Times and seasons
For Christians, time is significant and sacred. Time is made holy because God is its creator. When God formed the world, he did so in time. The first words of the Bible remind us of this truth: “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1). From creation to the present, God “causes the changes of the times and seasons” (Daniel 2:21). And in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), as St. Paul relates, he chose to send his son Jesus into the world.
Christianity is not alone in seeing time as sacred. Our shared roots with Judaism show a similar theology of time that remembers God’s role in history. God’s revelation, for both Jews and Christians, is meant not only for the past but also for the present and the future. The story of salvation — from the creation of the world to today — communicates how God has been active in history, how he speaks to us now, and what he promises for the future.
This Judeo-Christian theology of time translates into an annual cycle of seasons and feasts. For instance, Jews and Christians celebrate a weekly Sabbath (Saturday for Jewish believers; Sunday for Christians), a day of prayer and rest rooted in “God resting” after creating the world (see Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 20:8–11). Both faiths also mark time with a series of annual, cyclical observances.
Jews and Christians celebrate a weekly Sabbath.
Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) or Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights that celebrates the rededication of the Temple) are called “festivals” and are the equivalent of Christian “feasts” or “holy days.” While Christian and Jewish calendars are distinct, some days share the same or similar names and have a common spiritual significance.
Festivals in both traditions are not viewed as man-made but God-made, because God has communicated these observances to his people and asked that they be celebrated from generation to generation. In the Old Testament, for instance, God commands the people to celebrate three annual festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16). These chief festivals of the Jewish faith helped give birth to Christian liturgical practices. Jesus and his apostles observed them, and they relate closely to Christians’ yearly celebrations.
Passover, one of the most significant Jewish festivals, recalls the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. At Passover, the Lord passed over the homes of the Hebrews who had sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts — sparing the first born of every household from the final deadly plague. The annual observance begins with a Passover meal (seder) in which the flight from Egypt is commemorated.
While not the same celebration, Easter and Passover are closely linked. Before his death, Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his disciples. The two feasts share a common theology: that of new life. In several languages, the word for Easter (Pascua in Spanish, for instance) is derived from the Hebrew word for Passover: Pesach. In the earliest days of the Church, Easter was often celebrated on Passover (even if it did not occur on a Sunday), highlighting the connection.
The Jewish feast of Pentecost (or Feast of Weeks), occurring six weeks after Passover, recalls God’s providence. Historically, it was a festival of the harvest, but it now celebrates the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. While being a distinctive observance for Christians and Jews, it has a shared name and history. The apostles with Mary were celebrating the Jewish feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them (see Acts 2). Christians celebrate the feast 50 days after Easter. Both feasts celebrate God’s gift of sustenance and illumination.
The Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) celebrates God’s providing for his people. Acknowledging the years the Jewish people wandered in the desert awaiting entrance into the Promised Land, the building of booths or makeshift huts marks the celebration of the festival even today. Christians have no direct equivalent in name or tradition, but a similar theological emphasis is found within Christianity whenever we pray in thanksgiving for God’s blessings, acknowledging his care.
The Jewish festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, among others, were observed by the apostles and the earliest Christians. More than evidencing Christianity’s roots in Judaism, the celebrations show a shared theology of God entering into time, sustaining his people, and offering them a hope-filled future.
Christian appreciation of Jewish festivals and Jewish understanding of Christian feasts can help enrich the faith practices of each. Celebrating God’s action in time reminds us of his providential care: yesterday, today, and until the end of time.