When most of us think of the relationship between our calendars and Jesus’ call to go and make disciples, it is usually in terms of our time management. We allot time for church activities, for example, or we plan to get together with others for meaningful spiritual conversation.
I’d like to suggest many of us are missing the larger story our calendars tell us about time, and offer you a small sample of the story Jesus experienced during this time of year.
When God called the Hebrew to participate in the weekly Sabbath and six yearly festivals (see Leviticus 23), their calendar became essential to the way in which their unique identity as his Chosen People was formed (discipleship) and a part of how they proclaimed God’s salvation to the nations around them (evangelism). Week after week, year after year, they were immersed in real time in God’s recounting God’s story of creation, redemption, and renewal.
Today, most Christians follow different calendars. We live our day-to-day lives using the civil calendar. Some believers worship according to the Christian calendar. I describe the origins and meaning of each movement of the Christian calendar in my book Moments & Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith. I also offer an exploration of the source from which the Christian calendar first emerged: the Jewish festal calendar.
I believe it benefits all Christians to get to know this calendar, too. From the time of the Exodus, the Hebrew people have lived God’s story in time using the gift of this calendar. In addition, it is the calendar Jesus used. For those of us who love the Scriptures and the Author of those Scriptures, each holiday in both the Jewish calendar and Christian calendar offers us unique opportunities to more fully experience our faith.
At this time of year, three of the six Jewish feasts come in close succession. Below you’ll find a quick intro to each:
(1) Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Sunday, October 2, 2016
Leviticus 23:23-25 prescribes the Feast of Trumpets, more commonly known as Rosh Hashanah (literally, “Head of the Year”). It takes place at the start of the 7th month of the Jewish calendar year, but it is recognized in the religious community as the anniversary of the creation of humankind. The holiday’s themes of honoring God as creator, redeemer, and judge call for a response from us of repentance, restoration of relationship with God and others, and a call to be ready for the time when finite, world-bound time will come to an end. The ram’s horn shofar trumpet blasts of this holiday are a call to repent and return to God in preparation for the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, which occurs ten days from the start of Rosh Hashanah.
(2) Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. The day is mandated for the Chosen People in Leviticus 23:26-32. Traditional readings for this holiday include Leviticus 16:1-34, Leviticus 18:1-30, and the book of Jonah. In the days when there was a Temple in Jerusalem, Yom Kippur was the one day each year in which the high priest was permitted to enter the Holy Of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the space, in order to seek atonement for the nation. Jesus’ followers believe that he is a perfect high priest and perfect, spotless sacrifice. His blood sacrifice made atonement once for all, opening the way into the Holy of Holies for all who call on his name for salvation. This day is relevant for Christians who are grafted-in people who share in his stunning mercy. Some may choose to use this day as a way to intercede for the Jewish people on a day in which the longing for forgiveness is being expressed in synagogues and gatherings all around the world.
(3) Sukkot begins the evening of Sunday, October 16 and ends at sundown Sunday, October 23
Sukkot begin just four days after Yom Kippur concludes. Per Leviticus 23:33-43, this joyous feast, also known as the Feast of Ingathering, required all Jewish people to gather as one for a period of rejoicing – worship in the form of offerings – and dwelling in temporary shelters known as “sukkahs” or booths. This ways the way in which they were to remember how God sheltered his pilgrim people in the desert after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. This feast also has an eschatological significance for the Jewish people as it points to the end of days when they will be home once and for all, God will be glorified among all the nations throughout his creation. Hope and hospitality mark this festival. The message of this feast is our birthright as pilgrim followers of Jesus, our living hope.
Reading about these feasts will add some helpful context to your Bible study – both Old and New Testaments. But learning happens best when it doesn’t stay on the page. These holidays invite all-ages, hands-on family or small group participation. Even the act of preparing a special meal for either Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot and inviting others to join you is a simple way to step into the story. (Moments & Days has a few recipes in the back of the book; you can also search online for fun menu ideas.) In doing so, you’ll have an opportunity to use all your senses to savor the story of God’s creation and redemption in ways that might be new to you, but stretch back in history through Jesus’ life all the way to the time of the Exodus.
Michelle Van Loon is our expert and guide through the major events of the Jewish and Christian calendars. She helps us see God’s faithful presence in real time, both in the Scriptures and in daily life. She is the author of several books and a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s popular Her.meneutics blog for women. She also writes for patheos.com and her own website michellevanloon.com.