April 13, 2009

Counting Omer

Last night we drove home from spending Easter in Ft Collins with Travis and Sarah. It had snowed in Evergreen - very typical for Easter! As Music Minister, we enjoyed the church service Travis had helped design, the theme being "Light", and carried out from the initial talk from pastor Rich, to skits and music. Travis introduced a "He is Risen" song him and friend Katrina wrote.

Like with Christmas, we did a non-traditional meal, an Italian meal we'd not made before. I brought up my pasta roller I'd not used yet, and told everyone this would be a meal needing everyone's participation. So Sarah had bruchetta ready for us to start eating as we all made home-made ravioli. I had made three fillings: one spinach, another shrimp, and then a beef one. Friends of Trav & Sar's, Janna and Paul, contributed too. Janna brought a salad and Paul jumped in rolling the best thin dough for the ravioli!

We stand on resurrection ground. We are in the Season of Easter between now and Pentecost. We need more prayer, more knocking on God's door to see what he wants us to be doing, and more celebration of God's new creation!

This morning's reading brought me to the two guys walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This is another story in Scripture I love. I would so love to hear Jesus tell stories. They were trying to make sense of what just happened in Jerusalem. Jesus walked up asking, "What are you so intently discussing?" and walked and talked with them.

Everyone was so sad. All their hopes that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel were shattered. Jesus couldn't have been the one, because they killed him. The two on the road to Emmaus didn't recognize Jesus. While walking, he told them stories from Scripture. They invited him home with them to eat. The moment Jesus broke the bread, they recognized him, and then Jesus disappeared. He reappeared later to the gathered disciples and there again shared stories. Like the two said, I too would love to feel (and maybe I do), "Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked, opening up Scriptures to us on the road?"!

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. 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. Most every Spring this rectangle of rectangles sits on our 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. Gluing 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 for, 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 started counting the 49 days today.

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 the Ascension, 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 next 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 of Jesus' day missed the bigger picture, not recognizing Jesus as the prophesied Messiah, and what His Kingdom might look like. 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, the other first fruit festival, became Pentecost, and as Christians we have the Holy Spirit living within us - we 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, till last year - and they asked me to help "preach" from my knowledge and passion. 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.

It's now called "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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