Summary: The first harvest festival of the Jewish year teaches us that God will give good things to us because of his nature, not because he has been manipulated, that he has first claim on everything and the resurrection of Christ is a promise that we too will be
Harvest is one of my most favourite Sundays in the year. The special songs, the display, the food donated to be used as food parcels for people in need of food through the year.
The ancient Israelites were fortunate in that God had commanded them to have not one, but three harvest festivals a year. The first was right at the beginning of the grain harvest time, the second at the end of the grain harvest, when it was all in, and the third marked the grape harvest. Although they were all connected with the harvest in someway, they all had different emphases and reminded the people of different things. This afternoon we are going to look at the first of these three annual celebrations, the Feast of Firstfruits.
The Feast of Firstfruits took place at the very beginning of the barley harvest. Barley was the first crop to become ripe and ready for harvest in the year, so the beginning of the barley harvest was the beginning of the whole harvest. Barley was a cereal crop. It was one of the two main grains grown by the Israelites (the other was wheat) and much of their bread and other food was made from it. The very first sheath of barley to be harvested, instead of being used for food, was taken to the priest, who waved it in front of the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, symbolically offering it to God. This normally happened on the day after the Feast of the Passover. Although we are not a farming community and God does not require us to keep us this ceremony today, I believe that it has much to teach us as 21st century Christians. We will look at three of them this afternoon.
The first thing to note is that it completely differs from the agricultural festivals and rituals of the false religions surrounding Israel. The religion of the Canaanites was the worship of the false god baal, who, they believed, was the god of fertility. They believed that he had to have his arm twisted and to be manipulated into giving them good harvests by fertility rituals, by what is called sympathetic magic, that is by making him do what they wanted by acting it out. It was all a waste of time, of course, because baal does not exist, and certainly does not control the harvest. When we come to the worship of the one, and only, true God, there are no fertility rituals. Our God, who is truly the Lord of the harvest, does not need to be reminded, or forced, into giving what his people need. Instead of begging or cajoling, the mood is one of thanksgiving. He gives the harvest out of his own goodness, because it is in his own nature to do it.
Nowadays we don’t perform fertility dances in an attempt to secure good harvests, but we can sometimes be guilty of an attitude that sees good as being reluctant tp give us what is best for us, or a god whose power can be manipulated or controlled by us. We sometimes think that if we do a certain thing, or pray in a certain way, then God will have no option but to bless us. The absence of fertility rituals in the God-given worship system of the Israelites shows just how wrong this way of thinking is.