Jewish Holy Days — A Question from a Reader
After making a Facebook post about the Feast Day of St. Hilda, a reader asked,
“Do you participate in these feasts in honor of these saints? Do you keep the Holy feast days from the Torah also?”
My initial response was that, yes, I do try to observe the feast days on the Christian calendar since they’re mostly special prayers and readings for the Daily Office, but, no, I don’t celebrate the feast days designated in the Torah. Of course, I certainly send out well-wishes to those who do.
But this got me thinking. Even though there wasn’t a follow-up question as to why I don’t celebrate the feast days designated in the Torah, I thought I would explain myself for those interested.
The short answer is I’m a follower of Jesus.
The long answer is a little more complicated.
The coming of G‑d’s Realm was part of the eschatological hope of ancient Judaism. That is, the Jews of Jesus time believed their current age would some day come to a close and the coming age — the age after their age — would be G‑d returning to G‑d’s people fully establishing G‑d’s Realm. We see this very early on. In Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story, Joseph dreamt that the child Mary was carrying would be the one who “saves [the] people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21; adapted). The writer interpreted this to be a fulfillment of Isaiah 7.14 and quoted that in the following verses noting that the child would be called “G‑d with us” (verse 23; adapted). G‑d was coming back to Israel.
In Luke’s telling of the Jesus story, Mary praises Yahweh by singing of G‑d’s overturning the powers and establishing the lowly and rescuing Israel, just as was promised (Luke 1.46-55).
After Jesus was born, his parents took him to the Temple for his circumcision and presentation. Upon seeing him, Simeon and Anna declared that G‑d was rescuing, not only Israel, but all of creation somehow through Jesus (Luke 2.21-38).
Jesus understood this as his vocation. One could say, without exaggeration, that Jesus’ ministry was ushering in the Realm of G‑d. In Mark’s telling of the Jesus story, Jesus said, “Now is the time! Here comes G‑d’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news” (Mark 1.15; adapted). If G‑d’s Realm really was coming (somehow through Jesus), that meant that the then current age was coming to a close.
In all the stories Jesus told, comparing the then current age with the coming age, there was no separation of a long delay. Jesus understood that he was bringing the then current age to a close. He clearly saw that his generation would be the final generation of that age. In explaining the parable (or story) about the weeds (Matthew 13.24-29), Jesus said —
“The one who plants the good seed is the Human One. The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. The Human One will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear” (Matthew 13.36-43; emphasis added).
This ties directly into what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. He told them that they would be held accountable for “all the righteous blood that has been poured out on the earth, from the blood of that righteous man Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. I assure you that all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23.13ff; emphasis added).
After Jesus declared that the Temple would be destroyed (23.38; cf. Matthew 24.1-2), the disciples asked him when that would happen and tied it directly to the close of their age (verse 3). Then, in one of the most misunderstood passages in all of the New Testament (Matthew 24), Jesus reiterates what he just said to the religious leaders, “[The Human One] will send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the earth, from one end of the sky to the other...I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen” (verses 31, 34; emphasis added).
Why would all of this happen? Because, G‑d’s Realm was coming — somehow — through Jesus.
The New Testament writers were keen on this point, too. The writer to the Hebrews clearly spells out that the cultic practices of Judaism were but shadows of the reality found in Christ and the Realm of G‑d (Hebrews 10). That age, i.e., the Old Covnenatal Jewish age, was “obsolete...and close to disappearing” (Hebrews 8.13).
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul stated the same thing when he wrote, “So don’t let anyone judge you about eating or drinking or about a festival, a new moon observance, or sabbaths. These religious practices are only a shadow of what was coming—the body that cast the shadow is Christ” (Colossians 2.16-17).
In Romans, Paul put it very plainly when he wrote, “Christ has brought the Law to an end” (Romans 10.4; GNT).
Why? Because the Law and its “religious practices” served their purpose. And that purpose was to point away from itself to Christ. Paul explains it this way to the followers of Jesus in Galatia —
Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian (Galatians 3.23-25; emphasis added).
So, the reason why I don’t follow the feast days of the Torah is because I’m a follower of Jesus. I believe that those stories and rituals and celebrations were mere shadows that pointed away from themselves to the reality of the person of Christ and G‑d’s Realm.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC