I don’t know, but I have my doubts, especially this year.

Thanksgiving is a North American civil holiday and not an actual religious holiday per se. Thanks to the nature of our American tradition and the function of religion in that tradition, for many it is the time that all faith traditions emphasize the importance of thanksgiving to the Creator and ultimate source of all blessing in life. So in theory, Muslims in the United States could easily embrace this American tradition and the function that it plays in our National identity and culture.

Did you know that there is another celebration, very significant to Muslims world-wide, that begins the day after Thanksgiving (this year) and this is the main reason for my doubts. It is simply a matter of the “prior” engagement that Muslims no doubt will be occupied with, much like my wife is now occupied with as she prepares for a house full of relatives for Thanksgiving. The Muslim festival I’m referring to is not just one day, but four days, and is called the “Festival of Sacrifice“.

This week Mohammedans celebrate their “Festival of the Sacrifice,” their Id al-adha, with slaying of animals and donations of the flesh to the poor. In New York City the festival has an unusual significance. It is due to the fact that the city has some 18,000 Moslems—Polish Tartars, Albanians, Turks, Hindus, Arabs, Malays, Filipinos. Some 700 assembled at Brooklyn last year for the first time for prayer, prostration and sacrifice. See the link above for more information of this festival which has some similiar features so prominent in our Thanksgiving activities, though we usually don’t refer to the slaughter of so many turkeys as a religious sacrifice. One final picture from Pakistan which is so prominent in our daily news, may be worth a “thousand words”.

The Festival of Weeks also known as Pentecost

For the Christian of the Twenty-first century, trying to get a handle on the major feast days of ancient Israel can be a difficult undertaking. But the Biblical Christian also recognizes just how important and necessary these festivals are to understanding the flow of the narrative. I’ve decided that in keeping with the “Year of Saint Paul” (which will come to an end June 30th), perhaps it would be helpful to see Shavuot through the eyes of the Apostle. First as a Pharisee before he became a follower of the Christ, and later, perhaps as long as twenty-four years,as he approached Jerusalem to observe Pentecost with the Jewish Church.

The Law-giving

Originally Shavuot was an agricultural festival. The barley harvest that had ripened around Passover would have ended, but the wheat harvest would have just begun. When the Temple still stood, Jews celebrated the harvest by offering its first sheaves back to God. But  celebrating the harvest was only one layer of meaning for Shavuot. Over the years, it was endowed with another: the anniversary of the giving of Torah.

The Book of Exodus is read on Shavuot, including the chapter containing the Ten Commandments. The general theme of the day is our traditional love of learning…More commonly, Shavuot has become a time for Confirmation. (“What is a Jew”, p.227, by Rabbi Morris N.Kertzer, 1996 revised edition by Rabbi Lawrence A.Hoffman) 

This book has been a great help to me in understanding through the eyes of twentieth century Rabbis the beliefs, traditions,and practices of Judaism including the ancient Biblical roots. I have posted earlier that Saint Paul was a highly trained Jew himself, and specialized on the Torah and its interpretation. Since his earliest childhood, he knew that there were three times (festivals) all Jewish males were expected to be present in Jerusalem: Unleavened Bread and Passover, Shavuot, and the Feast of Tabernacles. At Shavuot, the focus for him was undoubtedly on the anniversary of the giving through Moses of the Law to Israel which constituted the covenant agreement between their God, the God who had recently redeemed them from Egypt (Passover). It was also all about the promises of God that begining with Father Abraham,He commited to give them a “promised land” if they would keep covenant with Him by obeying the Law, by “walking in the steps of the faith which Abraham had when he was yet ‘uncircumcised’.”

John Bright in his book, The History of Israel writes, ” They (the Festivals) ceased to be mere nature festivals and became occasions upon which the mighty acts of Yahweh toward Israel were celebrated. ”  Saul’s conversion is sometimes dated as early as 34 a.d. which means he most certainly would have been at these great Feast days in the last year of Jesus life at Jerusalem and the first Pentecost just ten days after the Ascension. But as a non-Christian Jew he would be celebrating Shavuot as his foreFathers had done for centuries unaware that a dramatic and non-reversable change in the history of God’s redemptive acts with Israel was even then taking place. He was still a part of the “old” creation and the “old” covenant of which he would have a great deal to preach and teach about following his dramatic conversion.

Now, following over twenty years of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles in obedience to the specific commission the risen and exalted Christ chose him for, he was on the voyage back to Jerusalem with the offering from the Gentile churches for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Undoubtedly he had plenty of time to relive those earlier years when he was convinced that this “sect” inside Judaism was a dangerous heresy and he had personally taken a major role in persecuting and trying to stomp it out. He was proving how zealous he was for the Law of God as he understood it and its importance at the heart of being faithful to the covenant that made Israel a distinct people in the midst of all the nations of the earth.

Yes, this was no ordinary Pentecost celebration he was headed for. But that will have to be in the next post. One other additional piece of the puzzel of God’s narrative. It is almost certain that when Luke wrote his second volume of early Christian history, the Book of Acts,he had these festivals utmost in his mind. I would even venture that one of the major factors in the organization of the Acts, is Pentecost. He begins with the events leading up to “when the Day of Pentecost had fully come“-his words, not mine; and then spends almost the final one-third of Acts around this last voyage to Jerusalem, the attempt there in the Temple on Paul’s life, his life-saving arrest by the Roman Centurion, his awaiting justice for more than two years, and finally his trip to Rome in chains to face Ceasar.

In the next post I will begin to connect some dots to the Saul of the Old Covenant and to the Christ event which all the shadows look to for their fulfillment, the fulfillment of God’s promises to His People and the establishing of the New Covenant. I hope you are seeing what I am seeing: we definitely cannot afford to neglect the Day of Pentecost!

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