Without a doubt the church’s calendar is in a mess. Different denominations celebrate the same festival but on different days—so the birth of Jesus is celebrated on either the 25th December or the 6th January. And, because of the development of different calendars over the centuries, Easter may be celebrated weeks apart.
In addition, some of the festivals (particularly the birth, and death and resurrection of Jesus) have been corrupted by the secular world. Indeed, Christmas is now more about Santa Claus, families, and holidays than the birth of Jesus Christ, and Easter is now more about chocolate and the Easter Bunny than the death and resurrection of our Lord.
As a consequence, it might well be considered that if the church is to regain a voice in the secular world, perhaps it needs to separate itself from the current secular celebrations, clear the slate, and start again. And if the church was to do that, I would suggest that we get back to basics.
Because in the Old Testament, one of the first things that God told Moses to do, was to institute three festivals for his people to celebrate: the Feasts of Passover/Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. At the time, they were all reminders of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their entry into the Promised Land.
Passover/Unleavened Bread, was to remind the people of the day God “passed over” the Israelites and saved the firstborn of Israel. It was also to remind them that the people left Egypt before they could leaven their bread. Weeks, was to remind the people of what was expected of them when they arrived in the Promised Land—with the need to give thanks for the first fruits of the land. And Tabernacles, was to remind the people of their accommodation—the tents they lived in—whilst they were there in the wilderness.
However, on top of that, God then added an additional layer of thought. He attached a harvest festival to each of the celebrations. He added the need to be thankful: for the first grain of barley each year, with Passover/Unleavened Bread; the end of the grain harvest, with Weeks; and the ingathering, celebrating all the produce that had been gathered, with Tabernacles.
Now for those familiar with the God of the Old Testament, it wasn’t unusual for God to put one layer of thought on top of another. As a consequence, it shouldn’t really be any surprise that he chose Passover (which was all about killing first born sons) for the death of his son, and Weeks (which was about new life in the Promised Land) for the giving of new life with his Spirit. And if God used two of the three festivals, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he may also have used the third.
After all, we don’t know when Jesus was born. December 25th was simply chosen as a means to eliminate a pagan festival. On the other hand, if Tabernacles is about living in tents, then that fits very neatly with the idea that Mary and Joseph had in finding suitable accommodation in Bethlehem.
Reshuffling the church’s year, then, so it recognises three different layers of meaning for each of the three festivals makes a lot of sense. And if the church’s year was to begin around September, we could begin with Tabernacles and the birth of Jesus. We could then celebrate Passover/Unleavened Bread, with the death and resurrection of Jesus. And we could then go on to celebrate Weeks (now more commonly referred to as Pentecost), for the gift of the Holy Spirit. All nice and neat.
To be continued …
Posted: 3rd January 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis