If you know someone who is Jewish, or if you were brought up in a Jewish home, you know that the Jewish New Year actually begins in the Fall, on Rosh HaShannah. But wait, in Lev. 23, Rosh HaShannah (the Feast of Trumpets) is “the first day of the seventh month.” How can the first day of the seventh month be the beginning of a new year?
Actually, in Judaism there are many new years, just as in America there are many new years. Jews celebrate a new year for trees at Tu B’Shevat (see the January issue of The Burning Bush in our archives), a new year for the tithing of animals in Elul (just before the celebration of Rosh HaShanah) and of course, in Exodus 12, in the Passover narrative, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” That is Nissan and on the 10th day of Nissan we take the lamb into our homes to be cared for until the 14th day , when they are sacrificed.” Everything is counted from Nissan 1, as the first month, but the years are advanced at Rosh HaShannah at 1 Tishri.
In America we mark new years as fiscal years, school years, and calendar years. But, January seems the wrong time to celebrate a new year…gray skies, cold temps, short days (at least here in St. Louis), all three make for a season that makes you long for a truly new year, which in my mind begins in March! Maybe even March 17 to be precise!
But this nice long season between Christmas and Lent (longer this year than most) is a good time to stay inside, get reorganized and catch up on some much needed planning. Yesterday, my daughter and I sat down to begin planning worship services and the festival calendar for 2011. As I looked at my calendar, I realized how much I will be traveling in March and April. So many Passover Seders, and so few weeks to do them in. Of course, it is during the season of Lent that many churches want me to come and celebrate a Passover Seder with them, and most churches who want to schedule a Seder with me do it a year in advance. And suddenly, January seemed like a great time to celebrate a new year, because if gives us a runway to run on before we need to take off. (And I just received a phone call from a pastor in rural Nebraska who wants to do a circuit-wide Seder this year…the only time available is the last week in February, before Lent even begins. The season is getting shorter!)
In our climate, the “outreach season” is March to November. Of course, we continue to try to spark conversations in coffee houses and malls around St. Louis, but nothing matches getting out in nice weather and talking to strangers about Jesus. Fortunately, our Florida/Georgia branches have a different climate and a different schedule, but the same is true, regardless of the time of year, we want to get out and talk to people. But Seders are also great opportunities to share the gospel with your friends and neighbors. Check out our calendar and see if there is a Seder happening in your community, call the church and make reservations. Our congregation’s Seder is always on Palm Sunday, and it would not be too soon to make reservations for that, if you’d like to attend and bring a friend. And if nothing is happening around you, make it happen next year. Just call the office and let’s talk. I would love to come and celebrate Passover with you next year!
And of course, Purim is late this year too but you can have a great Purim party at your church with very little planning and it’s a lot of fun! Purim falls during Lent on March 19 and it is a great time to share the gospel through the little read book of Esther. Give me a call and I’ll tell you how.