Monday, March 24, 2008

The Last Leviticus Sermon and Easter Video

Happy Easter and Jubilee
Leviticus 25
(the video appears at the bottom)

For my last sermon in Leviticus, I turn to chapter 25 and a remarkable practice mandated by God called the Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years, a trumpet sounded (jubilee means blow the horn) to announce a wholesale overhaul of economic and social conditions. Jubilee signaled a new beginning, a time when all who had failed at life and work were given a do-over, and when all who had benefitted from others’ failures let go of their gains. Land reverted back to its original ownership, debts were forgiven, slaves set free the score set back to zero. As a year-long extension of the Sabbath, everyone took a year off to enjoy, stress-free, the fruits of their labor with thanksgiving. Of course in a predominantly agrarian society, the question undoubtedly arose as to how you would eat if you didn’t work your land for a year. God assured everybody by announcing “I will send you such a blessing in the year before that the land will yield enough for three years.” Even the earth needed a break. Jubilee represented Old Testament environmentalism at its best.

It represented Old Testament economic justice at its best too. Jubilee prevented the amassing of wealth into the hands of a privileged few. Every fifty years accounts were squared and equality was reestablished. Jubilee curtailed the human desire to accumulate more and more by yanking down social and corporate ladders. Greed got checked. The rich were kept humble and the poor were made hopeful. Everybody understood that we are but tenants on this earth and not owners. All things ultimately belong to God. People were not allowed to take advantage of each other in life or business because to do so was to take advantage of God.

This Levitical vision proves so captivating that a movement is currently afoot called Jubilee USA. Its purpose, supported by many churches, is to promote passage of House Resolution 2634, entitled the Jubilee Act. In the world’s most impoverished nations, the majority of the population do not have access to clean water, adequate housing or basic health care. These countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens. The United Nations Development Program estimates that 30,000 children die each day due to preventable diseases. Debt service payments take resources that impoverished countries could use to cure preventable diseases. The Jubilee Act mandates debt cancellation for these countries. Ironically, these nations have already paid back their debts time and again. The crisis set in once interest rates rose and compound interest made repayment impossible. It explains why the Hebrew word for interest is literally the verb “to bite.”

It may be that you’ve felt bitten yourself of late. Many assert that the United States itself is descending quickly into economic recession, in large part due to the subprime mortgage crisis. Mortgages packaged as investments grew riskier as expectations of return grew higher. Since real estate in America had always been a good bet, people figured the sky was the limit. But even the sky has its limits. The inevitable nationwide default on ever riskier housing loans crunched credit on Wall Street and on Main Street. The government has been forced to intervene with huge infusions of cash to keep the whole house of cards from crashing down—cash for which the government has had to go further into debt itself to pay.

The crises of Leviticus 25 read like the subprime mortgage mess. A farmer fails at farming, defaults on a loan and loses his land but not his obligation to his creditors. It reminds me of a time I stumbled on the credit card bills of a family member I had agreed to help through school. I thought she was counting her pennies and being a good steward of my generosity, but it turned out that she had run up extraneous debt to the tune of $30,000. Because I had chosen to financially expose myself for her sake, I ended up with the bill which meant refinancing my house to pay it. Had I been living by Leviticus back then, chapter 25 would have allowed me to enslave this family member until she worked off the debt. This may sound like sweet revenge, only Leviticus prohibits any harsh treatment of a person indebted to you. I would have had to restructure payments according to her ability, and if the year of Jubilee arrived before she fully paid me back, her entire debt would be forgiven. Which sounds unfair until you realize that the bank which held my mortgage would forgive my debt too. Of course that just sounds unrealistic.

So unrealistic in fact that there is no evidence that Jubilee was ever observed. Though commanded by God, it never happened. Maybe it was deemed too impractical. Or maybe it just took too much faith to do it. Or maybe those who’d made it to the top were too unwilling to let loose of their achievements. For whatever reason, Israel’s unwillingness to follow the law led to their downfall. Redeemed from their slavery in Egypt, delivered into a rich promised land, God’s people took advantage of his goodness. So much so that they lost their land and their freedom. If you’ve read the story, you know that the Babylonians ransacked Israel and drove its population into captivity. Nevertheless, because God has a thing for sinners, he announced through the prophet Isaiah another shot a Jubilee. Speaking of the Messiah to come, Isaiah said, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” This is the Jubilee language.

But again, if you’ve read the story you know that this Jubilee likewise went unfulfilled. True, by God’s grace, the Israelites were rescued from their captivity, but human nature being what it is, things quickly reverted back and the people found themselves in captivity again, this time to the Romans, with no hope on the horizon. But again, God has his thing for sinners. So he sent Jesus who walked into his local synagogue, dusted off the book of Isaiah and read those Jubilee promises again. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The congregation might have appreciated Jesus’ attempts to restore their hope had he not gone on and audaciously added, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Excuse me? In Luke chapter 4, Jesus announced that he, an unemployed carpenter from Nazareth, was the bringer of Jubilee. He was their Messiah. So offended was the congregation by what seemed like a mockery of their plight, that the Bible says “they got up, ran Jesus out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, and tried to throw him off the cliff.”

Jesus slipped away that time, but it was a temporary escape. Before long he’d be strung up on a cross; executed as a criminal and a blasphemer. However, the New Testament imports an image from Leviticus to show what really happened on the cross. Once a year in Leviticus, the Jewish high priest would take a goat and would symbolically transfer all the sins of the people onto it and would then chase this scapegoat out of town to die. Later Judaism would go so far as to throw this so-called scapegoat off a cliff to assure its demise. The apostle Paul writes of Jesus, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus is our scapegoat.

Because it is Easter, you know how the story turns out. Jesus rises from the dead and in doing so, he establishes justice and yanks down the ladders. He squares our accounts with God. He settles our debts. The poor are exalted and the weak lifted up. The last are first and the lost are found. Death proves the way to victory. Sinners get a do-over. A new start. “Jesus died for all,” Paul writes, “so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. …If anyone is in Christ, you are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” And not just for this life. But for eternity. Paul writes, “We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” “So blow the trumpet loud and long,” Leviticus sings, “proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants, this will be your Jubilee!”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Loading the Goat

March 23, Palm Sunday

Last Sunday’s break from Leviticus provided some breathing space for the homestretch in our Lent-long look at this esoteric book. Rarely studied and even more rarely preached, I nevertheless wanted to take a shot at it which I’ve done with generous assistance from 21 people in this congregation who spent the month of January with living according to its precepts. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read about our experiment up on Facebook or on the church blog. Not that this has necessarily has made Leviticus more comprehensible. I got an email just this week that read, “I watched the videos and read the write-ups and I still do not understand it. Trying to follow all those laws didn’t work out well for the Jewish people so God instead put his Spirit right inside us. Why go back to the idea that because Jesus stated that he came to fulfill rather than abolish the law Christians need to follow a set of laws? I am not trying to argue with you, I just don’t get it and you guys are supposed to be a good bible-believing church.”

Actually, it’s because we are a Bible-believing church that we even bother with Leviticus. Leviticus is in the Bible. But remember it’s not in the Bible to make you feel bad or even to show you your need for grace as much as to show you what grace is for. The Israelites were already God’s people before Leviticus ever made it onto parchment. Now granted, determining which parts of Leviticus still apply to Christians is an ongoing discussion—one that has been a constant part of our own exploration. But given that Jesus cited Leviticus 19 as the summation of all the law and the prophets clearly indicates that you can’t write it off. This is why we read it.

Not to worry though. We have just two more sermons, tonight’s look at the Day of Atonement, in line with our entry into Holy Week. And next Sunday’s Easter sermon from Leviticus 25. I know, who’s ever heard of an Easter sermon out of Leviticus? But hey, all the more reason to come and see if we can pull it off. And even invite a friend too, especially if you have a friend who’s already heard the one about the resurrection.

For those of you who are Jewish or grew up Jewish, then you know that Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Once a year, everybody gets their sin taken care of over the course of an exhausting 25 hours of prayer and abstinence from work, food, drink, sex, bathing and leather shoes. I read that the prohibition against leather shoes has to do with not wanting to be presumptuous by appearing before God shod in the skins of a slaughtered animal. Yom Kippur is spent sitting in synagogue as a long list of sins are confessed, not only individually but corporately. Even if you hadn’t committed a particular sin listed, you still confess it. Jewish tradition teaches that each person bears a certain measure of responsibility for sins committed by others since everybody is part of the same community.

While all this contrition and confession may sound depressing, the Talmud labels Yom Kippur one of the happiest days of the year. It’s the same reason its Christian counterpart is ironically called Good Friday. Atonement means your sins are forgiven.

These days, neither the Christian Good Friday nor the Jewish Yom Kippur look much like Leviticus 16. There are no animals slaughtered, no scapegoats chased off into the wilderness, no mercy seat on which to sprinkle blood. However, for the ancient Israelites, all of this was required to purge the tabernacle of a year’s worth of pollution due to their unholiness and impurity. Perhaps you’re thinking, how could there be any sin left to pollute the tabernacle given all of the blood of those innocent animals run through the sacrificial system day after day? But you have to remember that the sacrificial system only took care of unintentional stuff. Intentional, deliberate sinners weren’t allowed to sacrifice. Their offenses remained in God’s face and got all over his house. And therefore once a year, the high priest risked his life to purify the sanctuary so that those who could sacrifice would have their sacrifices accepted.

It was very risky business. In Leviticus 26 we read God say “If you do not obey Me and do not carry out all my commandments, if instead, you reject My statutes, and if you abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will waste away the eyes and drain your life…I will set My face against you so that you shall be struck down before your enemies… If you still remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve.

Kristi, one of our Levites for the month experienced what she considered a dose of Leviticus 26. She wrote, “Last night after a very healthy [and kosher] dinner of fish and vegetables, my stomach started feeling a bit queasy. Then an hour later I thought, ‘something is certainly amiss here. But what could it be? Is there a bug going around? No way is it food poisoning.’ I went to bed at 10:30, convinced that a little sleep would fix everything. Two hours later, feeling horrible, I and the bathroom had our first intimate visit of what turned out to be many as I was attacked by Levitical affliction in all its horror. The next seven hours were agonizing, excruciating, abysmal, you get the picture. It felt as if dementors were trying to suck my soul from my body. Seriously. I fail to remember a sickness having such a profound effect on me. My inner dialogue went from: ‘It’s just a stomach bug, you pansy, quit complaining’ to “God, please, PLEEEEASE take me now! I can’t go through this again! AAAAHHHHH!” (Kim, another Levite and mother of two, remarked how she’d had food poisoning once and that giving birth was better.) “I contemplated sleeping in the bathroom,” Kristi continued, “it was pitiful. Now I know, I think, it was just a stomach bug, and not God smiting me. But it FELT like a smiting. God declares in Leviticus 26, ‘If you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins.’ If you ask me, that description strangely resembled last night’s experience.”

Sin defiles, and not only individuals, but communities and institutions too. Look no further than the enormous mess down the Pike in Albany, New York last week. For the ancient Israelites, their conduct was inextricably tied to the holiness of God’s house. When they were faithful, the sanctuary radiated their commitment. When they were unfaithful, the sanctuary reflected their failing. If it was not cleansed, God threatened to depart and leave the community to its futility—a threat that he carries out once we get to Ezekiel. And after Jesus departs the earth, God’s now totally vacated house gets totally leveled by the Romans. This is why the Jewish practice of Yom Kippur no longer adheres to Leviticus 16. There’s no earthly sanctuary left to cleanse.

At the center of the Leviticus ritual sat the mercy seat, a golden slab atop the ark of the covenant that functioned as the boundary line between God’s holiness and human unholiness. It was adorned with two statues of cherubim on either end, their wings touching in the middle. Enthroned between the cherubim, within the holy of holies, God appeared in a cloud to accept the atoning sacrifices offered by the high priest. Lest the high priest glance at God and die, incense was burned to screen him from peeking. Sacrificial blood from the bull and a goat was sprinkled on the mercy seat to purify it and then seven times in front of the mercy seat to re-consecrate it for holy use. Afterwards, from behind the curtain that shielded the congregation, the high priest then emerged liturgically loaded with both the people’s impurities (their sins that polluted the sanctuary) and their iniquities (their sins that polluted themselves). With both hands the high priest transferred all this wickedness and rebellion onto a live but doomed second goat. Chosen by lot, this so-called scapegoat hauled all of the toxic waste out into the wilderness to destroy it. Later Judaism would go so far as to push the scapegoat off the edge of gorge in order to assure its demise. Nobody wanted a year’s worth of wickedness finding its way back into town.

Nevertheless, even for people who have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness, it is as if we each have our own personal and pesky scapegoat that keeps finding its way back anyway, unloading our sin onto us all over again. Simon, another one of our Levites for the month, decided to take stock of his own holiness over the course of a seven-day accounting where he judged each of his thoughts and deeds of each day as either holy or unholy. He wrote: “No day existed in which the HOLY items outnumbered the UNHOLY items. Not only are there very few holy items in total, but they are offset by some horrendously unholy things, sometimes separated by mere hours in the same day. Items marked HOLY tended to be really ordinary, core Christian values that I should be living already and are not heroic by any stretch of imagination. Items marked UNHOLY, however, were spectacular to behold—in the same way that a train wreck can happen in a thousand ways, each more spectacular than the one before.

“[To make myself feel better,] I made an attempt at detecting unholy things that other people may be doing (just trying to keep an honest scale, in accordance with Leviticus 19:36). However, the LORD was not at all interested that I keep records of other people’s wrongdoings. Instead, He kept bringing up all the things for which *I* alone am responsible. Living by Leviticus has been like ‘standing naked in front of a mirror’—not only are your sins exposed, but you’re not allowed to look at anybody else’s sins just so you can change the focus for a second.”

The need for atonement is so palpable that we were tempted, as an object lesson, to rent a couple of goats for the services tonight. We thought that watching your sins get killed and carried away might make grace more real. Of course renting a couple of goats is one thing. Finding somebody to rent us a goat to sacrifice is something else. And even with the goat that draws the lucky straw, you still had the problem of bringing back to the 6 pm service a scapegoat loaded up with the sins of those at the 4. Gordon suggested that perhaps we could have one of you dress up like a goat. But you still have the same problem: Who in their right mind would give themselves for the sins of everybody else?

I mean except for Jesus. He is our scapegoat. As we will intone from Isaiah this coming Good Friday: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians. And then to the Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement.” Or as other translations have it, “a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” If you trace this English word propitiation back through the Latin translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, you get to the word in Leviticus 16 translated mercy seat. Jesus is our mercy seat too. He dies at that boundary line where God’s holiness meets human unholiness and atonement gets made for good.

For the first 15 chapters, Leviticus generally addresses proper worship—how to approach a holy God. In chapters 17-27, the issue is proper ethics—how to be a holy people. We’re all familiar with the deep distance between the two. You come to church, perhaps even tonight, and fill this room with your praise and prayer; only to leave this room and fail to love your neighbor or refuse to love your enemy, the very things that the God you just worshipped commands that you do. Jesus rightly asks, “Why do you call me Lord but not do what I say?” This distance is what we label sin. The Old Testament provides a varied vocabulary to describe it: rebellion, infidelity, disloyalty, getting dirty, wandering, trespassing, transgressing and missing the mark. But because sin remains a perversity that pollutes God even more than it pollutes ourselves, amending our lives and promising to do better isn’t enough. The only way to span the distance between our worship and our failure to live as we worship—between God’s expectations in chapters 1-15 and their implications in chapters 17-27 is with chapter 16. Atonement. Leviticus 16 is the bridge. Once a year the high priest risked his life to purify the sanctuary and the people, but as the author of Hebrews reminds, when Christ came as high priest, he gave his life. Jesus is both the priest and the sacrifice who Hebrews declares has “entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. How much more then, will then the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Atonement takes away our sin and makes us into holy people—people whose ethics can square with their worship, people who can preach what they practice. Yet somehow the distance remains. How is it that people made holy by Christ still act so unholy? Part of the problem may have something to do with a flawed understanding of atonement itself. To experience atonement is more than to be declared “not guilty” before God. To experience atonement is to be changed by God. Our tendency is to embrace the former while resisting the latter. We read “Jesus loves you just as we are” as permission to stay that way. But one look in the Levitical mirror and you realize that if forgiveness hasn’t made you a different person, then maybe you’ve not been forgiven.

“I had a hard time with Leviticus month,” Kristen, another one of our Levites wrote, “For about thirty days and eighteen hours, I groused and complained. My postings were progressively getting darker and darker. It wasn’t going well. Early in the month I had been reading through the sacrificial section and was convinced that the modern-day, post-Jesus equivalent is confession. This is something I knew about from my Catholic days, but had never been part of my life. I had ‘gone to confession’ a grand total of once, when I was ten years old. I was not interested in doing this again—but the way I was not wanting to do this made me think that I really ought to. So I looked up the Episcopal liturgy, made arrangements with an accommodating confessor, who, not being Catholic, had really not signed up for this, took a very deep breath and jumped in.

“I don't know what I was expecting, but this was not what I was expecting. This was Large. This was a Major Life Event. I spent hours dredging up the muck in my life and preparing my list—and then it was all washed away. Gone. I was walking on air. And all of a sudden I knew that I was in a really good place and I did not want to muck it up anymore. ‘OK God,’ I prayed, ‘this is fantastic. I want to stay here. Whaddya want me to do?’ Needless to say, reading through Leviticus again looked so different in the light of grace.”

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Keeping The Feasts

Leviticus 23

For most, the experience of reading through Leviticus elicits such adjectives as tedious, onerous and even oppressive. All those rules about fabric and food and mildew and skin—no wonder the ancient Israelites found obeying God so difficult. But then you come to chapter 23 and you’re struck by an inescapable irony. Leviticus may be the heaviest rule book in the Bible, but amongst those heavy rules is the rule to celebrate heavily. Eight times over the Lord commands that his people party, that they cease their work, strap on the festival feedbag and enjoy the grace and goodness of God.

Now whether our Levites-for-the-month actually experienced this fun side of Leviticus is hard to say. As you know, 21 people from this congregation spent the month of January living by the book of Leviticus as part of a reality sermon series. You’ve been hearing a lot about it and hopefully reading about it too here and on the Facebook site (accessible to your right). I know that for me, trying to heed all the intricacies of Levitical law left little time for rejoicing. The Psalmist sings that “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul…. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart,” but mostly it gave me a headache. Obviously I was missing something. What good is following the law if all it does is make you not want to follow it? Maybe this is why God inserted chapter 23. The Lord fills up the social calendar to make the true joy of obedience unavoidable.

Verse 2: “These are the appointed Feasts of the Lord…” At first it seems strange to have a calendar that marks only time off work. Our work is what gives us identity and security, working holidays gets you complimented as ambitious and industrious and dedicated. Climbing the corporate ladder takes such precedence over enjoying the fruits of labor, that taking time off can make you feel guilty. Leviticus turns all that around. Rather than treating holy days as intrusions on our time, Leviticus views holidays as sacred time, previews of time as it shall one day be spent. “Do no work,” Leviticus commands, “it is a Sabbath to the LORD. “There remains a Sabbath-rest for the people of God,” the book of Hebrews declares, “those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.” “I heard a voice from heaven,” Revelation concurs, “‘Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labors.’ Jesus Christ as the Lord of the Sabbath, declares himself the source of that Sabbath rest: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Since the Lord “Sabbathed” or “rested” after creating the world, he commanded his people to take the seventh day and “remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy.” However, the LORD rested not because He was tired and needed a nap or because work was a bad thing. God’s rest reflected his satisfaction with the goodness of his work; His enjoyment over a job well done. Sabbath celebrates completion, fulfillment, satisfaction and triumph—for work that is done and work that will be done.

Sabbath is part of all the holy days in Leviticus 23. The concept, while generally applied to the seventh day, is not solely confined to it. The Day of Atonement, which falls on the 10th day, is also called a Sabbath. Pentecost and Tabernacles, both holy weeklong festivals, emphasize the 8th day as a Sabbath. The precise day was not at issue as much as precise behavior; namely, no work. Unfortunately, Jewish rabbis worked so hard to define “not working” that their interpretation of Sabbath stiffened into strictures so strict that you would be happier spending the day at the office. By the time we get to the New Testament, even Jesus’ works of mercy get cited as a Sabbath violation, a problem that carried over into much of contemporary Christian Sabbath practice.

You might remember Cathy Maxfield’s story of growing up in a Dutch Reformed church where keeping Sabbath meant no running or playing. Sunday was a day of rest. Take a nap. Fortunately, Cathy’s parents weren’t that strict; but they sure didn’t want their Dutch Reformed neighbors to know that. Cathy’s family had a backyard swimming pool and on hot summer Sundays, Cathy’s parents mercifully allowed her to swim, but only as long as A] she stayed off the diving board (since otherwise she might appear in the air over the fence for neighbors to see) and B] she didn’t go under the water (since wet hair in evening church would be a dead giveaway of Sabbath flouting). So Cathy begrudgingly bobbed.

“The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath,” Jesus said. Jesus’ own practice and precepts have led some to speculate as to whether Sabbath applies to Christians anyway. If Jesus’ coming inaugurates the ultimate rest toward which Sabbath points, we’re already there. In Christ our yoke is easy and our burden is light. But even with this as the case, the earliest Christians still set aside a day to assemble and worship, to cease from work and break the bread of communion in anticipation of that communion they would one day share everyday with Christ and each other. Call it Sabbath or the Lord’s Day, weekly sacred time calls a time out to the aggravation and disappointment of earthly toil. Freed from the worries of this world, weekly worship expands your horizons to encompass the horizons of heaven. At the core of our creeds is the conviction that in Christ, what is coming far exceeds what now exists, even in its most glorious renderings. By reminding us that this life is not all that there is, Sabbath whets our appetite for eternity.

During January, a number of our Levites-for-the-month tried with varying degrees of success to experience genuine Sabbath-ness. As it turned out, anticipating eternity is tougher than you’d think. Kristen wrote about doing all the work that doing no work on the Sabbath required: “I suppose I could have been really on the ball and gotten all my ‘general life’ stuff done during the week but I’m not that on top of things. [Therefore according to Leviticus], I’m in trouble. I’m to rest on the Sabbath day, not some day that works best for me. If your life doesn’t fit with the Law, change your life or get stoned.” Rest is serious business.

Lisa offered us a glimpse of the work that’s required to rest. Here she is getting ready for the Lord’s Day on what the gospels rightly called “Preparation Day.”

Now given the tone of Lisa’s preparation, you may wonder whether all the extra work was worth it. But turns out it was. Here’s photographic proof.

Brandy, who shared Sabbath with Lisa and Kristi for the month wrote, “I know that it often feels like the Law is about making life difficult and complicated, but I actually don’t think that was God’s point. The point wasn’t even to separate the Israelites from other people—at least, not in the sense of causing them to live in a non-interactive bubble. The setting apart wasn’t so much to set you apart from others as to set you apart for God.”

Sacred time is God time for people. We need it. And while as Christians we no longer keep these particular Levitical feasts, vestiges of them show up all over the Christian feasts we do keep. The Lord’s Day has superseded Sabbath, but aspects of Sabbath still apply. We stop work in order to enjoy its fruits. We worship. We enjoy each other. We eat. Likewise with Passover in verse 5. For Jews, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (they’ve been joined together) are their sacred remembrance of deliverance from slavery to the Egyptians (unleavened bread because you had to hurry to get out of Egypt). Jesus makes Passover his Last Supper and then the Last Supper the Lord’s Supper. He takes the bread and wine of Passover and announces that these are now his body and blood shed for our deliverance from slavery to sin. Paul joyfully proclaimed to the Corinthians, “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast….” Regrettably, however, we mostly keep the funeral, treating communion more as a time to bewail our sinfulness than to be glad for our redemption. Not that bewailing our sin is a bad thing, but if it’s the only thing we do then we miss communion’s main point.

Perhaps the Israelites missed the point too. Thus God made sure they got it back by ordering the Feast of Firstfruits. The seven-day Festival of Firstfruits, verses 9-14, celebrated the barley harvest, the first crop to rise from the ground. Paul described resurrection as a harvest rising from the ground and the risen Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Firstfruits thus corresponds to Easter, always a joyful celebration. Promised to rise from the dead, we rejoice and give thanks to God by giving him the firstfruits of our earthly harvests. We tithe as a way of showing that we mean it when we say God comes first in our lives.

Fifty days after Firstfruits (seven Sabbaths plus one day—the eighth day always a marker of heaven) came the wheat harvest and time to party again. The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, verses 15-22, meant a feast of leavened bread, since nobody was in a hurry to get out of Egypt anymore. Jesus compared the kingdom of God to yeast—a little bit permeates an entire batch of dough and raises it up. In the book of Acts, the Feast of Weeks was the occasion of the Holy Spirit’s leavening that small band of believers into an ironic, cross-shaped power that through defeat and persecution overwhelmed the Roman Empire and took the gospel to the whole world. Pentecost remains the birthday of the church.

During the Pentecost harvest, Leviticus reminds everybody to leave some of the crops for the poor to gather. This practice, called gleaning, allowed the unemployed to enjoy the dignity of work, but it also allowed the unemployed to join the party. Throughout Leviticus God provides discounts to the poor when it comes to sacrifice. For those who couldn’t afford an animal, grain offerings could substitute. Gleaning supplied the grain.

Next came the Feast of Trumpets in verses 23-25. Time to blow a horn. Trumpets sounded the start of the seventh month, a Sabbath month, the end of harvest and the biggest festival month on the Levitical calendar. The apostle Paul and Revelation both blow trumpets to signal the end of harvest, a metaphor of Judgment Day, the day Jesus described as the day that wheat and chaff get separated. Therefore the trumpet is first a call to repentance. 10 days after the horns, verses 26-32, is the Day of Atonement, a day we’ll examine more closely on Palm Sunday. Here Leviticus calls for self-denial or fasting as a way of reorienting your hunger toward God. Day of Atonement finds its Christian expression in this season of Lent and particularly in the liturgy and practice of Good Friday.

The Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, verses 33 and following, is the only feast that doesn’t have a clear Christian parallel, though it was the Feast at which Jesus decalred himself to be the light of the world and the water of life. The Feast of Tabernacles features the pitching of temporary tents or “booths” that call to mind Israel’s wilderness sojourn on their way to the Promised Land and how God himself traveled alongside in a mobile home of his own.

Mary Frances constructed a tabernacle. She wrote, “In an effort to make all of this levitical-ness more tangible, I thought it would be cool to have my own little sanctuary and reminder of God’s dwelling in my apartment. I love to build things and love architecture, so this was right up my alley. However, building an actual structure when you only have 400 sq feet of living space to start off with was challenging.”

However the main point of Tabernacles—at least from a New Testament perspective—was not to remember Israel’s time in the desert (especially since they didn’t spend 40 years wandering around as a reward for good conduct). The main point of Tabernacles was to remind how as sojourners we, like the Israelites, are still on our way to the real Promised Land. In time God will usher his people into a new heaven and a new earth where He will abide with us in permanence forever. We keep the feast to remember that this world is not our home, that we are resident aliens of earth and citizens of heaven. All this should make you happy, and if it doesn’t, Leviticus says you are to be “cut off from your people.” The Lord does not like a party pooper.