May 5, 2022
How quickly time flies! No sooner does the calendar year of 2022 begin than we find ourselves approaching the halfway point! Each year, after observing the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, we begin the process of registering for the Feast of Tabernacles. This year that began on May 1. Registration puts us in the Feast mood, and it seems that for the rest of the year, the passage of time only accelerates. Within a few months, the Feast will be here!
I hope all of you had a wonderful and meaningful Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. One thing that stood out for me this year was how much we had missed all being together. I have heard from many of our pastors that this year saw our highest in-person attendance since the holy days of 2019. That is three years ago! Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread to some extent were quite different over the past two years—2020 and 2021. And 2020 was truly unusual, when, for the first time in my memory, we all kept the Passover in our homes. It was a moving and inspirational service for my wife and me, but it still left me feeling a bit empty. Not because of the service or the meaning of the evening. Those were just as weighty, but the absence of people left a void for me.
This year was my 54th Passover. I remember as a young boy growing up in northeastern Arkansas and watching my parents prepare to travel to Memphis for this mysterious service. I was not allowed to attend, but they dressed up and took wash basins and towels with them. I knew from Scripture what the service was like to some extent, but never having attended a Passover service, I didn’t really know until I was baptized in 1969.
The service itself is conducted according to the same format each year. We follow Christ’s example by washing each other’s feet, then we partake of the bread and then the wine. We end the service with a hymn and then we go to our homes to reflect on what we have just done. The Passover service is the most solemn service of the year, followed the next night by the most celebratory time of the year, the Night to Be Much Observed.
As we finished the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread this year with “normal services,” I was reminded of a sermonette I heard during the Feast about “why it is important for us to be together.” And I also reflected on a sermon given by Clyde Kilough on this subject that was played in all congregations before the Passover this year. The sermonette and the sermon made the point that while Hebrews 10:25 is an important scripture and one used quite often to encourage us to make the effort to be at Sabbath services each week, we need to read the whole section for the context, beginning with verse 24. Notice what this section actually says to us: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
This is one long sentence, but it has a common theme or idea. Notice that in this one sentence the term one another is used twice. This term is often used by the apostle Paul throughout his writings when he encourages the members to “be kind to one another” and “forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32) and to “love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9) and “greet one another” (1 Corinthians 16:20).
This expression one another has a special meaning for the Church, and it describes in two simple words the idea of one body and one family, where our focus is on God first, but then on one another. How we treat each other says a lot about our own Christianity. So, when you put these verses together, you see the importance of being together on Sabbaths and holy days. This, to me, is what made this year’s festivals so encouraging.
We have been seeing our in-person attendance slowly rising over the past several months, but that trend seemed to accelerate during this recently completed festival season. I was also pleased to see the response to the in-person collection of the holy day offering. Even though we still offered the online option for the offering, approximately 80 to 90 percent of the members gave their offerings in person on the two holy days of Unleavened Bread this year. The Church made the determination several years ago that giving an offering online was not a violation of the instruction in Deuteronomy 16:16 to “not appear before the LORD empty-handed.” But for many, there is still something special about bringing one’s offering to services and giving it there. Both options are fine, but there is much tradition and history connected to the in-person offering.
I also want to thank all of you for the generosity that you showed during this festival season. I don’t have all the statistics from the U.S. congregations, but the early indications are that we had a record year for the offerings on the two holy days. Your generosity is not new. Throughout the pandemic, you have all been very generous, giving the Church the wonderful opportunity of paying off two mortgages and expanding the preaching of the gospel by a full 30 percent in one year alone! In spite of the darkness in this world, we have a most encouraging future for doing the work of God!
Now back to Hebrews 10:24-25. In order to exhort one another to love and good works, we need to be together. Of course, we can exhort someone with a card or a phone call, but there is nothing more effective than being with others on a weekly basis. Over the years, it has been rare for me to attend a church service in which I didn’t learn something new about someone—a particular trial, an exciting event or just a change in life events. We have prayer requests every week, but they only scratch the surface of what people are going through. I am sure there are many people like me, who would be reluctant to turn in a prayer request but find it heartwarming to share their lives with others at a church service.
Brethren, I deeply hope the trend of returning to “normal” church services will continue in the weeks and months ahead. We have another exciting holy day coming up in a few weeks—the Day of Pentecost—followed a few weeks later by the final four festivals of the year—Trumpets, Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day. After this year’s Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, I feel rejuvenated and ready for the rest of the year.
Time has a way of getting away from us all. Let’s reflect on this year’s holy days and look forward to the ones coming up. Being together is truly something special and must never be taken for granted! I look forward to seeing many of you on one of my future church visits.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,