“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets,
a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it;
and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’” (Leviticus 23:23-25)
There is very little spoken of in the Bible regarding what is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. Part of the problem in understanding this celebration, commonly called Rosh Hoshanah (which literally means “head of the year”), is that in Judaism there are several different “new years.” In fact, the term Rosh Hoshanah is not used in the Bible at all. In Leviticus 23, this great Fall feast (one of three) is referred to as the Feast of Trumpets. On this holy day, there was to be a sabbath rest and a gathering of the people. The trumpet (shofar, ram’s horn) was used as the instrument to call God’s people together for a holy convocation. There would also be an offering made by fire to the Lord—something described more in Numbers 29:1-6. Again, very little else is known about this day, but it is worth considering as we gather this coming Lord’s Day on the first day of our new year. Admittedly, there is very little correlation between our celebration of the new year and what the ancient Jewish people observed on this holy day. Rosh Hoshanah occurred in October this year and will take place in late September, 2017.
As is true with most Old Testament Jewish holy days, traditions over the years have been added to the biblical account, thereby obscuring the true meaning of what God intended. In many cases, these extra-biblical traditions are not necessarily wrong, they simply take away from God’s intention. For instance, one tradition is the eating of apples dipped in honey which symbolizes the people’s wish for a sweet new year. Certainly, as Christians, we can relate to the desire for a new year to be filled with the sweetest of God’s blessings! Another practice that has come to be part of Rosh Hoshanah is called “casting off.” During this time a person walks by a body of flowing water and casts small pieces of bread into the water symbolizing the casting off of one’s sins. Here, one’s sins are figuratively washed away downstream. This practice of unknown origin surely finds its fulfillment in Christ by Whose blood our sins are washed away. I am also reminded of the passage from Psalm 103 which speaks about our sins being removed as far as the east is from the west (verses 11, 12), or the passage from Micah 7:19 which speaks of God casting our sins into the depths of the sea. Of course, these great truths can only be accomplished by God—not us! No mere tradition, no matter how sincere, can take away our sins. As Christians, what we remember during this time when one year moves into another, is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross by which God is able to forgive all our sins and gives us grace in 2017 to walk in that newness of life to which He has called us in Christ.
And so, what are we to make as Christians of this Old Testament celebration of the Feast of Trumpets? Where do we find its fulfillment in Christ as we’ve learned before that all such feasts eventually do? The answer to that question is not to be found in extra-biblical traditions, but in the original intent of God in the feast itself. Rosh Hoshanah focused on the gathering of God’s people in holy convocation through the blowing of a trumpet. When we turn to the New Testament, we find two main places where God calls or gathers His people together by the blowing of a trumpet. In the book of 1 Thessalonians (4:15-17), the Apostle Paul was seeking to comfort the believers there when he wrote to them: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” We find this same theme in another place where the Apostle presents one of the strongest defenses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its implications for our own resurrection as those united to Him by faith (1 Corinthians 15:51-53): “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” In both cases, the Apostle Paul reminds us that Rosh Hoshanah, the feast given by God to celebrate the head of a new year, finds its fulfillment in the return of Christ which marks the head of eternity—never ending time when we will all be with the Lord forever!
And so, as we gather this coming Lord’s Day which marks in our calendars the head of a new year, we have the great and rare privilege to come together in worship before Word and Sacrament, the primary means of His grace. Prepare yourself to come to this holy convocation, though you hear no trumpet call. We commit ourselves to Him at the head of a new year, not knowing what it holds for each of us but trusting the One Who is King and Ruler over all time and eternity. And as we sit before Christ at His Table, we are reminded of the day coming soon when the trumpet of God will sound marking the head of eternity, and He will gather all His people together and we will all be with the Lord forever! May the Lord richly bless you this new year and always, until time gives way to eternity where we will enjoy the glories of His riches forever and ever. Amen!
In the Name of Christ, Who will appear at the sounding of the trumpet,
Pastor Ted Trefsgar