A few thoughts this Easter morning as we prepare for worship at Emmanuel. Leviticus 23 outlines seven feasts that the Lord instituted for His people, the nation of Israel. These seven feasts, called 'The Feasts of the Lord' were the holy days (or holidays) of Old Testament Israel. They were so important that when the Lord gave them to Moses to institute among the people, the calendar changed, and the month in which the first three feasts were kept became the first month of the Jewish year (Abib; later called Nisan after the exile).
For centuries, including during the times of Christ, all Jewish males would make their way to Jerusalem to participate in these seven Feasts (also called 'Festivals'). The Jews would make three annual trips to Jerusalem to observe them. The first three Feasts (the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of the Sheaf of Firstfruits) were celebrated during just one week beginning with the 14th day of Nisan (Passover) and continuing for an additional seven days. This particular week of Nisan corresponds to either our March or April on the solar calendar, depending on the year. Further, as you are probably aware, the week of the Feat of Passover is also the same week that we now call Passion Week - the very week Jesus died. The fourth Feast (the Feast of Pentecost) occurred exactly fifty days after the celebration of the Feast of the Sheaf of First Fruits. Pentecost occurred during Israel's spring grain harvest(our May/June). The fifth, sixth and seventh Feasts (the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast Day of Atonment, and the Feast of Tabernacles respectively) occurred during one week of Israel's fall fruit harvest (our September/October).
Passion Week or Passover Week
I agree with the great Greek and New Testament scholar B.F. Westcott that Jesus died on Thursday, Nisan 14, the day of the Feast of Passover, was buried and in the tomb during the High Sabbath of Nisan 15 (Friday) which was annually the date of the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus remained in the tomb during the regular Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, Nisan 16, and He rose from the grave on Sunday, Nisan 17 also called the first day of the week. In Old Testament language this Sunday, Nisan 17, is called 'the morrow after the sabbath' Lev. 23:15). And, of course, it is day of the Feast of the Sheaf of Firstfruits and the very day Christ rose from the dead. It is not often noticed by Christians that Jesus was in the tomb over two, back to back Sabbaths - on Friday the High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread (John 19:31), and on Saturday the regular Jewish Sabbath. Matthew 28:1 says "After the Sabbaths (in the Greek the word is plural), at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb."
We all know that the Feast of Passover is the time when the roasted lamb is eaten by the Jews, commemorated the 'passing over' of God's judgment in Egypt of those families where the blood of the lamb had been applied to the doorposts of their homes. The Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates the Jews being released from the bondage of Egypt. They were commanded by God in their departure to clean their homes of all leaven and to journey to Canann with only flat cakes or 'bread without leaven' in their possession. The Feast of the Sheaf of Firstfruits was the time when the Jews would enter the Presence of God (i.e. The Temple) and wave before the Lord a bundle (or sheaf) of their crops. It was a sign that the future harvest would be blessed by God because the 'sheaf' of firstfruits had been accepted by Him.
Easter is all about Jesus Christ fulfilling the Feasts of Israel. He is the Lamb of God who died on Passover day and whose blood (or death), applied by faith to our own lives, causes the judgment of God to 'pass over' us. He is the 'Unleavened Bread' who was in the tomb during the Feast of that name, taking with Him the leaven (sin) of our lives and removing it from us. He took it to the grave to cast it from us as far as 'the east is from the west,' and separating us unto God as a holy people. And of course, He rose in the early morning hours of the 'Feast of the Sheaf of Firstfruits,' and as Paul writes in the great chapter on the resurrection (I Corinthians 15), became the 'sheaf of firstfruits' of our own resurrection, guaranteeing the blessing of God which is to come to all those who are represented by Him in the Presence of God.
The Jews knew that a new month had dawned, like the first month of of the year (Nisan) had dawned, because they had priests assigned to watch for the New Moon. The New Moon was that time when the moon was completely dark, and when the priests saw it, they ordered that the trumpets would blow and Israel would then celebrate a New Moon Festival. Of course, during the three lunar months when the seven Festivals of the Lord would be celebrated, there would be an even greater celebration in anticipation of the coming Feasts (holidays). Sacrifices, grain and wine offerings, and special foods marked all the Old Covenant Festivals of Israel.
We don't do this anymore. We don't offer sacrifices. We don't celebrate New Moons. We don't practice the Feasts. We don't follow the dietary laws of Old Covenant Israel. All these things were shadows, or pictures, of that which was to come - Jesus Christ. Jesus the Messiah is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. He fulfilled the seven Feasts in His life, death and resurrection. He is the focus of our faith. To go back to observing all the shadows of the Old Covenant - including the Sabbath - is like greeting your spouse at the airport after a long absence and pulling from your billfold a picture of your spouse and kissing it rather than embracing the person who is standing in front of you. Easter is all about embracing Christ.
In 325 A.D. the early Christian fathers separated the celebration of 'Easter' from the Jewish Passover Festival. Whereas 'Easter' is now on a fixed Sunday (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring), and no longer tied to the same week of the Jewish Feast of Passover (i.e, the 2008 Jewish Festival of Passover is in mid-April, not March), today's Easter celebration in evangelical churches should be about embracing Jesus Christ and all He has done for those of us who have placed our trust in Him.
I pray that you might truly embrace Jesus Christ in your worship today.
In His Grace,