Quote of the Week:
Here is a quote that I really appreciated from Volume 16, Issue 61 (Sept. 2001) of Reformed Worship magazine.
“Why Celebrate Festivals in Worship?
How can New Testament Christians benefit from celebrating Old Testament festivals? We discovered three benefits that made these services worthwhile.”
“First, our congregation is better able to understand the context of God’s mighty acts. Our immersion in Old Testament ways of celebrating helped us understand a big part of our Bibles of which we were previously unaware. The much-loved rubric of “promise and fulfillment” is made richer when we celebrate the promises as God revealed them and intentionally point to their fulfillment in Christ.”
“Second, these services illustrated how God has provided for children throughout history and helped us focus on ways of keeping covenant with younger generations. We gained a renewed appreciation of our obligation to celebrate the high Christian holidays in child-friendly ways that teach little ones the mighty acts of God. These services have given new impetus to us as church leaders to be thinking about ways the Christian holidays, including the neglected holidays of Ascension Day and Pentecost, can be reclaimed. We have also come to see that symbols and traditions that detract from the real story of the day (such as secular symbols that encroach on Christmas and Easter) should be purged without remorse.”
“Most important, these services helped us worship and bring glory to God. The original festivals (and our services) were designed to show all generations God’s amazing cosmic plan to redeem creation and restore what was broken at the fall. The festivals and our worship have drawn all of us who have ears to hear and eyes to see to a renewed awareness that God loved the world, and did so with such a fierce, stubborn, and unrelenting love, that God’s only Son came into the world so that we might be saved and not condemned.”
Between Passover and Pentecost
It finally occured to me that the best thing to talk about in the time between festivals is: the time between festivals. Jesus even taught his disciples during 40 of the 50 days between his resurrection and Pentecost. Since Passover and Pentecost are uniquely tied together with a 50-day interval between two “wave offerings”, it might be a good time to talk about harvests and time intervals.
Jesus did. Note in John 4:34-38 that Jesus describes his own mission in terms of a harvest that is already begun, yet unseen by the world. He calls himself the vine and us the branches in John 15:1-5 in another harvest metaphor. In this case there is pruning for further growth and the bearing of more fruit later.
Sooner or later it occurs to the reader that harvests, by nature, spread out over time. There must be a sowing or planting, followed by growth, followed by flowering, followed by bearing the fruit or seed, followed by harvest. It takes time.
I had a conversation about ministry to children with a pastor who was complaining that his outreach programs to children had taken huge resources, yet were not returning much in terms of generating new believers. I asked him when the best time to harvest is: when the plant is small or when it is hunched over bearing mature fruit? He was delighted. He responded, “Of course! Harvest wheat when the head is full! Not when it is still empty!” He determined that it is best to teach the Bible to the young, but wait until mature adulthood to seek a full committment to Christ.
The number 50 had great symbolism. In ancient Israel, a man was considered an adult for purposes of census at the age of 20, and life expectancy was about 70 years (at least according to the Psalms). The expectation of adult maturity was the same as the number of days between these harvest first-fruit offerings. 50 years was the number of years from Jubilee to Jubilee, when debt was forgiven and land returned to the family (rebooting the economy).
Jesus was referring to this Jubilee during his first recorded sermon in Luke 4:16-19. He was quoting Isaiah 61:1-2, which was based on a proclamation in Leviticus 25:8-10. His mission was a proclamation of the Jubilee of God: freedom from the oppression of sin and human greed. Again, this involves an interval of time.
After all this, should it be surprising that it takes time to mature in Jesus Christ? Should it be surprising that Jesus’ mission is begun – but not over yet? Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20), but there is a harvest to be completed yet (v. 21-24). Christ, those who are his at his coming, then comes the end. (Does the last phrase suggest a final harvest of later-redeemed people? I like to hope so.)
What matters is that the end is not yet. We still have time. We have time to grow in Christ. We have time to do what He has called us to do. The holy interval of redemption is not over yet, either personally or collectively for the world. What will we do with the interval we have been granted?