April 19, 2008

Passover and Omer

This evening is the beginning of Passover. Because Passover fell on the Sabbath this year, Jews had to make their Sedar meal preparations yesterday since no work is done on the Sabbath.

I've already posted about this year being the calendar catch-up year for the Jewish lunar based calendar. Every nineteen years they add an extra Adar month. Eastern Orthodox churches follow the lunar base for festivals so will be celebrating Easter, Pesach, tomorrow - so two Easters! And like I said before too, Jews celebrated Purim two times this year. The real Purim ended up on our Good Friday.

A friend sent out an email about celebrating Ascension Day on May first and I emailed her what I'm going to write here. But after my long history/theology soliloquy, I ended with telling her if she wants to celebrate Ascension Day twice, she can. And because of what's being written and talked about in Christian circles about Pentecost, I guess I'm kinda celebrating it twice this year too, or stretching Omer longer.

Why do I make a big deal out of this? I like the larger story, the bigger picture that brings more depth to our Christian celebrations and traditions.

Jews had three harvest festivals that they went to Jerusalem for (found in Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 16, and more). The first two are known as First Fruit Festivals. Barley is the first cereal grain to be harvested and brought to the temple for blessing.

The Sunday following Passover, begins this First Fruit Festival period of counting seven-sevens between the barley and then the wheat harvest festival, called Shavuot. This period of 49 days is called 'Counting the Omer', an 'in-between-time'.

I took a picture of a past year's Counting Omer chart I made. Every Spring this rectangle of rectangles sits on a kitchen counter. Since I strive for more meaning to my ordinary linear calendar days, I like visuals or anything that reminds my heart and brings anticipation of God's presence. Glueing pieces of grain, or marking off the days, helps bring meaning - a God-consciousness activity - to these days. I try and create space in my days for God to show up - anticipating surprises from God - God 'winks'.

The Jewish Festival of First Fruits became our Easter. Jesus rose from the dead on the Jewish festival day that many Jews had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and then their first harvest fruit of barley. I Corinthians 15:20 says, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those who are asleep." How exciting is that?! Do you think that was part of a plan? a cool detail in the large drama of life?!

I will start counting the 49 days tomorrow. If you started with the Easter day we celebrated this year, you'll end up with the 50th day being Mother's Day. To me that's all wrong! The 49-50th day really falls on June 8-9 this year.

See the little red box in my picture? That's the 40th day in the counting - that's Ascension Day. You can talk about this event, but it's more fun to take a picnic lunch and blanket and eat somewhere outside and look up into the sky and talk about the story at the end of Luke and Acts 1 when Jesus left this earth. Imagine being a disciple - you've lived with Jesus for 3 years dreaming of setting up an earthly kingdom and then watch Jesus leave, "Hey, but wait a minute, where are you going? This is not what I had in mind!" The physical presence of Jesus left them. What now?

At this time Jesus told them to return to Jerusalem and wait the ten days until the next Jewish Harvest Festival. I'm sure the disciples were reliving all the memories and words of those three years with Jesus, wondering what the heck he really meant! while waiting for the Shavuot Festival. Remembering and praying and waiting.

Every year at this time the Jews read the 10 Commandments, remembering Moses and the commandments inscribed by God on stone on Mt Sinai in the desert. But the Jews are missing the bigger picture. To Jeremiah (31:33) God said, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it" who's message carried further in II Corinthians 3:3 says, "You are a letter of Christ written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts."

Jesus died and then resurrected on Easter becoming the first fruit at the early first fruit festival. In our Christian year, 50 days later, Shavuot became Pentecost, and as Christians we have the Holy Spirit living within us, and are first fruits too. So from the letter of the law, to the Spirit; from stone to human hearts.

I hang seven descending doves over our kitchen table for Pentecost as another visual reminder for my heart. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Does your church celebrate Pentecost? I've never been in a church that celebrated it. We remember God the Father and Son in the Incarnation and Death and Resurrection, but do we celebrate the Holy Spirit and what it all means to our Christianity? A remembrance of letters in stone to the Spirit in our hearts; remembering that the letter of the law brings death, but the Spirit brings life. Remembering the gifts and fruits of the Spirit.

This year our church is finally going to celebrate Pentecost Day. I've been asked to help 'preach' that weekend. I guess my years of talking about the Calendar depth, including Pentecost, is bearing fruit. We're going to tell everyone to come wearing red. We're going to have balloons and birthday cake.

Instead of calling this season Eastertide, I see it as a Season of Redemption. On Passover, the Jews eat history, remembering freedom from slavery. But freedom for what? What is physical freedom without an identity of who you are? Mt Sinai with God and the 10 Commandments gave them a spiritual freedom, a knowing they were part of a larger story. But the 'story of redemption' is even larger for us who believe in the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Pentecost.

There is a great drama that God asks us to be a part of. God still takes on human flesh today, expanding the Incarnation to us followers of Jesus. The God above became the God alongside, and then the God within. Is this not Wild?!!!!!!!!!!!

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