Tuesday, November 29, 2022

"Holy! Holy! Holy!"

I love that on the cusp of December - as all our eyes become fixed on Christmas - our pastors concluded their "mini-series" through Revelation 1-5. Fixing our eyes on John's magnificent vision of the Lamb on His throne. That radiant, overwhelming sight punctuated by the proclamation of “Holy! Holy! Holy!” echoing throughout the heavens.

I loved the timing of that final sermon, because we should never lose sight of the fact that John's vision is the very essence of Christmas. The One who arrived on earth - in the anonymity of a Bethlehem manger - is the very same One whose holiness overwhelms the heavens.

And what astounds me when I read John's testimony is that one day, you and I won't simply have a temporary vision like John's, but the everlasting sight of the risen Messiah on His throne. Beholding Him with our very own resurrected eyes. And we'll not just hear the proclamations of His holiness, but we'll be joining in with the eternal chorus:

Holy, Holy, Holy!

The first time I read this Revelation passage as a follower of Jesus, I was actually taken aback. I knew this passage. Well, not this verse exactly. But I'd been proclaiming God's holiness in triplicate my whole life. It's the pinnacle of the synagogue worship on the Sabbath and most festivals. And for as long as I could remember, I'd been chanting it in Hebrew as I stood with the rest of the congregation, all of us rising up on our toes with each repetition:*

Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh!

The rabbis say that we rise up on our toes with each kadosh as a way of straining upward toward our holy, heavenly God.

To be honest, I didn't even know what kadosh meant when I was little, but I could feel the reverence and awe permeating the room. And so when I eventually picked up on the fact that I was saying "Holy! Holy! Holy!" with my words, it made perfect sense, because it matched what was happening in our posture and in my heart.

Of course, we weren't reciting Revelation in synagogue. We were echoing the heavenly chorus from that moment when Isaiah experienced his vision of God's throne, surrounded by the same same six-winged creatures that John saw:

Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh! Adonai Tz'vaot M'lo Khol Ha'aretz K'vodo! 

Holy! Holy! Holy! The Lord of Hosts, the entire world is filled with His Glory!

After last week's Revelation sermon, I decided to look at these two passages next to one another - these "holy triplets" - one found in the Old and one in the New. And what struck me is something that will stay with me.

The visions were so much alike. Isaiah and John both beheld six-winged creatures who were gathered around God's throne, leading the exact same chorus that reverberated throughout the heavens.

Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh! Holy! Holy! Holy!

Holiness tripled. Both Jewish and Christian commentators say that repeating a word three times speaks to intensity, to fullness, to completeness. God's holiness is overwhelmingly, abundantly, whole. Filling every crevice of the earth and the heavens.

"His glory fills the whole earth!" Isaiah 6:3

Fullness is really a theme of the whole Isaiah vision. Just the hem of God's robe filled the Temple. Smoke filled the Temple. His glory fills all the earth. And in Revelation, too, all of heaven was filled with the praise of God's holiness.

Some rabbis say that the triple Kadosh! also proclaims God's holiness throughout all of time: all the past, all the present and all the future. Which is exactly what John heard, isn't it?

"Who was, and is, and is to come!" Revelation 4:8

Not only were the visions and choruses of Isaiah and John almost identical, but their missions were the same as well. They were each given this taste of heavenly worship as part of their commissioning to share messages with God's people.

Yet what occurred to me as I looked at these two passages side-by-side, was that while the visions were virtually identical, the content of the messages were not.

Isaiah's "Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh!" prepared him to announce the coming Babylonian captivity and exile, while John's "Holy! Holy! Holy!" prepared him to share about the final heavenly victory and freedom.

And it struck me that, whether preparing for freedom or exile, the song of praise was the same. Still is the same. Because God's holiness is constant. It is full.

And so we can declare it at all times. Even now. Especially now. No matter what "now" looks like - good or bad or in-between. Proclaiming "Holy! Holy! Holy" is preaching the gospel to ourselves. It is praising the One who is working all things for good. Because a wholly-holy God is one who can be trusted.

So whether we find ourselves on the Isaiah/exile side of the vision, or on the John/redemption side of it, I pray that we’d be able to proclaim the fullness of God’s perfect, redemptive holiness. That you and I would learn to proclaim kadosh, kadosh, kadosh every single day.

And that as we're all fixing our eyes on Christmas, that we'd fix our eyes on the holy One who dwelled among us, who conquered the grave, and who reigns in eternity.

*I misspoke in my podcast earlier this month. I said we bowed with each "kadosh," but I was remembering the prayer leading into Kadosh. Oops! Sorry!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Apples & Honey & Trumpets, Oh My!

I'm a traditionalist - my favorite
Rosh Hashanah snack is apples and
honey! Especially when the honey comes
from dear friends in Nazareth!
Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of gathering downstairs in the synagogue, feasting on apples drenched in honey.  

We were celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just as countless Jews will begin to do this Sunday evening as the sun sets around the globe. This apples & honey tradition, which follows the worship service, is meant to usher in a sweet year to come.

But honey is so much more than a metaphor for a sweet year. It is a recalling and reclaiming of God's promises. Fulfilled promises. From bondage to freedom. From hunger to manna. From wilderness scarcity to the flowing abundance of the Promised Land.  God not only rescues, not only sustains, but lavishes. And the ultimate lavishness is the abundance of His Presence in our lives.

And so, as the congregation partakes of this sweet snack on Rosh Hashanah, we gratefully celebrate God's deliverance and sustenance and abundance in our own lives - whatever forms that may take. And we look forward collectively to a new year that we hope will be marked by spiritual sweetness, praying together:

"May it be Thy will, O Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that you renew us for a good and sweet year."  

Just under the surface of this festive rejoicing, however, runs a current of building lament. Because, as the sun sets on Rosh Hashanah, all eyes and hearts begin looking toward Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - in just ten days. Which, in actuality, is the entire purpose of Rosh Hashanah.

You see, "Rosh Hashanah" isn't the original name for this feast. The original, biblical name is Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpet Blasts, a/k/a The Feast of Trumpets.
"On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.  It is a day for you to sound the trumpets."  Numbers 29:1 NIV
Over the course of Yom Teruah's sacred assembly - even today - the ram's horn is blown 100 timesThese trumpet blasts serve as a call to repentance as Yom Kippur draws near.  A plea to prepare for that most holy and sacred day of the year. That day when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, under cover of thick incense, to offer atonement for the sins of the nation with the blood of a perfect lamb. That one day when everyone was - is - to fast and mourn and repent. To beat our chest as we confess a litany of sins out loud. We have betrayed...We have stolen...We have slandered...We have caused others to sin...We have mocked... 

The list goes on and on - and could go on forevermore if we each turned out the pockets of our swollen, skimpy hearts. We line them with so many layers of muck that we don't even notice anymore. And so, during the Feast of Trumpets, the shofar is blown. Over and over and over again. One hundred times. Get, thee, ready. Or, as is often my case - Wake, up fool.

As the ram's horn pierces the air that day, it proclaims three specific things, again and again, throughout the worship. These three proclamations are the three different words God used to describe the shofar blasts: Tekia, Shevarim and Teru'ah.
Tekia. It's a single, long blast.  The kind of trumpet sound made to announce the arrival of a king.  Which is exactly what the Feast of Trumpets' tekia does; the long blast announces the coming of the Heavenly King to pronounce judgment.
Shevarim. These three short blasts are an ancient, auditory depiction of crying. But not simply crying, but wailing. It calls us to recognize and mourn deeply our sin before Him. 
Teru'ah. This series of nine quick blasts served as an alarm. With tekia and shevarim in mind, this staccato alarm wakes and shakes us to make things right with God - and with the people around us.
From the holy hill of Jerusalem and throughout all the land - like the beacons igniting one after another along the mountaintops of Gondor - those ancient trumpet blasts called every person to look up, to recognize the personal and collective need for atonement, and to prepare their hearts to petition God's blood-bought forgiveness on Yom Kippur.  

It's such a powerful practice. And I love that God Himself established the Feast of Trumpets, because it's a demonstration that He desires to forgive. God doesn't just spring judgment upon us unsuspectingly. He created a feast with the entire purpose of helping His people get ready for the Day of Atonement. The day our sins would be dealt with. And not "getting ready" as in fixing ourselves up. But "getting ready" by recognizing our need - my need - and then turning to God to fill it.

Those blasts of the ram's horn on Rosh Hashanah/Yom Teruah jar us to attention. Not simply to our own failings, but to His mercy. Not only to our brokenness, but to His healing. Not merely to our guilt, but to His grace. 

Now- on this side of the Cross - in those three ancient proclamations of the shofar, I also recognize the prophetic proclamation of the coming fullness of His grace, the fullness of His healing, the fullness of all that He is. That fullness witnessed in the life, death and resurrection of God's promised Messiah:
Tekia!  All hail!  The Heavenly King, the Father, is coming!
Shevarim!  Mourn!  The Messiah, the Son, will take our place in death.
Teru'ah!  Wake up from your mourning!  The Holy Spirit has raised Christ from the grave!  And He remains even now to indwell us, to teach and to guide us until the day He raises us from our grave as well!
There's no sweeter news I can possibly think of than this redeeming proclamation of the ram's horn!  So grab some apples and honey (or make my grandma's honey cake recipe at the end of the newsletter!) and celebrate our King, our Savior and our ever-present Holy Spirit.

Taste and see that the Lord is good! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The King is in the Field

We're just a few days into the Jewish month of ElulIt's a quiet month. No official feasts or fasts. 

So all eyes and hearts rest quietly, looking forward with anticipation to the first day of next month. 

When the blast of the ram's horn will shatter the silence on Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets.

When those startling blasts will then propel us into ten days of repentance building up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

When we will close that holiest and most somber day on the calendar in one congregational voice, fervently praying to be sealed in God's Book of Life. 

And when we will collectively exhale after one long, last blast of the shofar. 

It's a powerful, weighty season. So Elul, in its peaceful repose, sits in quiet contrast.

Rabbis use a parable to teach that during this tranquil month, God is like the ancient kings, who would leave their thrones and walk through the fields as they made their way into the city, receiving anyone who wanted to draw near and speak with him before he returned to the palace. 

This teaching puts human flesh on our Divine King, reminding us of God's desire to be fully and personally accessible to the people He loves. Reminding us, during this month before the anxiety of atonement, that God is for us. Wanting us to know, before stepping back on His throne - the judgement seat of the High Holy Days - that judgement is not God's default. Chesed - lovingkindness - is. 

In fact, this parable was inspired by God's thirteen attributes of mercy, derived from His words to Moses as His glory passed by that hiding place in the rock.*

Then he passed in front of Moses, calling out, “The Lord, the Lord, a compassionate and merciful God, patient, always faithful and ready to forgive. He continues to show his love to thousands of generations, forgiving wrongdoing, disobedience, and sin.  Exodus 34:6-7a GW

This rich illustration not only reminds us of God's compassion as we approach the days of repentance and atonement, but it also points to the reality that the Most High God initiates relationship with people. Pursues people. All people. Even us ordinary people working in dusty fields. For me, the parable also made the judgment throne of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur loom less scary, more merciful. 

Now, as a Jewish believer in Jesus, I love this parable all the more, because it paints such a beautiful and perfect picture of the Messiah. Who left His throne - not in parable but in reality - to walk the fields of the earth with us in literal - not parable - flesh. To welcome anyone and everyone who wished to approach Him, no matter what field they called home. To show the way of mercy.

It's only fitting, then, that in Aramaic - Jesus' everyday earthly tongue - Elul means "search." Because He left that heavenly throne room for the sole purpose of searching us out. To not just walk the fields and let people approach. But to approach us. To seek and to find us wherever we're stuck or scared, lost or hiding, wondering or wandering. To find us and walk the road alongside us, showing us the way home. Our eternal home, that He's preparing for us even now.**

On this side of the Cross, every month is like the month of ElulBecause the King is still in the field. Drawing us to Himself with compassion through His Spirit. Lingering in the fields, until that final day. Not wanting anyone to miss their moment to join Him. To enter the sanctuary eternal at His side.

The King is in the field. 

*Learn more about God's 13 Attributes of Mercy

** John 14:2-3

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Sabbath Queen

A long time ago, my grandma said that we welcome the sabbath as a queen. I used to think this was just her special way of viewing the day of rest. But as it turns out, Judaism has been welcoming Queen Shabbat at least since Jesus walked our earth. Probably longer.

This royal title for the sabbath captured my attention recently. I was writing an article about Judaism's "farewell-to-shabbat" ritual (link below), and - to be honest - I hadn't thought about this majestic moniker in ages. But when I ran across it - in my grandma's cookbook, no less - it stirred my curiosity, and I leaned in to learn more. Now I'm in absolute awe of the whole thing, as both a Jew and a Jesus-follower.

The way it all started is fascinating. So I'll start at the beginning. The very beginning. The seventh day. 

That very first day of divine rest was so significant, that God commanded us to observe it, too. Observe it like Him, and with Him. Each and every week, this day of rest marks the separation of the ordinary and the holy, the secular and the sacred. And in Judaism, we welcome this day of rest with joy and thanksgiving and a celebratory meal - in the same way that the ancients welcomed monarchs into their midst. And so "Queen Shabbat" became a personification of this sacred majesty among us each sabbath.

But that's just the beginning. 

You see, Jewish tradition explains that, after the sin in the garden, God withdrew His physical presence as the world became fractured and broken. But in His grace, on every sabbath, God's Shekinah - His Spirit - tangibly descends into our homes while we abide in His holy rest. Queen Shabbat became known as the one who accompanied the Spirit down from heaven. During Shabbat, she is crowned by the people's prayers (which she later carries back up to heaven) and in return, she adorns us with restoration as we rest in God's Spirit.

No wonder we welcome Queen Shabbat like royalty! She heralds the arrival of God's Shekinah into our very own homes. Bringing the Spirit to sojourn with us as we rest and worship. It sounds mystical, I know. But my shoulders relax and I exhale in wonder just picturing and pondering it. And isn't that what we are supposed to do as we enter holy rest? To rest and to  wonder and to marvel at the King of Heaven.

Now, mind you, we don't only welcome Queen Shabbat with great fanfare, we also make a fuss over ushering her back toward heaven as the sabbath slips away. It's called Melevah Malchah, literally "escorting the queen," and it is a parade of the senses, filled with music and food and light and beauty. 

In fact, we say goodbye to Queen Sabbath with an even greater flourish than when she arrived. Not because we're happy to see her go, but because we want the queen to know how much we treasured the Spirit dwelling with us. And how desperately we want her to return with the Spirit to rest with us once again. And we want the heavens to hear that we have celebrated sabbath rest. Not because we were commanded to, but because we delighted to.

Yet Queen Shabbat won't always leave. Because the teaching is that, when the Messiah arrives, Shabbat will descend and the Spirit will be be reunited permanently with God's people. And everything will be shabbat. Perfect and eternal rest and peace. Shalom.

Breathtaking. Literally. I literally caught my breath when I read about this teaching.

Because I know that the Messiah did arrive. He descended not just for a day, and not in a mystical, symbolic way. Jesus became the tangible personification of the sabbath among us. Shalom with flesh on. Born into humanity to show all of us the way to eternal rest. 

And then, when the resurrected Messiah ascended back into heaven, unlike Queen Shabbat whisking the Spirit back up with her, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down to dwell with us. Not only for one day each week, but for every single day. And not simply to dwell among us, but to dwell within us. Forever. To rest, yes. But also to personally guide and teach and correct and encourage as we wander through this world. And to secure our deposit for that one day when the Messiah returns and all will be Sabbath. Eternal shalom. 

Until that glorious day, we are still called to enter into God's rest each week. To experience His Presence untethered from the stressors of our everyday lives. Breathing in the Father's grace. Celebrating the One who restores. Experiencing a foretaste of when everything will be sabbath. Yearning for that day when the Messiah will arrive once and for all, when God's tangible presence will dwell in our midst forever. Shabbat shalom for eternity...

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Saturday, June 4, 2022

Pentecost: The Countdown

"Pentecost" by Pierre Raymond

One reason I love being in a liturgical church is that we celebrate Easter for an entire season. Not just a day, not just a weekend, not even just a full Passion week. But an entire season - fifty days. From Resurrection Day all the way to the anniversary of receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

As a new believer, when I discovered that the church had tied Easter and Pentecost together in this purposeful way, my Jewish brain was astounded. And excited. And affirmed. Because it showed me that the early Christian church – at its core – had established itself firmly in its Jewish roots. Even though most people today don’t realize it.

You see, Pentecost – or Shavuot, as it’s called in Hebrew – is inextricably tied to Passover. It doesn’t actually have its own specific date. It’s simply “fiftieth” (pentecost) or “weeks” (shavuot): i.e., the fiftieth day – or seven weeks – after Passover. So every year, on the day after the Passover sabbath, everyone starts counting down. Ticking off every single day after a prayer at sundown. Looking toward that fiftieth day, when God had instructed people to offer their harvest tithe in Jerusalem. All the while, still eyeing Passover in the rearview mirror: thirty-nine days since Passover, forty days since Passover, forty-one days since Passover… Tethered together, Passover and Shavuot create an entire season.

But why the fiftieth day? What’s so special about that number?

Sure, the end of the grain harvest falls around then, which definitely fits the feast's harvest tithe purpose. But why fifty days? Why not forty-five or fifty-two? Why not six weeks? Why even tie the harvest tithe to Passover at all? None of the other feasts are scheduled this way. Why not give Shavuot a specific date on the calendar? 

Why? Because the fiftieth day wasn’t just about the grain harvest. And it wasn’t arbitrary. At all. The fiftieth day – as is often taught – completes Passover.

You see, way back in the desert wilderness, on the fiftieth day after the Exodus rescue, God gave His people the Law at Mount Sinai. There was thunder and lightning and covenant making. On the very first Passover, the people were freed from something, and then on the fiftieth day they were freed to something – to some One.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God…” Exodus 6:6-7 NIV

The fiftieth day completed God’s Passover promise. He didn’t just to release the Israelites from bondage into the wilderness only to strike it out on their own. He adopted them as His own treasured people. Not only ransomed and freed, but also loved and covenanted.

It seems to me that Passover was the dramatic engagement, and then the fiftieth day was the wedding. By establishing Shavuot on that very same fiftieth day, the Groom reminds us that He gives us Himself, and everything that He is and that He does: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. And we, the Bride, bring the fruits of those gifts. 

It seems like a beautiful picture of marriage – our own personal covenant with God and also our marriages on earth: it’s the melding together of giving and receiving and bearing fruit as we abide in one another.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” John 15:4a NIV

Shavuot completes Passover. Gives it purpose and joy and fruitfulness. And never was this more so than during that fateful year in first-century Jerusalem. In fact, when I first realized that the Pentecost feast of Acts 2 was the same annual Shavuot feast of my Judaism, I was absolutely overwhelmed. Let me set the stage for you, so you’ll understand why. 

The very first tick of the Shavuot/Pentecost countdown happens the morning after the Passover sabbath. According to God’s instructions, everyone presented the first sheaf of their harvest to a priest, who then waved it toward heaven on their behalf. Then the people offered a lamb without blemish. So, what this means – in the aftermath of the Cross – is that when everyone was raising their firstfruits to heaven and offering their lambs without blemish, The Lamb without blemish was being raised as the firstfruits of the grave!

And yet, none of them had any idea of the revolution taking place in the garden tomb. Even as they obeyed the barley sheaf command, Jesus’ followers were bewildered and grieving. And every single pilgrim in Jerusalem - regardless of their thoughts about Jesus – was probably preoccupied with the violent spectacle of the rabbi’s crucifixion, right in their midst. And so, lost in their thoughts and emotions and ritual offerings, everyone was oblivious to the glorious spectacle unfolding quietly in the garden. The contrast is absolutely breathtaking.

But there was more. And it’s one of the things I love most about the tethering together of Passover and Shavuot, of Easter and Pentecost. Because, as the people began numbering their days that morning, they were not only oblivious to the trampling of death taking place down the road. They were also absolutely unaware of the fullness they would experience on the day their countdown reached its completion. Instead, on that first countdown day in Jerusalem – and for the next forty-nine – God’s people simply thought they were numbering their days until the pilgrimage back to the Temple, their grain tithes in hand. Just like they did every single year.

But God knew they weren’t just counting down to what they people would give to Him. He knew they were counting down to the extravagance they would receive from Him. The Holy Spirit. Within them. And I have to imagine that all of heaven was bursting with excitement as they listened to families counting down every night, each sunset drawing them one day closer to Joel’s prophecy becoming reality.

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days... Joel 2:28-29 NIV

On the actual anniversary of the day God shared the Law on tablets of stone, the Holy Spirit came and placed the Law on people’s hearts. On the day God's people commemorated His thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, He enveloped them with wind and fire on Mount Zion.

Faithful Jews had been planning and anticipating that very day for seven weeks. Every night they’d checked off the date and prayed. Every day they’d tended to their fields and their tithe. Yet they were counting down to something so much greater than the annual tithe. God had something in store that was beyond anything they knew to even imagine or ask. And the reality is that what He ultimately has in store for us is beyond anything we can even imagine or ask.

And so, as I think about that incredibly unexpected Pentecost countdown, I’m in awe of a God who is more intentional than I can possibly imagine. A God whose plans are for my eternal flourishing – even when my tunnel vision seeks momentary flourishing within my own perspectives. A God who refuses to abandon me to that place, because He has an abundance in mind that I can't conceive. And I’m also convicted to hold my own personal countdowns loosely, with an attitude of humility and wonder and worship.

This year, that fiftieth day – Shavuot – begins this evening, June 4. And so, in the spirit of Jewish Pentecost tradition, I leave you with the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May He make His face shine on you and be gracious to you;

May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

Amen & amen.

{for a Pentecost recipe from my grandma, check out the newsletter at getrevue.co}