jews do not speak of those things in the past tense. Part of the Passover script says, "When we were in Egypt…" not our forefathers or our ancestors--WE! That’s important. Think about this in terms of Eucharist. "Whenever you do these things, do them to re-member Me." It's not about warm, fuzzy thoughts. It is about putting ourselves in Him and our sins in Him and on that cross. It's not about memories or imaginations of what it might have been like. When we do these things, He is ALIVE in them. Fr. Jim Ball's comments about intentional living fit very well here.

It's important to realize that in Leviticus, God Himself established Israel's religious calendar. God Himself established the major holy days and how they should be celebrated. And God Himself called those seven appointed feasts "My feasts, the feasts of the Lord your God." He did not say these are feasts for the sons of Israel and their kids. "MY feasts" and He went even further saying that they were for all generations. Let's look at Leviticus 23:1-8. Remember that this is three chapters before God gives Moses what we know as "The Ten Commandments" or "The Law".
<QUOTE author="Lev. 23:1-8">
Lev. 23:1-8 Wrote:And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.

The Sabbath [note:this is a weekly feast, God’s feast, not man’s]

'Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.

The Passover and Unleavened Bread

'These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.'"
Today's lesson is so very short but full of the sort of information in the hundreds of books waiting to be read. Today we're nearing the end of Lent and waiting for the celebration of the Resurrection. These are the spring holidays of the Church, at least for those of us on the same side of the equator as Jerusalem.

The feasts in this first part of Lev. 23 are Israel's spring feasts; there are some amazing parallels to our own Christian spring feasts. Passover was the celebration of liberation from slavery. This is when the lamb was slaughtered and the story of the Egyptian oppression of the Hebrews was and is told in detail, a celebration of God's redemption of a nation. Resurrection is our celebration of victory won for us by God Himself, victory over and redemption from the oppression of sin in our individual lives. When the celebrant says, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us," we respond "Therefore, let us keep the feast." This is the very feast that we are pledging to keep Sunday after Sunday. We need to learn about the feast that we promise weekly to keep.

Just as Lent runs into Palm Sunday and into Holy Week and climaxes in a crashing glorious celebration of Christ’s victory over the grave, so Passover’s one day feast moves immediately into the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is so immediate that they virtually become one feast of eight days. For seven days (remember Lent and most of seven weeks?) the Jews are commanded to eat unleavened bread. That has been translated and expanded upon to the point where ALL leaven is forbidden during those seven days. It has become a time of introspection and examination, not unlike Lent is in some parts of the Church. This is not the deepest time of reflection, but it is the time of spring-cleaning and a little spring tonic in the form of a fast from leaven. Actually, what many families do each spring has significant roots right here in the feasts associated with Judaism.

Great pains are taken to clean everything and anything that could even be suspected of containing the forbidden leaven; it is all removed from the homes of practicing and devout Jews. Foods that were just fine on the 13th of the first month are no longer welcome on the 15th day of the first month. In the modern culture, believing households will sometimes sell their box of leavened goods to a gentile neighbor for a dollar and buy it back a week later so they can obey the letter of the law. Others will actually give any unopened food to deserving gentile charities. But the folks go further still! All of the normal dishes and cookware gets put in boxes and stored away. Special Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread stuff is pulled out much like we pull Christmas ornaments, plates, and linens.

Then, a few days before Passover & the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the household is completely clean and ready. The man of the house enters the home after services or work (depending on the tradition), says the prescribed prayers, and dresses in the appropriate garb. He picks up a candle (so he can look in the dark, hidden corners), a small wooden spoon (as a dust pan), a feather (a mini-broom), and makes a ceremonial inspection of the entire home, looking to collect any last bit of dust or dirt or other "leaven". The feather bearer finds the ceremonial leaven, feathers it into a wooden spoon without touching it (which would make him ceremonially unclean for the holy day), binds it in a cloth, and burns feather, spoon, linen, and leaven, all at once. He then pronounces the home ceremonially clean and ready for the rest of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Does that sound silly or extreme? Perhaps, but the picture of the week of Unleavened Bread really is a denial of self and an intentional purging of sinful practice; the family practice of the household purge is a teaching method. The only real silliness is that at the end of the week, they go buy back the leavened goods from the friendly gentile neighbor or just go get more stuff from the store! How very much like us when we give up chocolate and caramel for Lent and then go pig out (forgive the un-kosher expression!) on a super large turtle sundae at the local ice cream store on Easter Sunday afternoon.

What was God’s intention for the Feast of Unleavened Bread and for Lent? Yes, perhaps a time of doing without some of the goodies of life, but perhaps more for the chance to inspect the dark corners of our hearts and use the light of the Holy Spirit and the gentle feather called confession to cleanse real leaven from our hearts, but not for a week or even seven weeks. God is calling us to be holy because HE is holy and we need to want to be like our Father. We NEED to want to be like our Father.

The next installment will be shared on Pentecost Sunday when we'll talk about the Feast of First Fruits and the Jewish and Christian celebrations of the Feast of Pentecost.