When a group of followers of Jesus Christ freely decides to model their worship calendar on the one provided to the people of Israel as they were being rescued from Egypt, how do they do it? The short answer is: any way they choose.
There is, of course, a longer and more nuanced answer available for those who wish to read further. The book of Hebrews exegetes an unnamed prophet’s prophecy about a new covenant as indicating that the prior covenant was already becoming obsolete. It turns out that the prophet quoted needed no introduction, as the most cursory investigation reveals that he is quoting Jeremiah 31:31.
In other words, according to the writer of Hebrews, the old covenant was already almost dead in the days of Jeremiah, the prophet who ministered until the time of Israel’s Babylonian captivity. This contextual cue probably needs more investigation by theologians much more competant than I am, but I suspect that this is the clue needed to properly understand Paul’s insistence that the Old Covenant leads to slavery.
Israel was already headed into Babylonian slavery in the days of Jeremiah, and God was alerting the nation to that fact through Jeremiah’s speaking and writing. Slavery and deportation to Babylon signified the ultimate in the curses to be inflicted upon Israel for failure to abide by the covenant. From this curse there was no certain release, but only a faint hope as mentioned in Deut. 30:1-6 of a return from exile and full restoration when Messiah comes.
Even the return to Palestine during the reign of Cyrus did not accomplish a restoration of Israel as one nation living in freedom under divine rule. In Paul’s day the remnant of Israel were still living in subjection to the Roman Empire. They were still, for all intents and purposes, living under the “curse of the law,” subjugation to foreign powers and unable to acquire the freedom to live fully by God’s direction.
Therefore, attempting to live under the stipulations of that covenant merely allows you to share the results of the people of Israel’s prior judgment. In the words of Jerry Lewis (as he was presenting a gift to Bob Hope), “This certificate makes you an honorary Jew. It entitles you to 2000 years of retroactive persecution.” Judgment on the Israelite nation had already come to pass. The only way out was a new exit from Egypt and a new covenant with God.
The new covenant initiated by Jesus Christ has no requirement for sabbaths or festivals. This means that any attempt to impose required festivals, whether biblical or not, is in violation of the spirit of the freedom of the new covenant. Paul felt free to either follow or not follow Jewish customs depending on the company he kept. We also have that freedom.
That is part of what I mean by “any way they choose.” First, they get to choose when they want to gather to worship. Next, they get to determine the manner in which they get to worship.
A lot of how you go about worshipping has to do with how the Holy Spirit has distributed gifts within the congregation. People with visually artistic gifts may decorate well and let God speak through their artistic renderings of Spirit-inspired messages. Musical gifts may lend a very musical flavour to a festival celebration. Teaching gifts may lend a more cerebral feel to a festival. Prophetic gifts may lend an urgency or repentant element.
Our group is small. We have fewer than 20 people at our gathering. We have very little money, and only one musical instrumentalist who plays primarily by ear. Five of us have written a few very simple songs for worship (often by cooperation between two or more).
Only one of us has formal theological training, though two others regularly teach in our group. Another of us is a highly sought-after presenter about issues dealing with handicaps through humanizing technologies.
We rent a small room in a community centre for most of our meetings. We sing a couple of songs at the start and finish of the formal service. We discuss whatever the group needs to discuss after our first set of songs, followed by either another couple of songs or immediately by an interactive presentation that draws on the wisdom of the entire group. Often the presenter (Wayne, Merv, Brenda, or John) learns as much from others as the others learn from their prepared materials. Often the questions that come up are more important than the answers.
We eat together, alternating pot-luck meals with take-in or even a restaurant meal. We talk. We laugh a lot.
We meet at times that take into account when most of us must work. Usually that means early evening meetings on weekdays and morning meetings on weekends. Our presenters are unpaid volunteers who must present at times when they are not working at their day jobs. No big-name preacher gets parachuted in (not that we could afford one). They are all members of our small faith community, who have a stake in how our fellowship functions. People with gifts of organization keep our finances straight and make sure we have a place to meet.
Any group could celebrate their own miniature Feast of Tabernacles on a shoestring budget with enough imagination, cooperation and a sense of humour. While there is no requirement in God’s new covenant to do so, we find it fun, educational and rewarding to have our own microscopic do-it-yourself Feast of Tabernacles.