Sunday, March 11, 2012

Happy New Year!!! (Again)

My calendar reads March, the third month of the year. With the first quarter of the year nearly gone, I'm already looking ahead to the half-way point, lining up my summer teaching load, evaluating progress in the year's goals, and crunching the numbers to see if the bank account can swing an above-ground swimming hole for lessons.

In my father's office, is another calendar, one that shows a year is now ending and another one ready to begin. This is the Jewish calendar, which sets the first month of the Jewish year in the middle of March-April.

Nissan . Nissan (in Hebrew)

For those who follow the Jewish calendar, the old year is winding to a close. Even for those Christians like me who are not Jewish, we are still grafted into the vine, adopted into Christ's family. As such, this "new year" is important for us, too.

And such a new year starts out with a bang!

The first month of the Jewish year began with the Festival of the Passover where on the fourteenth day, each family would kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost. As commanded in Leviticus, "The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month" (Lev. 23:5).

This part of Passover was then followed by the Feast of the Unleavened bread, starting on the fifteenth day of the month and lasting for seven days: "for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast" (Lev. 23:6). In Jewish households, all leaven had to be purged from the house, symbolizing the purging of sin.

Finally, the Passover season would end with the Feast of the Firstfruits, the day after Sabbath, wherein the priest would wave a sheaf offering as a promise of the harvest to come: "bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf" (Lev. 23:10-11).

The very first Passover was celebrated in Exodus 12. Before that large group of Israelite slaves took one step towards the promised land, before they crossed on dry land through that wall of water at the Red Sea--they celebrated Passover.

Their new year, their new life symbolically began with that Passover, one where they were covered by the blood and purged of sin as they looked forward to the cross where Christ would play the part of the spotless lamb.

Generations later, the Jewish exiles returned home after 70 years in Babylon. Once there, they rebuilt the temple, dedicated it, and then came the start of another year and, you guessed it, another celebration of Passover:

"On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their relatives the priests and for themselves. So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel. For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the LORD had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel. " (Ez. 6:19-22)

This Passover was very similar to that very first celebration in Egypt. Those who once were slaves were now given their freedom. Those who were once far off had found their feet making desert tracks again to the Promised Land.

With that celebration of a new year, the Scripture above shows the people's attitude was one of joy. Their focus was on setting themselves apart from the world, on purity.

We're still about a month away from the Passover Festival (Jewish Year 5772: sunset April 6, 2012 - nightfall April 14, 2012). Yet, this side of the cross, how much more should we be excited about this coming of a new year?

When God became flesh and dwelt among us, He became our passover lamb, covering us with His blood and making us "unleavened" before being raised as the"the first fruits of those who are asleep" (1 Cor. 5:6, 15:20). With His death, He started not only the New Year, but also a New Age with a calendar now counting down to eternity.

As we prepare our hearts for our Lord's death and resurrection, our attitude looking forward and backward to Passover should be one of joy. Our focus should be on setting ourselves apart from the world, on becoming more pure.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. And when Passover overlaps Easter. It's so cool to learn about the "original" Jewish customs, their meanings and how they have evolved into the salvation we celebrate today! Thanks for sharing.