There is so much to write about and nothing to write about.
I have to be honest. In 90 minutes I hit the deadline for submitting an article. The pressure is on.
Will my web page supervisor “let slip the dogs of war” on me if I miss the deadline? Will I get the frantic, impassioned call to “get my rear in gear” and produce something astounding? Nope. She’ll roll with it and forgive me. She’s a tremendous asset and I want to honor her.
But that doesn’t reduce the sense of pressure I’m feeling right now.
“Why didn’t you get it done earlier in the week?” you might ask. That’s easy for you to say! As part of a congregation that follows the biblical Feasts of the Lord, we’re in the middle of the Fall Feasts; Trumpets (September 19), Yom Kippur (September 28), and the Feast of Tabernacles (October 3-9).
I miss the “old days.” By that I mean my earlier days in ministry as a volunteer worship leader, then staff music director, then associate pastor, then solo pastor. Those earlier days were in traditional Sunday congregations.
Ask any pastor and they’ll tell you the busiest time of the year is Holy Week, closely followed by Christmas. For most liturgical churches, Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday. It’s usually a big deal with pomp and circumstance commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Israel’s Messiah.
Then there’s Wednesday evening when the Lenten teaching series comes to a close with the finality of a book slapping shut. Then there’s the Maunday Thursday service with the institution of the Lord’s Supper as its focus. And then there’s Good Friday’s Tenebrae (Latin - darkness) service commemorating Jesus’ suffering and death. And if you’re in some churches, you get the bonus Saturday vigil before the Big Event – Resurrection Sunday!
Well yes…and no. For many pastors, Resurrection Sunday is the high point. But the Big Event is Crashing Monday. Yes, it’s the time when more than a few pastors run and hide. They’ve served as Master of Ceremonies, Motivational Speaker, and the Conductor of the Grand Opera (and rightly so) of Holy Week. And they just want to go into isolation and be left alone.
Here’s a little insider baseball for the person in the pew. For some Pastors, Holy Week is knick-named “Hell Week.” Oh c’mon! Don’t get your pants wound up. This isn’t a sacrilegious statement and it isn’t intended to be. It’s simply an acknowledgment of an extremely busy and wildly stressful week that sometimes tarnishes the shine on a season of joy.
Don’t fault your pastor. You’ve had those kinds of weeks too, usually involving family celebrations. Think of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Recall your planning and execution of graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, and family reunions. Fun, huh?
And the best part is collapsing into a fluffy chair or soft bed when it’s finally over and just resting in the quiet of the moment. And at that moment it seems you can hear eternity and the angels singing! Am I right?
Well, for those who are Saturday Sabbath worshippers such as messianic Jewish and Hebraic Roots congregations, we get a 3-week pressure cooker called the Fall Feasts. Yes, they are fun, they are inspirational, they are challenging, uplifting, and deeply meaningful. And they are work! Imagine Holy Week times three.
So, for the uninitiated, here’s the emotional flow (and yes, I’m going somewhere with this).
The Feast of Trumpets focuses us on the Day of the Lord, the moment in time when God will enter human history in a new way to establish His Kingdom on earth. This is commonly known as Judgment Day. The theme of Trumpets is “repent.” Not just for the Judgment to come, but for our deeds right now.
Yom Kippur follows ten days later with its emphasis on redemption. In the present, it’s about making sure we’ve repented (truly changed our ways to match God’s ways) and made amends to those we’ve wronged. It also looks forward to Jesus’ arrival as the Messiah and ruler of God’s kingdom on earth. Yom Kippur’s theme is “redeem.”
Finally, five days later, the Feast of Tabernacles week-long celebration begins. It celebrates Israel’s time with God in the Wilderness (the Great National Camp-out with the Almighty) and the ingathering of the fall harvest. This feast is like Thanksgiving and a Boy Scout Jamboree rolled into one. The theme of Tabernacles is “rejoice!” The is music, food, dancing, food, prayers, food, worship, food, and enjoying the outdoors in a temporary structure called a sukkah are the orders of the day.
Oh…and more food. It’s a feast after all!
Sunday Pastors, do you think you want to crash when Holy Week is done? Try the Fall Feasts! Believe me, both pastors and their congregations are ready for a breather after 21 days.
And the Lord gives us one!
On the 22nd day, immediately following the climax of the Feast of Tabernacles (called the Great Hosanna, the Great Cry For Salvation) God commands His people to sit and rest.
“For seven days present offerings made to the LORD by fire, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. It is the closing assembly; do no regular work” (Leviticus 23:36).
This 22nd day is known as Shemini Atzeret (Sh’mee-nee At-ZAY-ret) or the 8th of Completion.
Rest completes our work and precedes new work. In the biblical view of numbers, seven is the number of fullness, and eight is the number of new, fresh beginnings.
After twenty-one days of focused human effort – repenting, making amends, seeking God’s face, and celebrating – God replies to our Great Hosanna and tells us to “Sit back, relax. I will help you.” It becomes a moment in time to repose and listen to eternity and the angels singing.
It’s pure heaven!
God never meant human life to be stressful and full of non-stop effort. Sadly, even our celebrations become work. And the Sabbath, which was meant to give God’s people a respite from work, often becomes work to observe it because we always try to add ways to make it even more special.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)
Okay, so back to the beginning. Yes, I’m under pressure at this moment. But as I started, I sat for a minute and listened to the quiet. In my mind I moved into an eddy in the stream of consciousness, listened to my dog Toby, breathing quietly as he slept beside my desk, and asked the Lord for help.
I think He has.
I’ll make the deadline. And even as I’ve worked I’ve found it very restful work. How odd.
Moments of rest help us focus our hearts and minds on the Lord and from those moments of quiet, God reaches out to give us what we need to resume our work. Our plea of “Help me, Lord!” in the silence finds a response of “I will help you!” And the pressure bleeds off.
So whether you’re in the midst of a Hellish Week or just the long marathon of life, remember to take a minute (small) minute (time) to set your hands in your lap and dwell in the quiet. You will find rest for your soul.
If you want to learn about these Feasts and their incredible prophetic significance to Christians and God’s blueprint of redemption, check out my in-depth teaching series. The clear pictures of Jesus and the work of his first and second coming are astounding! Learn Here!