Easter is on a Jewish Holiday (and it is amazing)

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.Firstfruits

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.Sheafs

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.

The Holy Week Hangover

I have officially caught the Holy Week Hangover. I woke up Monday morning late and groggy with a stuffed up nose and a sore throat. Clearly I got the flu. Probably all the candy and other bad eating habits of the holidays are not helping. But I have come to expect such feelings on the day after Easter. Easter is busy. Not only are there extra worship services and extra sermons, but there is also a lot of pressure to have a good showing for Easter guests. I am always tired this week.

sleeping baby

The Holy Week Hangover also highlights 2 of the most challenging aspects of ministry:

  1. Ministry is personally draining. Ministry involves giving a lot of yourself to your work. It is unlike other jobs in this regard. It can be so much a part of who you are that some pastors get themselves absorbed into their work. Preaching is especially like this. Good sermons require a little blood to be given in the process.
  2. Ministry is inconsistent. Ministry ebbs and flows in its seasons, rhythms, and demands. Every day and every week is a little different. Some weeks, however, are harder on the body and the spirit than others. You get weeks of difficult sermons, weddings, 2 funerals, or a church conflict. Many pastors seem to like this aspect of the work except that it is uncontrollable. You don’t get to decide when your crazy weeks will be. (At least Holy Week is always scheduled ahead of time.)

So Holy Week comes and goes and we a left emotionally and spiritually spent, energetically and creatively empty, and in my case sick. What do we do about the Holy Week Hangover?

  1. Realize that the Holy Week Hangover is normal. It is ok to feel like this.
  2. If you feel like this all the time, then you have a problem. It is ok to feel like this after a big week, but if you always feel like this then you are practically sprinting to a burn out or a break down.
  3. Schedule very little for the week or two after Holy Week. I tend to leave some space in my calendar and the church calendar so that I can regroup and plan ahead in the weeks following Easter.
  4. Take some time to refresh. Invest some time in whatever brings you life—rest, sleep, binge watch TVshows, read a novel, visit with an old friend…
  5. Spend some time with your family. Chances are that your family has been a little on the back burner as Holy Week unfolded. Take time to spend some time with your spouse and kids.

Hope this post was helpful. I am going back to bed.

5 Tips to Help Pastors Keep their Sanity during Holy Week

Holy Week is here! For many pastors, this can feel like a very unholy week. There is so much to do—extra services, extra sermons, extra elements in the service… And the pressure can be exhausting. We once again see our Chreasters who only come on Christmas and Easters. There is a looming sense that if we could only wow them with our services and sermons then maybe they would become regular attenders.

face stress

It can be exhausting. Worse, we pastors can get so caught up in the work of Holy Week that we do not experience the Resurrection for ourselves. As pastors, we need to be intentional about keeping our sanity and experiencing Easter for ourselves. Here are 5 tips for doing that:

  1. Keep an Edge. We have heard the stories so many times. We have preached the sermons. We have taught the Bible studies. It can be hard to find fresh insights in these texts that are so over-familiar to us. We need some way to keep an edge or push us to think deeply about the story. This year I am reading a lot about the symbolism of the Passover Seder and trying to understand Holy Week trough that lens. I am also reading Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson to prepare both myself and my sermons for Easter. Where are you learning and growing this week? How are you keeping your edge?
  2. Spend Time with your Family. This is a family holiday. Many of us in ministry try to create that kind of environment in our churches and encourage it in the families in our church. Yet how many pastors become absentee parents and spouses for Holy Week. Not only is this dangerous for your own experience of Eastery, but it is especially dangerous for your family. I never want my kids to have animosity or resentment towards the God or the church because of my work. Be purposeful about spending focused time with your family during Holy Week. In my case, we homeschool our kids and I am teaching them this week about Passover. We are going to be learning about and experiencing the week together.
  3. Get some Rest. You are going to work on a holiday and you are carrying a lot of weight. There is nothing wrong with taking an afternoon off. There is nothing wrong with sleeping in a little bit or catching a movie you have been wanted to see. Plan to do some things to get rest and refreshment. In fact, one of the best things that you can offer your congregation is the freshest and most rested version of yourself. You do the church a disservice when you do not take care of yourself. One of the ways I do this is by keeping a very sparse calendar during Holy Week. I find that it is easier to carry a lot of responsibility if you are not carrying a lot of meetings. Try to do your visits the week before or after Holy Week so that you have space to think, pray, and rest.
  4. Stay Organized. I am a list guy. I like keeping detailed lists because then my brain does not have to store all that information and can be free to think creatively. This is especially important during Holy Week. I am running a Passover Seder as well as doing an extra Sunday service. I have too much on my plate to be working last minute or to be remembering things on the fly. This also helps you delegate things to other people because if someone offers to help or is in a position to help then you can know exactly how they can help and even write down who you are delegating jobs to.
  5. Trust God. I understand wanted to have a good impression on Easter. You would like to catch some of those Chreasters and, if you are like most churches, a good offering day would also be really helpful. Here is the thing—Easter is about celebrating our risen Savior and Lord. You, as the pastor, are not that savior. You don’t want to be the savior. Saviors get crucified. Perhaps that is why so many pastors feel so burned out on Holy Week. But Jesus said once, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” Lift Jesus up in your worship and your sermon and let Him be the one drawing people in. Let Jesus be praised. Not you. Not the church. Relax. Pray and give Holy Week to God.

May your Holy Week not only be sane, but also special. And may you draw closer to our Risen Lord.