Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Law and the Land: Shavuot Study Part Three

I have spent the last few days studying the Festival of Weeks, aka Shavuot. It is such a rich holiday, full of tradition and connection that I decided I needed to divide my thoughts into multiple posts. This is the third of four posts about how the Jewish celebration of Shavuot (this year on May 14-16) connects to the modern Christian church. There are many lessons for Christians today.

In my years growing up in a Protestant church, I had learned about many Jewish holidays. I knew of Purim (Esther), Passover, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah. Shavuot, however, was new to me. I was stunned to research the holiday and learn that, not only is it incredibly significant to both Jews and Christians, but that both faiths have largely neglected it.

The primary focus of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai.  That alone should set it apart because it defined the Hebrew nation as a true Theocracy and a community of people bound, not only by ethnicity, but by faith. It is what makes Judaism unique.

Part of the neglect may be in the vast scope of the holiday. In Leviticus, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) was a time of gratitude for the beginnings of the summer harvest. The “first fruits” were brought as part of the offering. Agriculture still plays a role in the holiday, as many observers decorate with flowers and greenery. In Israel, many kibbutzim do bring in the first grains with dancing and singing, but other than that, the connection to the earth is largely ignored.

The giving of the Law, too, is a major undertaking. The Torah sealed the Hebrews to God, gave them a unique position in all of history, and instituted the laws that illustrate their separation from the rest of world culture. It is a historical and largely cerebral concept that defies set ritual or activity. It is too solemn for raucous celebration, too early in the year for a feast, and not connected to any particular villain, battle, or hero. It defies simple explanation and symbology. Some Jewish communities stay up all night to study the Scripture. Others focus on the marriage between the Creator and His Chosen People. Some focus on the seven attributes of God (loving-kindness, discipline, compassion, perseverance, beauty, foundation, and dreams).  It is one of the pilgrimage holidays, along with Passover (Pesach) in the early spring and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in the fall.  Shavuot has no central theme or image to make it famous. No wonder it isn’t terribly popular, especially outside Israel.

Having said that, isn't it important to study the scripture regularly? Isn't it the duty and joy of every believer to know the Father better by study and application of His Word? 2 Timothy 3 tells us that the Word is God-breathed and useful for teaching and training and rebuking and correcting, so it follows that every believer should want to study and show himself approved, who correctly handles the Truth.  It is only through understanding the whole of God's Word that believers can grow in faith, and it is only by diligent study that we can begin to reach and teach those who are lost. The blind cannot lead the blind.

The final element in Shavuot is the reading of the book of Ruth. The lessons of Ruth apply to all people, but the timing of the recognition seems disconnected to the giving of the Law. The only real connection is through the agricultural element. Ruth, of course, made herself known as a gleaner in the fields of a righteous Jew, who would have brought the first fruits offering to the Synagogue. Tradition holds that her grandson, the great King David, died during Shavuot.  Ruth’s connection to the holiday is also one of the key elements in how Shavuot should be a celebration for Christians as well as Jews.

Perhaps Shavuot should be known as the holiday of the Law, the Land, and the Love. Known, celebrated, and remembered.

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