The extremely creative team over at Threads (threadsmedia.com), a division of LifeWay, have just released my latest book, FEAST. It is a six-week group study on the Biblical holidays.
You can see FEAST here.
What follow is an excerpt from FEAST and then a few comments. Keep in mind, FEAST is written for a Christian audience and assumes little or no knowledge of Judaism. I also think, however, that many in Messianic Jewish congregations could benefit from FEAST for two reasons: (1) My explanations of holidays and traditions in FEAST unfold a theology that sees Israel at the center of God’s plan and is a corrective to the low place Israel is accorded in much theology and (2) My explanations of the holidays and traditions look for spiritual concepts in them that all can benefit from.
(From Page 22 of FEAST):
Tradition. It’s a negative word to many people, especially in the religious context. To a lot of people tradition is synonymous with empty ritual, manmade process, or stuffiness. The fact is, however, that tradition is everywhere, regardless of whether or not we recognize it. Why does the leader bow when he says a prayer? Why do the people respond to that prayer with, “Blessed is the Lord, the Blessed One, for all eternity”? Why do the people recline? Why is there an empty chair? Tradition.
And that’s just in the religious sphere. If you try living without any tradition, you will find that it’s not possible. What is the last thing you say to a loved one before bed? What is the first thing you say to someone in the morning? What do you say at the beginning of a prayer? At the end? What is your posture in prayer? What time does worship begin at your congregation? How long is the service? What order does it usually follow? What do the leaders wear? The people? Tradition.
Tradition can be positive. Jesus blessed bread and wine in the traditional way. He reclined at the table. He used bread and wine as symbols. He dipped into a special bowl, most likely containing bitter herbs. He sang hymns, Psalm 113-118, at the end of the Seder with his disciples.
Jesus participated in the worshipful traditions of Judaism. He even passed a few traditions on to us. The Lord’s Prayer is very similar to two of the oldest and most important Jewish prayers. Tradition.
Do you believe it’s possible to live without sacred traditions?
What traditions are part of your life? Why do you keep them?
What spiritual truth do these traditions emphasize?
I wrote the except above as part of the session on Passover in FEAST. I honed in on the idea of tradition because I went through more than a decade of evangelical Christianity where traditions were spoken of in negative tones. I just recently read a sermon outline making a point I had heard many times: don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer (it’s just an example of prayer). The very idea that the Lord’s Prayer is not something we should literally pray, because allegedly to do so would be mindlessly repeating words rather than “really praying,” is offensive. Our Messiah gave us a prayer. He was accustomed to pray in the synagogue. We were taught in evangelical schools and circles to interpret the Bible in its historical context. In context, Jesus meant for us to pray his prayer.
I’m so glad that numerous evangelical churches are making their way out of the anti-tradition, anti-liturgy mode of thinking. I hope that the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer will make a comeback in evangelical churches.
To understand Jesus, evangelicals are going to have to see beyond 20th century prejudices and revival-movement concepts that are antithetical to the way of life Jesus taught.
I hope that FEAST will be useful to many who want to make that journey, who want to understand the way God merges the physical and spiritual, to understand the power of remembrance, and to appreciate the beauty of food and symbolism in worship.
FEAST is for small groups. It could be used in a Sunday School setting (it would probably need 12 weeks if used in a time-restricted Sunday School setting). It is also just a book you can read on its own, with plenty of text and thought questions about Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), Rosh HaShanah (Trumpets), Yom Kippur (Atonement), Sukkot (Tabernacles), and Hanukkah.