It is commonly believed today that the Jewish festival of Shavuot and the Christian holy day of Pentecost have little, if anything, to do with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the two are actually the same holiday, albeit with varying traditions and an extended interpretation on the Christian side.
Even the name Pentecost (literally "the 50th [day]") is a reference to one of the key components of Shavuot -- the counting of 50 days from Passover, known in the Jewish world as the "counting of the omer." Just as Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Pentecost is marked exactly 50 days after Easter, and we have already written about Easter's close connection to Passover and the notion that Jesus and his disciples were most likely enjoying a Passover seder prior to his crucifixion.
The theme of Pentecost is also a kind of extension of the Shavuot theme, which is a celebration of the giving of the Torah (God's Word) to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christians believe that Jesus is the "Word made flesh" (John 1:14) and Pentecost is the moment following Jesus' death and resurrection when that word was spiritually implanted in the hearts of his followers.
So, does it make sense for Christians to celebrate the biblical festival of Shavuot in addition to (or even in place of) Pentecost?
Sharon Sanders, co-director of Christians Friends of Israel, believes so, considering that Shavuot is the version of the holiday actually ordained by God.
"I remember well my childhood growing up in a traditional church where we celebrated only Easter and Christmas as set by the historical church. I had no idea God actually established ‘appointed times' for those in His great assembly," Sanders told Travelujah. "It is unfortunate that many churches overlook the significance of the three main festivals God speaks clearly about in His Word; namely, Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot."
Today, Sanders lives in Israel and, like many Christians living in the Holy Land, actively participates in celebrating Shavuot with Jewish friends.
"I am thrilled to be able to celebrate Shavuot with the Jewish people," said Sanders. "I love celebrating the festivals of God in Israel because more emphasis is put on times of gladness, joy and fellowship with one another rather than commercialism and self-indulgence that so often comes with other festivals. Shavuot for me, as a Christian, is special because the Book of Ruth is read, a beautiful story about God's redemptive love."
Like many Christian ministers urging a return to the biblical, Hebraic foundation of the Christian faith, Sanders believes that Christians "will surely find a new awareness of the power of the Spirit of God" by becoming aware of and partaking in His appointed feasts. And there is no better place to do that than in Israel.
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Publication date: May 24, 2012