Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why didn't I learn this in church? An Addendum.

In the last couple of weeks I have done a rudimentary survey of the Jewish holy days, Shavuot, and their connections to Christianity. After I completed the fourth (and I thought final) post, a new thought came to mind. Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish faith (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot). Passover is the only one of the three that gets any substantial attention from the Christian Church, as it is closely tied with Good Friday and Easter, the only holidays that all denominations celebrate worldwide. However, after having studied Shavuot, I have to ask:

Why didn't I learn this in church?

Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, Feast of First Fruits, and Pentecost, played a tremendously important role in the establishment of the post-resurrection, post-ascension Church. Luke writes in both his and his history of the early church that Jesus remained on the earth forty days after His resurrection. His goal at that point was to teach the disciples and apostles His mission for the Church. He gave them the tools they would need from the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He opened their minds to learn at a supernatural pace, a forty day Seminary education for proclaiming the Good News.  Then He said,

This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:46-49)

Of course, the apostles thought that the promise meant the restoration of Israel, but Jesus assured them that it  did not, and that only the Father knows the time and date He has set by His authority. He told them to expect something new--the Holy Spirit's power dwelling within them. That certainly gave them something to think about while they stayed in Jerusalem.

This story is one I did learn in church and Sunday School. What I didn't learn was the connection to am important Jewish feast. Remember, the first Christians were Jews, so the festivals and feasts were part of the culture,and they would have immediately understood the message of how Jesus affected them. Those of us in the 21st century Western world need to be taught.

The connection begins with the first verse of Acts 2: When the day of Pentecost came they were all in one place(Acts 2:1). The day of Pentecost IS Shavuot, the pilgrimage feast of First Fruits. Jews gathered to the Temple with their wave offerings of the early harvest: wheat and barley, the sustenance of the land. The first harvest signifies the promise of God to feed His people--from the wilderness to the prosperous. All things come from God, from beginning to end. King David (who is also remembered during Shavuot) wrote, I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread (Psalm 37:25).

The disciples were in Jerusalem at the command of Jesus, but He sent them there BECAUSE of the holiday. Jews from all over the known world would be gathered, celebrating the harvest, remembering the great King David, and offering thanksgiving for the Law that set the Chosen people apart from the rest of humanity. It makes sense that Jesus would send the people from Bethany to Jerusalem (only a couple of miles away) to await the anointing power of the Father. The next part of the story is also familiar:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:2-4)

Now THAT was new. God had revealed Himself in fire many times before (Moses' burning bush, the Fire by day in the wilderness, and Ezekiel's vision are just a couple of instances.) This, however, was unusual because it was not a vision in one place or for one person. This was fire over every believer in Jesus gathered during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem form the Feast of First Fruits.  Then they spoke in languages they didn't know, proclaiming a gospel that they were just beginning to understand. The shocked pilgrims looked for a natural explanation (drunk before lunch? on a feast day? not likely), but no natural occurrence could begin to make sense of the events that day.

Peter, being Peter (albeit a new and improved version of himself), spoke up in defense of the apostles, the fire, the languages, and the message. Peter referenced King David, Joel's prophecy, and God's plan for His Chosen ones. He presented both the prophecy of the Messiah and the fulfillment in Jesus, calling the people to repent of their sins, trust the salvation of Jesus Christ, and be baptized. About three THOUSAND people joined the apostles that day.

So why does it matter? Those three thousand (or so) are the First Fruits of the Church. They heard the message, responded to the call, and began immediately to live in the Power of Jesus, bringing more and more people into belief every day. The First Fruits of the Church represented a bountiful harvest ahead. Acts chronicles the beginning days, first through Peter's ministry to the Jews, and later Paul's work in the Gentile world.

So, the Passover feast and pilgrimage, significant to Jews for salvation from physical slavery and the exodus from Egypt mirrors Good Friday and Easter, significant to Christians as salvation from spiritual slavery and and exodus from the natural world to the eternal one. The church at large makes that connection pretty clearly. The Shavuot offering and pilgrimage, significant to Jews for the giving of the Law, the kindnesses of Boaz and Ruth, the leadership of the great King David, and thanksgiving mirrors Pentecost, significant to Christians as the fulfillment of the Law, the kinsman-redeemer of Jesus, and the beginning of the Church in the First Fruits of the Gospel.

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