The Jewish and Christian calendars of feasts have their origins in the Pentateuch. However, the feasts are commemorated differently in the traditions that have developed. Father David gives a general outline of the three Biblical feasts and their present forms in the Church and in Israel.

passover shavuot sukkotIn the Torah, the three pilgrimage feasts are repeatedly referred to (cf. Exodus 23:14-19, 34:18-26, Leviticus 23:1-43, Numbers 28-29, Deuteronomy 16:1-17). Passover is the feast of spring, which also commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. Pentecost is the feast of the First Fruits. Tabernacles is the Feast of the Final Harvest, which Leviticus also records as a time to remember that Israel dwelt in tabernacles during the forty years in the Wilderness (23:43). These feasts are primarily celebrations of the agricultural year and the commandment is to come to Jerusalem’s Temple and make the necessary sacrifices.

As the Jewish tradition developed in the Biblical and post-Biblical periods, these feasts also developed new meanings. Today, Passover is primarily the occasion to remember the Exodus from Egypt and a family meal with a home liturgy called the “seder” marks this feast. Unleavened bread must be eaten throughout the seven days of the feast (eight days in the Diaspora). Pentecost also developed and came to commemorate the giving of the Torah to Moses on mount Sinai. The linking of the Feast of the First Fruits with the Giving of the Torah is post-Biblical. Tabernacles preserved the memory of the forty years in the Wilderness and Jews construct tabernacles in which they take their meals for the seven days of the feast (eight in the Diaspora), sometimes also sleeping there. In later Biblical tradition, the Feast of Tabernacles also became a Messianic feast, referring to the ingathering of all nations going up to Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 14).

Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth, observed the feasts of the Jewish calendar like all Jews of his time. The three pilgrimage feasts are at the origin of the Christian calendar of feasts. Passover and Easter are intimately linked to one another. Jesus went up to Jerusalem at Passover time and his last meal with the disciples is presented a Passover meal in the Synoptic Gospels. The sacrifice of the Passover lamb is intimately connected with his own death on the Cross (particularly in the Gospel of Saint John). Just as God led Israel out of slavery, so Jesus leads his disciples out the slavery of death and sin.

The Feast of Pentecost is the explicit background to the giving of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection in the Acts of the Apostles. The crowd outside the room in which the disciples gathered, was a crowd of Jewish pilgrims who had come for the feast. The Holy Spirit is given as the first fruit of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

The Feast of Tabernacles, the feast of the final harvest, is the Messianic feast that is fulfilled as Jesus gathers all nations into one body, the Church. There might be a connection between the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and the Christian Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (for this see here).

As we reflect on our shared heritage, Jews and Christians discover how much they have in common.