Food is right at the center of world. When God created man in His own image, He put him in a garden full of food with a Tree of Life in the midst of the garden. And the recurring picture of salvation and redemption is a feast: “And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees. He shall swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces…” (Is. 25:6-7).
The Bible closes with John’s vision of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). And at the center of the Christian life, Jesus has given us a meal, a feast of life and joy and rest.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying… concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts…” (Lev. 23:1-44)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Never forget that God brought Israel out of Egypt so that they might feast with Him (Ex. 5:1, 24:11). The Peace Offering was a regular sacrificial feast that Israel was invited to celebrate, but God also established an annual festival calendar. The first and foundational feast was the weekly Sabbath (Lev. 23:1-3). The Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was in the first month commemorating the Exodus (Lev. 23:4-8). The Feast of Firstfruits was at the very beginning of the Harvest (Lev. 23:9-14). And the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) came 50 days later at the end of harvest, remembering the poor as they did so (Lev. 23:15-22). On the first day of the seventh month, there was to be a Feast of Trumpets, preparing for the Day of Atonement 10 days later, the one day of affliction and (presumably) fasting in the Israelite calendar (Lev. 23:23-32). Five days later, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) began, a full week of feasting in makeshift tents, also at the end of harvest (Lev. 23:33-44). Finally, we should simply note that throughout these feasts are “holy convocations,” worship services, where Israel gathered together to hear Scripture, to sing, to pray, rejoice, and remember.
REJOICE IN THE LORD
Christians have frequently embraced a less than biblical understanding of joy. The foundation of Christian joy is the forgiveness of sins, and that is a joy that can never be taken from you. But then what do you do with that joy? The Bible requires us to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4). And in the same place, Paul says that he has learned in whatever state he is in to be content (Phil. 4:11-12). “All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15). And we should note that this rejoicing and contentment is what Paul is talking about when he says he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Phil. 4:14). So God commanded Israel to keep these feasts throughout the year so that they would “rejoice before the Lord” (Lev. 23:40, cf. Dt. 12:7, 12, 18).
So this is also why when God delivered the Jews from the plotting of Haman, they established the feast of Purim, “a day of feasting and gladness” and giving gifts as a memorial throughout their generations (Esth. 9:17-28). Memorials are reminders in space or time, and memorial feasts are reminders to rejoice always. Later, in the intertestamental period, the Jews took back the temple mount from their enemies and rededicated it, establishing the Festival of Lights or Hannukah, which Jesus participated in (Jn. 10:22). While we are certainly not bound by the Old Testament calendar (Gal. 4:9-10, Rom. 14:5-7) and the kingdom of God is not in meat or drink but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), God wants us to rejoice in Him and mark that joy with feasting.
A BRIEF CASE FOR A CHRISTIAN SABBATH
While celebrating Sunday as the Christian Sabbath is not something Christians should quarrel about, a strong case can be made for the practice. First, we should note that God rested when He created the world, before there was any sin in the world, establishing a one day in seven rhythm that is embedded in the nature of the world. In the first giving of the law, this is the pattern that Israel was to follow keeping the seventh day as sabbath (Ex. 20:11). In the second giving, Moses appealed to the Exodus (Dt. 5:15), not because remembering creation had ceased, but because now there was more to remember, and the central command in Sabbath-keeping is to “remember.” Specifically, as Israel went into Canaan, they were to remember that they had been slaves with no days off, but God had made them His free royal sons who would now work for Him and celebrate a weekly holiday.
Isaiah prophesied that in the New Covenant all flesh will worship the true God “from one sabbath to another” (Is. 66:23), and Hebrews explicitly says that a “rest” remains for the people of God, and the word there is “sabbath” (Heb. 4:9). So the question that remains would be why do we believe that the Christian Sabbath is Sunday instead of Saturday? Given all of this, it actually makes tons of sense that Christians would immediately begin celebrating a weekly Sabbath feast and holy convocation on the day Jesus rose from the dead and remade all things (1 Cor. 16:2, Rev. 1:10). The resurrection marks the new creation and the new Exodus, and if God’s people celebrated the first creation and the first exodus as free sons with a weekly festival, why would we do any less?
CONCLUSION: JESUS, LORD OF TIME
Part of what we proclaim when we say that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, is that He is the Lord of Time. He is Lord of our calendars. People always keep time by their gods because our lives are timebound (e.g. ‘Sun’-day, ‘Moon’-day, Thors-day, etc.) and so we mark those things that seem most important and those memorials in time in turn shape us into certain kinds of people. This is why culture wars center on battles over the dictionary and the calendar (words/definitions and time). What is true? What must we remember and celebrate?
The gospel is gloriously historic. Jesus created the heavens and the earth in six days, and in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman, to be born under the law, to redeem us from the curse of the law. Jesus was born in time, on a particular day. He lived for about 33 years, and He was crucified, and on the third day, He rose from the dead. He was seen by many for 40 days, ascended into Heaven, and on the 50th day, He sent His Holy Spirit on the Church.
While the Roman Catholic calendar got overly crowded and burdensome during the middle ages, we stand with the historic church and the Reformers in wanting our lives to be shaped by Christ in time and so we celebrate the Five Evangelical Feast Days (Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost), the central events in the life of Christ, with the Lord’s Day as our weekly rhythm of rejoicing at the center. We work hard because we rest in Him.