“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies. (Leviticus 23:2)
Just as grapes, and other climbing plants, need a structure (e.g. a trellis) to support them and help them to be healthy and bear fruit, so do human beings. This is what God is doing for his people in the book of Leviticus as they traveled through the desert toward the Promised Land. This structure, or rhythm of life, would not only support them, it would form them into a distinct people who would then be a light to the surrounding nations making them aware of and drawing them toward the one, true God.
In Leviticus 23, we have God’s instructions to Moses about seven special festivals, each with their own unique character and emphasis. The Passover commemorates the sacrifice of the Passover lamb whose blood caused the Angel of Death to pass over the homes of those who believed God’s promise of salvation. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a time of getting rid of the yeast in Jewish homes and eating bread made without yeast as a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites had to leave Egypt. The Feast of First Fruits was a day to celebrate and offer to God the first fruits of the barley harvest. That offering of the first fruits then made all the rest of the harvest holy and God’s people could enjoy its life-giving blessing. The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, is a time of celebrating God’s generosity poured out on the people as the first fruits of the wheat harvest are offered to God. In later times, it was also an occasion to celebrate God’s gift of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, an occasion marked by fire, strange sounds and supernatural events.
All the above festivals take place in the Spring. In the Fall, God instituted three more festivals to provide a rhythm of life for God’s people. The trumpet blasts on the Feast of Trumpets marked the beginning of a New Year with God. Shortly after followed the Day of Atonement, a solemn day where atonement is made for all the sins of the people. The seventh and final festival was the Feast of Tabernacles, a time of celebration and joy where people commemorated God’s presence with the Israelites through the desert by living outdoors in temporary shelters.
Each of these seven festivals reminded the people of something special God had done and what they meant for them in their everyday lives. Awareness of those divine gifts helped them to be people who lived with a light spirit, confident of God’s presence, peace and loving care, enabling them to bless those around them.
When Jesus walked upon this world, he fulfilled some of the festivals in a way which people did not anticipate. He is the ultimate Passover Lamb whose blood causes the Angel of Death to forever pass over all who believe in him. He is the only pure human being, completely free of the yeast of sin, and yet his glory and goodness was hidden from view in the plainness of his pre-resurrection appearance (Isa. 53:2). Crucified on the Feast of Passover, he was hastily buried on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, hidden from view in the darkness of a cold, dark tomb. Jesus then rose from the dead on the Festival of Firstfruits, his resurrection guaranteeing our resurrection and making holy the remainder of our life from now into eternity. Then on the Day of Pentecost, on a day with fire, strange sounds and supernatural events, God generously poured out his Holy Spirit on all believers, a Gift which nourishes and sustains us in our new life with God.
For the time being, there is no correlation between Jesus and the fall festivals, but there will be. One day, Jesus will return to this world and the trumpets will sound marking the beginning of a new phase of life with him in the new heavens and earth. He will dispel all evil and complete the restoration and renewal of all things. From that moment onward, all things that remain will be completely at one with God. Then will begin a time of unending joyous celebration and worship as we celebrate the reality that God’s dwelling place is now among his people (Rev. 21:3).
With Jesus, this is the rhythm of our life. Our weekly worship and the seasons of the Church Calendar remind us that Jesus died and rose again to give us a life with him that will last forever. Though our life in this world is an ongoing struggle against the pervasive yeast of sin and its effects in our life, and the new life that we have in Jesus remains hidden, because of Jesus, we still know that this life is still life with God. And one day, all that is hidden will be revealed. We will see Jesus face to face, and he will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). Through our rhythm of life, we are being formed into a distinct people who will then be a light to the surrounding people, drawing them toward the one, true God.
Dear Jesus, thank you for being my Saviour and for giving me new life with you. Help me to rest in your love and live life with a regular rhythm that reminds me of your presence, peace and loving care in my life. Amen.