It was a special Sunday- that first day of the week after Passover. Imagine how devastated the disciples and the followers of Jesus must have been. A week before they had marched into Jerusalem with palm branches waving saying Hosanna- Save us please. Now their savior was dead. And not just dead- Crucified. Killed publically and brutally. Could they be next? Are the Romans going to silence them also?
We also need to understand that Jesus died during a very important season for the Jews. Jesus died on Passover. Friday was the holy day of Passover, which was celebrated in homes the day before. The death of Jesus was bathed in this imagery. Jesus was the blameless lamb that was slain without putting up a defense. Jesus purchases his people from slaver. Jesus is the broken bread. Jesus is the promised Messiah come to save the people again.
What most people don’t know about that Sunday is that Jesus actually rose from the dead on another Jewish holiday. I did not know until I heard it in this blog post by Ron Cantor–a Messianic Jewish pastor from Israel that I follow on Facebook.
The actual day was debated between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but at the time the Sunday following the Sabbath after Passover would have been The Festival of First Fruits. This is a festival that many cultures had to some degree or another. In that part of the world, many things would be harvested in the spring. God calls the people of Israel to a special festival at this time of year.
In Leviticus 23 God tells Israel to celebrate:
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:9-12 ESV)
This was a day was set apart to celebrate 2 things. First, it was the beginning of the harvest season. The people gathered together to give God the first 10% of their harvest and pray for a bountiful remainder of the harvest season. This was also a celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai. The Law was seen as the beginning of a great harvest in Israel. It would be fruitful for the people and for the nations around them.
The celebration was the beginning of the Festival of Weeks or sometimes called the Festival of Reaping. Over the next 7 weeks, farmers could come into Jerusalem to present their offering. They would bring a sheaf of grains, sometimes on the end of a stick, and people would cheer and sing on their way to the Temple. People would bring offering from the 7 harvested plants Israel was known for—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. (Deut 8:8)
The sheaf would be brought before the priest, who would wave the sheaf around the altar. There would be dancing, praying, and singing. It was a great moment of pride and gratitude for the farmers, and it was especially esteemed to be there on the very first day of firstfruits.
The book of Ruth was read from and sung on those days for a number of reasons. The events of the book of Ruth occur during the harvest time of year. Ruth is the great grandmother of David, and it was taught that David was born and died on the day of the bringing of the firstfruits. Ruth is a book about loving-kindness which is what the law was supposed to be about. So Ruth became associated with this festival.
This festival would go on for 7 weeks and end 50 days. In fact, the reference to 50 days in Latin is why we call this festival Pentecost.
Perhaps it is this festival that Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 15:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28 ESV)
Paul does not speak specifically about the Festival of Firstfruits to his Corinthian audience, but he very well may have had it in mind as a Pharisee. Either way, think about the stunning connection between the day of this festival and the resurrection of Jesus:
- Jesus rose from the dead, just like a harvest. He even used the image of a grain of wheat falling to the ground so that it can grow again.
- Jesus is the First Fruit. Just has He is resurrected, so too those who are dead in the Lord will be resurrected.
- Jesus is the new law. He does not replace, but fulfills the law. His new way brings new fruit—the fruit of the Spirit.
- Jesus from the line of David who is remembered on that day. In fact, Peter makes the connection in his sermon in Acts 2 when he compares the death of David and the hope of immortality with the Resurrection of Jesus.
- Jesus the Kinsman Redeemer that saves just as Boaz saves in the book of Ruth.
- The Resurrection of Jesus is connected to Pentecost. Though He ascends to God the Father He is with people after Pentecost in a new way.
When you think about it, this imagery is striking. Easter is the Day of Firstfruits. We may not grow our own crops anymore, but the fruit of that Easter morning can be viewed in our lives. We are an Easter people. We are a people of first fruits. May that fruit be shown in your lives this day. Amen.