The swiftly turning pages of the calender have returned us once again to the summer festivities of village feasts. As in many communities across the land, we come together with friends and neighbours for a time of fun and celebration, sharing food and taking part in organized events and competitions.
Feasting as a custom is as old as humanity itself, when rituals were honoured, deals done and sealed, crafts displayed and exchanged, and resources shared with goodwill, peace and hope. Monarchs used feasting as a means of displaying sumptuous wealth and power. Generous hospitality softened the hard edge of negotiation to avoid potential conflict and merriment mixed with diplomacy encouraged the arrangement of trade deals and advantageous marriages.
For the industrial heartlands, this was the allotted time to down tools and enjoy holiday relaxation. In agricultural communities, it denoted acknowledgement of mutual labour resulting in thanksgiving for harvest crops seasonally ripening.
In the Old Testament, there is a remarkable account of how the beautiful Queen Esther used exquisite diplomacy and invitations to feasts to expose a murderous plot of genocide. Having learned of the plan of Haman, the honoured adviser to King Ahasuerus, to dispose of all the Jewish families in the kingdom, Esther needed both courage and great wisdom to secure the King’s favour and approval to reverse the sovereign decree. (Esther ch.9). Queen Esther brought justice to bear on the plan to massacre her Jewish people and thus averted the loss of thousands of lives, including her own. The Feast of Purim is a time-honoured memorial to Esther’s faith and courage and it still marks a time of glad celebration with the sharing of gifts.
Feast times often serve as a marker of historical events, so that each succeeding generation will keep the record with purpose and unity. The seven feasts of Jehovah were instituted for the spiritual journey of the Children of Israel as yearly landmarks of remembrance. Beginning with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, followed immediately by the Feast of Unleaven Bread, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt is still marked each year with joy and thanksgiving. The Feast of Firstfruits was kept on the morrow after the Sabbath when the land of Promise had been reached with its abundance of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees and pomegranates. The first sheaf of grain was brought as a symbol of thanksgiving before the Lord God. Leviticus ch.23 lists the remaining feasts as Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks when two loaves baked from fine flour were presented to the priest followed by all the sweet savour sacrifices including the sin offering. Following an interval denoting the passing of six months, there comes the Feast of Trumpets, for resting, then the Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles, when the labours and cares of life were put aside. The people made booths of the boughs of trees and entered into a time of joy and rejoicing for grace, mercy and provision.
We have fresh memories now of Jubilee celebrations and street feasts that were enjoyed with colourful pageantry and neighbourly goodwill.
When Jesus celebrated the Passover Feast before the time of his atoning death and subsequent rising, he urged his disciples to “keep the feast till I return.” This sabbath remembrance marks the dedication of his modern day disciples to keep fresh the giving of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer.
The Apostle Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 5v7,8)
“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleaven bread of sincerity and truth.”
“Then within His home He led me
Brought me where the feast is spread
Made me eat with Him my Father
I, who begged for bondsman’s bread
Not a suppliant at His gateway
But a son within His home,
To the love, the joy, the singing
To the glory, I am come.”