Under the Law of Moses, in addition to the weekly observance of the Sabbath Day, there were seven annual celebrations which God gave to the people of Israel to observe. These were the Passover, the Feast of Unleaven Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, The Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tents (cf. Leviticus 23). As God introduces these celebrations to the people, He spoke to Moses, saying, “These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts (Leviticus 23:2b; ESV).
There are three primary points God makes in thus introducing these feasts, the first of which is the self-evident point that they were to be feasts: occasions upon which there would be food consumed whilst the participants fellowshipped together with a celebratory air. The second point is that they were also to be “holy convocations,” or, “sacred assemblies.” In short, they were to be times of communal worship, whether in the home, at the temple or as later, in a synagogue. Finally, they were “appointed” times of celebration, as opposed to an “unappointed” time of celebration.
As appointed feasts, it was obligatory for the people of Israel to participate in these celebrations. Over the years, there would arise various “unappointed” celebrations, occasions not commanded by God. Jesus Himself participated in one such feast: the Feast of Lights, also called the Festival of Dedication (cf. John 10:22). This celebration, began during the time of the Maccabees, was not given to Moses, and was not one ordained by God. Nevertheless, as it was part of His cultural heritage, Jesus took part in it. Because it was not an ordained feast, simply a matter of tradition, a Jew who did not observe the Feast of Lights could not be said to be sinning against the Law and there is no reason to think God would hold it against them. On the other hand, a Jew who did not take part in the Passover was sinning, so much so, that God threatened to “cut off” those who failed to observe the commanded celebration (cf. Numbers 9:13).
Jesus, when He die, nailed the record of debt, with its legal demands, to the cross (cf. Colossians 2:13-14). The legal demands in question were the demands of the Mosaic Law. The Bible says that we have “died to the Law (Romans 7:4)” and that we have been “released from the Law (Romans 7:6).” The Law of Moses was entirely set aside and replaced, a necessity for Christ to be able to serve as our priest, “for when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well (Hebrews 7:12; ESV).” The upshot of all of this, in relation to the Feasts of Israel, is that Christians are not themselves bound by the “appointed feasts” given to Moses. But that does raise the question: Has God ordained, or appointed, feasts and holy convocations under the new Law of Christ?
Though men have, over the years, established many “unappointed” feasts in relation to the Christian faith, there is only one feast ordained in the New Testament, though it is not specifically called a feast and is more often referenced as a meal, or a supper. We refer, of course, to the celebration called, in the New Testament, The Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:20ff). This was the observance commanded by Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:26ff; Mark 14:22ff; Luke 22:14ff) in which the participants are to take bread and fruit of the vine in memory of the body and blood of Jesus. Likewise, whilst not specifically called a “holy convocation,” Christians are expected to “come together” when they partake of this meal (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17, 20). The early church observed this celebration weekly, when they came together to worship and notably a failure to properly observe the Supper of the Lord, is connected in the Scriptures to illness and even death (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:30): references to a spiritual condition akin to the ancient threat to “cut off” those who did not keep the appointed Passover.
It is telling that for many, the various “unappointed” feasts observed throughout the year are thought to be of more importance than the one sacred meal actually ordained by Christ. Yet for those who truly wish to abide within the Law of Christ, we must wisely discern between that which is commanded and that which is merely a matter of human tradition. If a failure to observe the Lord’s Supper with a proper attitude is a cause for spiritual sickness, how much more neglecting it altogether? Those who wish to worship in Spirit and in Truth (cf. John 4:24) according to the word of God, can not allow themselves to be willfully absent from the feast that Christ has commanded.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.