As I wrote in my last post, we have a confluence of religious calendars this year during Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Days of Unleavened Bread. It doesn’t always happen like this, Easter and Passover in the same week. But since it did, I’m writing about them together. I still hope I can impart some wisdom.
-7 First Fruits
In the Torah, in several places in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, Moses records the instructions the Most High gave for His festivals and Holy Days. Following the instructions for Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, it says that on the day after the weekly Sabbath, following the Passover, God’s people are to bring an offering of the early harvest of their grain, their wine, their olive press, and so on.
This is part of a cycle and can’t really be understood in isolation. To get to First Fruits we have already gone through preparation for Passover and most of the Days of Unleavened Bread. We have removed the leaven from our houses and examined our lives to change that which might displease our Maker. We have declared our devotion to the Most High and His Kingdom at the Passover Seder. We have celebrated Him delivering our forefathers from bondage and servitude of Egypt, and celebrated Him delivering us from all the things that hold us back from serving Him (our own Egypt), in the Days of Unleavened Bread. We have memorialized passage through the Red Sea walking on dry land with high walls of water on either side of us and seen our pursuers drowned in waters, as the last of us escaped. In our hearts we, give to God before we give to each other and before we pay the tax man. Now we are prepared to offer the first harvest of our fields, orchards, flocks and herds, the first product of our labor.
I have observed the Feast of First Fruits with traditional Jews, in the military congregation, while deployed. We didn’t bring grain, or olive oil or PowerPoint slides. (Any of you who haven’t worked in an Army HQ may not get the PowerPoint reference). We did have several services of prayers and readings. The prayers and readings centered around resurrection, new life, new opportunities. Even in traditional Judaism, the first day of the new week after the Day of Passover is a celebration of resurrection.
When I was a kid in Sunday school, I was the one who had the un-answerable questions.
I went up to the Priest, with my dad, after Mass, and asked in all the sincerity of seven-year-old, “Father, if Jesus said, ‘Call no man Father, for One is our Father even He who is enthroned in the Heavens…’why do we call the Priests Father?” Later, in my mother’s Evangelical congregation, I asked “If the Gospels tell us that Jesus always went to synagogue on Saturday, why do we go to church on Sunday?” I was the kid who read the scriptures for himself and tried to figure out for himself what it meant. I didn’t just read the couple of verses for the lesson, I read the whole chapter and if it referred to something in the Torah or the Prophets, I looked that up, too.
I guess, I never completely grew out of that desire to see and comprehend for myself. See, there aren’t any instructions for Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts in the Gospels or in the Epistles.
So what are we celebrating on Easter Sunday? We are celebrating that Jesus of Nazareth, Yeshua HaMeshiah, rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul (Rav Sha’ul) referred to Yeshua as the firstborn from the dead or the first fruits of the resurrection.
This, too, is part of a cycle. If you have been buried with Him in baptism, if you have seen the Power of God in your own life or in the lives of your friends and loved ones, you will understand more easily. As Yeshua said in the Gospels, and as Sean Hannity paraphrases on the radio, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
We are celebrating that our Messiah, our Christ, rose from the dead on the third day in fulfilment of the scriptures. We are celebrating hope for new life in the World to Come, but also hope for new opportunities in this world, hope for healing and hope for repaired relationships. As Bono said, Jesus of Nazareth is either the Son of God or a madman. As I heard it preached years ago, God doesn’t have any grandchildren, only children, in this way those of us who follow Him are also children of God, men of God and women of God.
The followers of Messiah, of Christ, are called to be a holy nation, a set-apart people, a peculiar people. Others won’t always understand the children of God, but that’s okay. The Most High has plans for His people, good plans, to give His people a hope and a future. We are celebrating a God too big to be contained within the mind of man. We are celebrating a God so high and so lifted up that when we experience His Presence our minds have to do us a favor and render the experience in terms of familiar symbols to keep us from crying our eyes out with joy. We celebrate a God so wonderful, so amazing, so far beyond our understanding, because we know that if we could fully comprehend Him and explain Him, he wouldn’t be worthy of worship or service at all.