March is here and with it the customarily erratic weather. There are several religious holidays that occur in March this year:
● Purim is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from Haman, began on February 28 and ends on March 1. Haman plotted to kill all the Jews in Persia during the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Purim means lots and comes from the Hebrew פור. Haman drew lots to determine the most favorable month and day for attacking the Jews. You can find this story in the Book of Esther.
● Passover or Pesach is an important Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish Exodus from slavery in Egypt. God’s servant Moses was instrumental in doing this. The Exodus would have taken place around 1300 BC or AM 2450. BC refers to “before Christ” and AM is the abbreviation of Anno Mundi which is Latin for “in the year of the world”. The latter is a calendar based on the biblical accounts of the creation of the world and subsequent history. You can find this story in the Book of Exodus.
● Lent is a Christian observance or period of preparation of believers for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Lent began with Ash Wednesday, February 14, and ends six weeks later, with the Great Vigil of Easter, April 1.
● Holy Week is a week of Christian observances just before Easter. These include Palm/Passion Sunday, Monday of Holy Week, Tuesday of Holy Week, Wednesday of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.
● Palm/Passion Sunday is a Christian holiday that celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as mentioned in all four Gospels. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, April 1. Christians believe that Palm Sunday is the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (NIV) Jesus Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the people laid down their cloaks and small branches of trees in front of him, and sang Psalm 118: 25–26, “LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.” (NIV) In this Jesus was declaring that he was the King of Israel. This did not set well with the Sanhedrin and led to Jesus’ Passion (suffering) which culminated in His Crucifixion on Good Friday, March 30.
● Maundy Thursday, a Christian holiday, is a remembrance of the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the gospels. The name comes from the Vulgate (Latin) of John 13:34, mandatum meaning “command”, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (NIV). It also refers to “foot washing” as seen in John 13:14–17, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (NIV)
● Good Friday, a Christian holiday, observing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary. Good Friday is a legal holiday in many countries throughout the world, most Western countries, and 12 U.S. states. If you would like to know some of the details please feel free to join us on March 25 for our Palm/Passion Sunday.
All of this having been said, traditionally Presbyterians have not celebrated any of these including Easter. Presbyterians have traditionally seen every Sunday as a sort Easter. This is seen in numerous early Presbyterian documents.
“The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited to his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:15-20; 12:32; Matthew 4:9-10; 15:9; Acts 17:25; Colossians 2:23).” Chapter XXI, Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day, Westminster Confession of Faith
“Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.” Westminster Directory for Public Worship
There are numerous Scriptural passages that would support this position.
Galatians 4:9–10 (NIV)
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!
Colossians 2:16 (NIV)
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
Looking at all of this, “Why do we, as a church, celebrate these days?” There are a variety of reasons: habit, tradition, fun, social pressure, a time to gather family. The most defendable reason, in my mind, would be the hope of emphasizing particular theological ideas or passages from Scripture by using a particular day to do it. It is also a way of taking seriously our call from Scripture to be respectful of the way other brothers and sisters in Christ seek to give thanks to God.
Romans 14:5–6 (NIV)
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
It is my prayer that during March you would find a new or increased sense of appreciation for the ways in which others seek to give thanks to God. Blessed be the name of God. (Job 1:21 – KJV)
Yours in Christ,