Israel is given seven feasts. We can read about them in Leviticus 23, Numbers 28-29 and Deuteronomy 16. They come as a set, a week of feasts to pattern the year with, each mapping onto the days of the creation week. They mark the harvests and they operate liturgically: they tell the people of God in Israel the story of God’s dealings with them—and through them all of humanity—year-by-year.
While I think there is wisdom to be learned from the traditional Church calendar, it hasn’t replaced Israel’s feasts. Instead, we have one feast that replaces the seven: the Lord’s Supper which we eat week-by-week.
Each of the feasts tells us something about the Supper and how we should understand and enjoy the ritual meal God gave us to enjoy with him. Which is, by the way, how we should think of it: God has laid a table for us to eat at and enjoy (Psalm 23), we get to feast with God. This is not purely ‘spiritual’ rhetoric (though it is that), that’s what the Church sharing Bread and the Cup is. We feast with God. We sit at his Table.
Then of course it goes a step further and a step weirder because we’re told that we actually eat God (John 6). Obviously, Christians disagree a little (!) on what that means, but we shouldn’t squirm away from the language even if we think that has a spiritual meaning.
So, what the feasts have to teach us? I’m going to work through them as laid out in Leviticus 23.
The Sabbath is a day of rest, a holy assembly. For all Christians meet on Sundays, and Jesus has helped us understand the purpose of Sabbath Law (Mark 2), this is our ‘Sabbath.’ Which means that the Sabbath meal is recapitulated in the Lord’s Supper. If Christians tell you that they Sabbath on another day of the week, I’m afraid they’re just using pious language to describe a day off—which doesn’t make their day off any less of a good idea.
The Sabbath requires an assembly—the church—and a meal: the Lord’s Supper. It is intriguing that’s it’s the first ‘day’ in the ‘week’ of festivals when it was the seventh day of the week. Perhaps the movement of rest from the end of the week to the start in the New Covenant is hinted at.
We consider the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread together because Leviticus 23 does. It was a Passover meal when Jesus first inaugurated the Lord’s Supper at the Last Supper, and we see in broken bread and poured out wine the substitute that means that the wrath of God has passed over us.
Also, as unleavened bread is eaten for the next seven days and a food offering is made to God each day—the people laid a table for God—we see a literal version of the rite of the Lord’s Supper. We add the cup (as happened in Numbers 28 after they entered the promised land) and drink the wine (as Jesus added in Matthew 26), but we eat broken bread together. We also notice the dramatic irony of a meal of bread and wine which we prepare and lay before God turns out to be the table that God has first laid for us. Such is always the way in the Kingdom.
Firstfruits is the Barley harvest festival, when the first part of the harvest and the first loaves are offered to God. In the Lord’s Supper we receive from the Lord the firstfruits of the harvest he has promised will be gathered in for us, and we eat the first loaves of the Kingdom’s bounty.
Also, in return, we offer our lives for acts of devotion and service to ensure we as the ‘one loaf’(1 Corinthians 10) of the Church are offered first to God. Perhaps in the way that Israel were not to eat bread until it has been offered to God we should see both a pattern for our lives (we offer everything first to God) but also for the Supper—this is the first place we go for sustenance and the first meal we consider in our week. It’s also the only time that wine is mentioned among Israel’s feasts in the Leviticus account of them.
This is the feast we know best as Pentecost—it’s seven weeks after Firstfruits, or precisely fifty days, hence the name Pentecost. This is the wheat harvest festival that also celebrates the giving of the Law at Sinai. This is the first time in the year that leavened bread is eaten, as we eat when we take the Lord’s Supper.
We see that the Supper is to us the Law, a sure and certain guide to how to eat and live with God when properly understand, has like the Law become to us wisdom as it is the fruit of wisdom’s tree, and is one of the ways the Spirit comes to us as we see in Sinai’s recapitulation at Pentecost.
It’s notable that the command to allow gleaning is found in the description of this festival. The Lord’s Supper is also for everyone in Christ (1 Corinthians 11) and is food that can be gathered and eaten by anyone.
At Trumpets the seventh month is announced with its festivals—Atonement and Booths. The Supper is an announcement, in meal form, of Jesus’ victory over the powers, over sin, and over death. When we celebrate it as a victory feast we in turn declare that victory in our own lives.
Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement, or literally the Day of Covering, is the time when in the sacrifice of one goat as an ascension offering and the substitution and removal of a second goat called the scapegoat the sins of Israel were covered and paid for.
Christ is for us both goats, and in the Lord’s Supper we encounter the God who covers us—he covers over our sin by providing clothing we can wear (Gen 3), he robes us as priests in the kingdom. We encounter the God who is our ascension offering, allowing us to arise with him like the smoke of the sacrifice to the house of God, and who walks into exile outside the camp and took our sins with him.
By being invited to God’s table we see that we have ascended with Christ by the Spirit, and by being given the body and blood of Christ—broken bread and poured out wine—to feast on, we encounter the scapegoat who went east of Eden for us on the cross.
Also called the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Clouds. This is when Israel remembered their sojourn in the wilderness and the Jewish people would dwell outside for a week to remember God caring for them on the Exodus.
We receive the Lord’s Supper as manna from heaven, our spiritual food which we cannot grow or gather that we dearly need for sustenance. In Deuteronomy’s account of the feast, this is the great feast of wine (Deuteronomy 16). It lasts eight days, which takes us into the new creation by taking us into a second week, and the leafy ‘clouds’ that the people dwell in are reminiscent of the glory of God. The Supper also takes us into the new creation as the hors d’oeuvre of the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19) and is an ascension meal: we eat in the presence of the Triune glory of God.
Which is all to say that the Lord’s Supper fulfils Israel’s feasts. Much like it does for the pattern of sacrifices found in Leviticus, but that’s another story! I could have done much the same pattern for the work of Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection and yielded a host of other true insights. By doing so we would gather a wider view of the cross but should also see that this is particularised into story by our week-by-week enjoyment of the meal that God gave us.
Long story short? God gave us a meal. We should eat it as often as we gather.
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