Showing posts with label #Time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Time. Show all posts

Easter.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 March 2024

On 5 April 33, before the sun rose at 5:23 a.m. in Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Executed less than 48 hours before, he became the first human on earth to be resurrected.

Jesus died the day before Passover. This was deliberate. This way his death would fulfill many of the Passover rituals. Because of this relationship to Passover, many Christians actually call this day some variation of the Hebrew פֶּסַח/Pesákh, “Passover.” In Greek and Latin (and Russian), it’s Pascha; in Danish Påske, Dutch Pasen, French Pâques, Italian Pasqua, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk.

But in many Germanic-speaking countries, including English, we use the ancient pagan word for April, Eostur. In German this becomes Ostern; in English Easter. Because of the pagan origins of this word, certain Christians avoid it and just call the day “Resurrection Sunday.” Which is fine, but confuses non-Christians who don’t realize why we’re acting like a bunch of snowflakes.

Easter is our most important holiday. Christmas tends to get the world’s focus (and certainly that of merchants), but it’s only because Christmas doesn’t stretch their beliefs too far. Everybody agrees Jesus was born. We only differ on details. But Easter is about how Jesus rose from the dead, and that’s a sticking point for a whole lot of pagans. They don’t buy it.

They don’t even like it: When they die, they wanna go to heaven and stay there. Resurrection? Coming back? In a body? No no no. And we’ll even find Christians who agree with them: They’ll claim Jesus didn’t literally return from death, but exists in some super-spiritual ghostly form which returned to heaven. And that’s where we’ll go too: Heaven. No resurrection; not necessary. Yes it’s a heretic idea, but a popular one.

So to pagans, Easter’s a myth. It’s a nice story about how we Christians think Jesus came back from the dead, but it comes from ancient times, back when people believed anyone could come back from the dead if they knew the right magic spell. Really it’s just a metaphor for spring, new life, rebirth; just like eggs and baby chicks and bunnies. They’ll celebrate that. With chocolate, fancy hats, brunch, and maybe an egg hunt.

But to us Christians, Easter’s no myth. It happened. It validates Jesus; without it we’d have no clue whether he was just one of many great moral teachers, or someone to seriously bet our lives upon. It proves he’s everything he said he is. Proved it for the first Christians, who risked (and suffered) fearful deaths for him. Proves it for today’s Christians, some of whom do likewise.

Holy Week: When Jesus died.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 March 2024

Today is Palm Sunday, the start of what we Christians call Holy Week. It’s also called Great Week, Greater Week, Holy and Great Week, Passion Week, Easter Week (by those people who consider Easter the end of the week), and various other titles. It remembers the week Jesus died.

It took place 9–17 Nisan 3793 in the Hebrew calendar. In the Julian calendar that’d be 29 March to 4 April of the year 33.

DAYDATEJESUS’S ACTIVITY
PALM
SUNDAY.
9 Nisan 3793
29 March 33
Jesus enters Jerusalem; the crowds say Hosanna. Mk 11.1-11, Mt 21.1-11, Lk 19.28-44, Jn 12.12-19
HOLY
MONDAY.
10 Nisan 3793
30 March 33
Jesus cleanses the temple of merchants; curses the fig tree. Mk 11.12-18, Mt 21.12-19, Lk 19.45-46, Jn 2.13-17
HOLY
TUESDAY.
11 Nisan 3793
31 March 33
Jesus teaches in temple. Lk 19.47-48, 21.37
HOLY
WEDNESDAY.
12 Nisan 3793
1 April 33
Still teaching in temple.
MAUNDY
THURSDAY.
13 Nisan 3793
2 April 33
The last supper; Jesus washes his students’ feet. Mk 14.12-26, Mt 26.17-30, Lk 22.7-39, Jn 13.1-14.30
GOOD
FRIDAY.
14 Nisan 3793
3 April 33
Jesus is arrested, tried, condemned, executed, and entombed. Mk 14.27-15.47, Mt 26.31-27.61, Lk 22.40-23.56, Jn 15.1-19.42
HOLY
SATURDAY.
15 Nisan 3793
4 April 33
Sabbath and Passover while Jesus lays dead. Pilate orders a guard for the tomb. Mt 27.62-66, Lk 23.56

And the week had started so well….

Of course Jesus rose on Sunday the 5th, the day Christians now designate as Easter.

Different Christians observe Holy Week in different ways, depending on custom. The churches I grew up in, usually had a somber service on Good Friday, and a just-as-somber service on Easter Sunday, ’cause they usually had some sort of passion play where most of the service was focus was on Jesus getting killed. Lots of weeping. Lots of repentance and conversions. Happy ending, ’cause Jesus is alive, but the focus was more on him dying for our sins. Lots of churches tend to focus on the sad bits, ’cause we humans get depressing like that.

But many churches—properly—spend Holy Week on the sad bits, and Easter Sunday and the weeks thereafter rejoicing. Because Jesus is alive.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 March 2024

Pádraig of Ireland, whom we know as St. Patrick or St. Paddy, died 17 March 493. The ond custom is to celebrate saints’ days not on their birthday (which sometimes even they didn’t know), but on the day they died and went to paradise. So, happy St. Patrick’s Day.

In the United States, Irish Americans (and pretty much everyone else, ’cause the more the merrier) treat the day as a celebration of Irish culture. Thing is, Americans know bupkis about actual Irish culture. We barely know the difference between an Irish accent, a Scots accent, and a Yorkshire accent. What we do know is Guinness and Jameson—though we’ll settle for anything alcoholic, including beer filled with green food coloring. Me, I used to love McDonald’s “shamrock shakes,” though the last time I had one I found it way too sweet for my liking. It’s because they take an already-sugary vanilla shake, then add sugary green mint stuff. Oreos help, but I still much prefer adding mint and vanilla to a Starbucks Frappuccino.

Most American customs consist of drinking, eating stereotypical Irish food like corned beef and potatoes, parades in which the religious participants express varying degrees of outrage at all the irreligious participants, and all sorts of Irish distortions—some of ’em unknowingly offensive. British Americans used to treat Irish Americans like crap, bringing over their prejudices from the old country, and some of that hatred is still around. I have a few Irish ancestors myself (although way more of ’em are German, Dutch, and Scots), so I’ve not experienced that prejudice firsthand. But I have witnessed it.

Oh, and wearing green. American custom is to wear green, lest someone pinch you. But the color actually comes from the political struggle between the predominantly Protestant monarchists, and the predominantly Catholic socialists. Much like Americans use red and blue to signify party affiliation, the Irish use green and orange. And whenever we Americans wear green, we unwittingly declare we’re in favor of socialism and Catholicism. Now, as Americans you would think this is because we’re anti-monarchy (even though some Americans would be perfectly happy to anoint their favorite candidate as king), but really it’s because we don’t know any better and the socialists were very successful in publicizing green. If I gotta pick a color though, it’d be orange; I’m Protestant. Nothing against my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers! Like I said it’s if I gotta pick a color. I risk getting pinched over it, but I still prefer an informed choice over unthinkingly following the crowd.

If you’re Catholic, six years out of seven, St. Patrick’s Day custom is to beg your local bishop for a day off from Lenten fasting. ’Cause you don’t fast on Sunday, so in 2024 you automatically get a day off from Lent. Other years, saint’s days aren’t automatically feast days, so you just gotta hope your bishop hasn’t had it up to here with all the Catholics-in-name-only who are gonna take the day off regardless, and misbehave.

In any event, for Americans our holidays aren’t really about serious remembrance, but having a good time. Which really annoys our veterans every Veterans Day. Now imagine how Patrick feels, with people celebrating his day by puking into moonroofs.

The very, very little which popular culture knows about Patrick, is…

  • He drove snakes out of Ireland. (He actually didn’t.)
  • He liked to use shamrocks to explain trinity. (Badly.)
  • He once turned his walking stick into a tree. (Actually, people don’t know that story so well.)
  • He’s “a Catholic saint.” (Patrick predates Roman Catholicism by about 250 years, which is why Patrick’s also a saint in the Orthodox Church, same as St. Nicholas.)

And that’s about it. Some stories about Patrick are also borrowed from the life of Bishop Palladius—whom the bishop of Rome, Celestine 1, sent to evangelize Ireland a few decades before Patrick came to Ireland. So those aren’t legit Patrick stories. People tell ’em anyway.

When in doubt, go to the historical sources. So below, I’ve provided the Confession of St. Patrick, his testimony. Comes from James O’Leary’s translation. Scripture references and minor edits were added by me.

St. Valentine’s Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 February 2024

As you should know, saints days are usually the day a saint died.

In Roman Catholic thinking, this’d be the day the Christian actually became a saint, ’cause now there’s no chance whatsoever of them ever quitting Jesus—why would you, now that you’ve been with him in heaven?—so their sainthood is absolutely a done deal. Whereas those of us on earth: Meh. You’re Christian now; we don’t yet know how well you’ll hold up when the poo-poo really hits the fan. ’Cause some of those people back in Roman Empire times who could’ve been martyred saints, as soon as the Romans even threatened to smack ’em around a little, they quickly denounced Jesus and promised to worship the Emperor. So much for their sainthood.

So… how well might you hold up under persecution? Heck, in a country where Christians don’t even get persecuted (except in their own minds), how well might you hold up even when you’re simply suffering? ’Cause plenty of people seem to have a rather low breaking point. Parents die?—even though everybody’s parents die?—quit Jesus. Not cured of whatever ailment you really wanna be cured of?—quit Jesus. Don’t get that job you were convinced God was gonna grant you?—quit Jesus. One of the pastors quietly suggested next Sunday you might experiment with underarm deodorant?—quit Jesus. If these triggers are starting to sound stupid… well, some people get triggered by the pettiest things. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me” Mt 16.24 doesn’t appeal to a culture which denies itself nothing.

But I digress, ’cause today I’m gonna write about the martyr St. Valentine.

Of course the tricky part is which one. There have been many Christians named Valentinus, and some of them lived and died for Jesus, and back in antiquity some bishop decided to give one of them his very own feast day. In the west, bishop Gelasius 1 of Rome fixed it on 14 February. But which Valentinus is this day about? Well, we don’t know.

Well we don’t. This is one of those facts that’s been lost in antiquity. We don’t know anything about St. Valentine. Jesus does, ’cause Valentinus is one of his. That, I suppose, is what counts most.

We know of five ancient Christian martyrs with the name Valentinus. Three in particular, but really any of the five—or in fact none of them—could be the guy with the feast day. There’s no saying for certain. I don’t care which historian you’ve read who claims, “Oh it’s definitely this Valentinus”—it’s not definite at all. We don’t know. Unless some archaeologist finally gets hold of a document in which some bishop first proclaims a St. Valentine’s Day, we’re not gonna know. Some things in the universe are just gonna remain unknowns. Deal with it.

The five Valentinuses are:

  1. A presbyter who served in Rome, buried on the Flaminian Way in the late 200s. Orthodox Christians observe his feast day on 6 July.
  2. A bishop of Interamna (now Terni, in central Italy), killed during a trip to Rome in the year 269. The church of Terni claims this Valentinus died on 14 February, and he’s the St. Valentine… but of course they would. Orthodox Christians observe his feast day on 30 July.
  3. A member of a missionary team to north Africa (today’s Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya), who were all killed at once, and that’s everything we know about him.
  4. A bishop of Passau, who later became a hermit in northern Italy, and died in 475.
  5. A bishop of Genoa, who died in 295.

St. Valentine’s Day was part of the official Roman calendar till 1955, when Pope Pius 12 decided to consolidate a bunch of saints. Of course by then it was already part of popular culture. Medieval Christians had decided St. Valentine, whoever he was, was the patron saint of romantic love, and invented a few legends about how he secretly performed Christian weddings for couples, enraging the emperor, who had him killed for that, not for Jesus. Greeting card manufacturers of course spread the story he used to cut heart-shaped pieces of parchment and give them to other persecuted Christians to remind them of God’s love; which is also likely bogus, but it gives schoolchildren something nice to write about in their St. Valentine’s Day essays.

Ash Wednesday: Lent begins.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 February 2024

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. It’s the first day of the Lenten fast. It gets its name from the western custom of putting ashes on our heads. What’s with the ashes? It comes from bible: Ashes were used to ritually purify sinners. Nu 19.9 So it’s to repeat that custom.

Varoius Christians figure it also comes from the ancient middle eastern custom of putting ashes on one’s head when grieving. 2Sa 13.19, Jb 2.8 What’re we grieving? Well, Easter comes after Holy Week, when Jesus died, so they’re kinda grieving Jesus’s death. Even though he’s alive now, their emphasis is his horrible suffering and death, and they mourn that. Lent is one of the ways they mourn that. So, ashes.

Thing is… in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us when we’re fasting not to broadcast it.

Matthew 6.16-18 NRSVue
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look somber, like the hypocrites, for they mark their faces to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

In many churches ashes are ritually sprinkled on one’s head, but in English-speaking countries the custom is to use the ashes to draw a cross on Christians’ foreheads. I don’t know how pleased Jesus is with those of us who wear these crosses on our foreheads all day. I think he’d much rather we show off our devotion by being fruity.

But over the past decade, mainline Christians have started to use the forehead-cross thingy as an outreach tool. Instead of only doing the ritual in their church buildings, their pastors go to public places with ashes, and draw crosses on anyone who asks.

  • Sometimes they’re Christians who go, “Oh I forgot it’s Ash Wednesday; I’m gotta go get my ashes!”
  • Sometimes they’re Christians who didn’t grow up with this ritual: “Ash Wednesday? What’s that? Well I’m Christian, so I’m gonna get a cross too.”
  • Sometimes they’re Christian jerks: “Oh that’s a Catholic thing; that’s as good as paganism or sorcery; I’m not doing that.”
  • And sometimes they’re pagans who think they’re Christian, or pagans who wanna try something “spiritual.”

Regardless, the mainliners’ goal is to get more people to think about Jesus than usual. It does do that.

St. Stephen, and true martyrdom.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 December 2023

You may remember Στέφανος/Stéfanos “Stephen” from Acts 6-7. He’s not in the bible for very long, but he makes a big impact, ’cause he’s the first Christian to get killed for Jesus. Or martyred, as we put it, although properly martyrdom really only means giving one’s testimony. And hopefully not getting lynched for it.

Stephen’s feast day is actually today—26 December, the second day of Christmas. It’s the day good king Wenceslas looked down, if you know the Christmas carol; maybe you do. We have no idea whether Stephen literally died in December, much less whether it’s the 26th (or 27th, in eastern churches); it’s just where tradition happened to stick it. In some countries it’s an official holiday.

If you’ve read Acts, you know how he comes up. If not, I’ll recap.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, tithes weren’t money, but food. Every year you took 10 percent of your firstfruits and celebrated with it, Dt 14.22-27 and every third year you gave it to the needy. Dt 14.28-29 Apparently the first Christians took on this duty of distributing tithes to the needy. But they were accused of favoring Aramaic-speaking Christians over Greek-speaking ones, Ac 6.1 so the Twelve had the church elect seven Greek-speakers to make sure the Greek-speakers were served properly. Ac 6.2-3 Stephen was first in this list, and Acts’ author Luke pointedly called him full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Ac 6.5 full of God’s grace and power. Ac 6.8 Definitely a standout.

The first church still only consisted of Jews. Christianity was a Judean religion—the obvious difference between Christians and Pharisees being we believe Jesus is Messiah, and they believed Messiah hadn’t yet come. Otherwise the first Christians still went to temple and synagogue. It was in synagogue where Stephen got into trouble: The people of his synagogue dragged him before the Judean senate to accuse him of slandering Moses, temple, and the LORD. Custom made slandering Moses and the temple serious, but slandering the LORD coulda got you the death penalty… if the Romans hadn’t forbidden the Judeans from enacting it. But as you know from Jesus’s case, they could certainly get the Romans to execute you for them. So Stephen was hauled before the senate to defend himself.

Unlike Jesus, who totally admitted he’s Messiah, Stephen defended himself. His defense was a bible lesson: He retold the history of Israel, up to the construction of the temple. Ac 7.2-47 Then he pointed out God doesn’t live in a building, of all the silly things. Ac 7.48-50 Oh, by the way, the senate was a bunch of Law-breakers who killed Christ. Ac 7.51-53

More than one person has pointed out it’s almost like Stephen was trying to get himself killed. Me, I figure he was young and overzealous and naïve, and had adopted the American myth (centuries before we Americans adopted it) that if you’re on God’s side, no harm will ever befall you. You can bad-mouth your foes, and God’s hedge of protection will magically defend you when they turn round and try to punch you in the head. You can leap from tall buildings, and angels will catch you. You know, like Satan tried to tempt Jesus with. Mt 4.5-7

And that’s not at all how things turned out.

Stephen’s martyrdom.

Seeing a vision of Jesus at God’s side, and utterly tone-deaf to how he’d enraged the senate, Stephen shared this vision. Ac 7.54-56 But shouting and plugging their ears (yep, exactly like a little kid who does this and yells, “Nah nah nah can’t hear you!”) the senators rushed him, dragged him out of the chamber, dragged him out of the city, and illegally stoned him to death. Ac 7.57-58

The Romans had made it illegal for anyone but Romans to enact the death penalty, remember? That’s why the senate had to go to Pontius Pilate to get Jesus executed. Jn 18.28-32 But lynch mobs don’t care about law. Likely there was later hell to pay with the Romans, but Luke never got into that.

In a stoning, the practice was to drop the victim off a cliff—which would kill you—then drop heavy stones down on the body. If falling didn’t kill you, the stones would finish the job. It’s not like movies depict it, where people just throw fist-size rocks at you till one of ’em finally cracks your skull.

Seems the fall didn’t kill Stephen, because Luke recorded his last words: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Ac 7.60 KJV Christians tend to self-righteously figure Stephen was in the right, so this was an act of grand forgiveness on his part. Me, I figure Stephen realized some of his own culpability in getting himself killed.

Either way he died, and Stephen’s death triggered the first serious persecution of Christians. It drove most of them out of Jerusalem, where the first church was headquartered. They began to spread Jesus wherever they went—throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Plus it brought Saul of Tarsus into the story as a persecutor—though after Jesus got hold of him and repurposed him into an apostle, we better know him by his Greek name Παῦλος/Pávlos, “Paul.”

To persecutors’ annoyance, they began to discover how killing Christians didn’t stop us from spreading. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” was a famous statement of second-century church father Tertullian of Carthage. Getting killed for Jesus makes heroes of us. People admire heroes.

Stephen’s death was a big deal because Stephen was a big deal. He “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Ac 6.8 KJV People knew him as a strong, dedicated Christian. His death made an impact because people knew his character.

Contrast this to how people presume martyrdom works. They figure the big deal, the huge impact, comes from making that dying confession; of claiming to trust Jesus right before some gun nut shoots you, or bravely defying the antichrists who threaten to torture the skin off you. Stephen wasn’t any such person. He laid down his life for Christ Jesus a long time before his martyrdom.

’Cause dying for Jesus requires us to live for Jesus. The life makes the witness. The death only draws attention to it.

Bad martyrdoms.

A dying or defiant declaration is the easy way out. You can actually go your whole life long without following Jesus whatsoever… but because you confess him on your deathbed, you imagine this’ll gain you sainthood.

And Christians with this kind of rotten, cheap-grace attitude are largely the reason we have rubbish martyrs throughout Christian history. There are loads of irreligious, may-as-well-be-pagan, lousy Christians who didn’t live for Jesus whatsoever, who assumed (as Christians still do) when we “die for him” it’s like a billion karmic points, and makes up for all our evil. Hey, since we gave our lives for the cause, it should count towards heaven, right?

True, getting killed for any cause—even a wrongheaded or evil cause, as we see with suicide bombers—means certain people are gonna see you as heroes. But don’t assume martyrdom automatically makes a Christian righteous. It doesn’t in the least. Loads of Christian martyrs didn’t die for Jesus so much as die due to their own ignorance, stubbornness, arrogance, and stupidity. Some of ’em were even mentally ill.

We actually see some of this in certain church fathers. Some of ’em pursued death for Jesus’s sake. Sought out persecutors. Did nothing to stop pagans from killing them. Sometimes ’cause they decided a quick death was far better than being sold into slavery, which was the more common punishment. Or—when they were old and gonna die anyway—they figured it was best to go out in a blaze of glory for Jesus. In some cases the Holy Spirit legitimately forewarned ’em they weren’t gonna survive their arrest, so they made peace with the idea and stepped into it. But ordinarily? Those who desire martyrdom have a screw loose.

The words μαρτυρέω/martyréo and μάρτυς/mártys are Greek for “witness.” Your martyrdom isn’t significant because you died for Jesus. It’s because before your death you lived for him.

Look at Stephen: He testified he knew Jesus, saw Jesus, and recognized Jesus as an important influence in his life. What made Stephen’s death relevant was how his short life reflected this relationship. Now if you aren’t known in life for having anything to do with Jesus—if in fact you’re a rotten bastard, and were hoping a glorious death in his name redeems you—it doesn’t; it won’t. People may not recognize hypocritical martyrs for their hypocrisy, but God certainly does. Means nothing to him.

Yep, it’s a mockery of martyrdom, just like the suicide bombers who think blowing themselves up in God’s name will make up for a lifetime of sin, and get them into heaven.

And we don’t even earn heaven! Even Islam, which those ignorant suicide bombers think they’re dying for, teaches this: We’re only saved because God is gracious. You want heaven? He’ll give you heaven, free. You don’t have to die for it; Jesus already did that!

Too many Christians figure we can be jerks and our powerful testimony makes up for it. Really, it doesn’t work that way at all. Anybody remember Samson ben Manoah as a great man of God? Nope; we only remember him for having long hair, for being strong and violent, and for being horny and stupid. You want history to remember you as dumbass who died because your girlfriend nagged you into exposing your biggest weakness? ’Cause that’s Samson’s testimony now; not his trust in God. He had it, but we seldom to never talk about it.

Another phenomenon I’ve seen is when Christians unexpectedly lose a loved one—a kid, a parent, a good friend, whatever—and try to convert the loved one’s death into a martyrdom. The kid got murdered, so the parents begin to claim (sometimes with evidence, sometimes with none whatsoever) the murderer was only out to kill Christians, and their kid died “standing up for Jesus.” Or a Christian’s on vacation, dies in a traffic accident, and because she’s a Christian in a foreign land somehow this gets bent into “she was on the mission field” somehow, and died “in the field.” As happens every time someone dies, all good deeds get eulogized, all sins get forgotten, and they’re made to sound as saintly as possible. True, deaths can be tragic, but swapping real people for fake versions and mourning that? People grieve and seek comfort all sorts of ways, but lies and delusion is hardly a healthy method.

Well. You don’t have to be killed for Jesus in order to be a martyr. Remember, the word means “witness.” Live for Jesus. Share your testimonies. Demonstrate his work and teachings in your life. And if our lives for Jesus happen to irritate others for no good reason, and get us killed, that’s a proper martyrdom.

Working people up till they kill you in a fit of rage? Arguably Stephen wasn’t a proper martyr either. But he’s our first, and he was otherwise a good guy, so he at least merits a day on the calendar.

The 12 days of Christmas.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 December 2023

Today’s the first day of Christmas. Happy Christmas!

After which there are 11 more days of it. 26 December—which is also Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day—tends to get called “the day after Christmas,” but it’s not. It’s the second day of Christmas.

The Sunday after Christmas (and in many years, including 2021, two Sundays after Christmas) is still Christmas. So I go to church and wish people a happy Christmas. And they look at me funny, till I remind them, “Christmas is 12 days, y’know. Like the song.”

Ah, the song. They sing it, but it never clicks what they’re singing about.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four calling birds, three french hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

We’re on the fourth day and that’s 20 frickin’ birds. There will be plenty more, what with the swans a-swimming and geese a-laying. Dude was weird for birds. But I digress.

There are 12 days of Christmas. But our culture focuses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day… and we’re done. Department store policy is to remove the Christmas merchandise on 26 December, and start putting up New Year’s and St. Valentine’s Day stuff. (If the Christmas stuff is already sold out, fill ’em with New Year’s stuff now.) So the stores grant us two days of Christmas; no more.

Really, many people can’t abide any more days of Christmas than that. When I remind people it’s 12 days, the response is seldom surprise, recognition, or pleasure. It’s tightly controlled rage. Who the [expletive noun] added 11 more days to this [expletive adjective] holiday? They want it done already.

I understand this. If the focus of Christmas isn’t Christ, but instead all the Christian-adjacent cultural traditions we’re forced to practice this time of year, Christmas sucks. Hard. Especially since Mammonists don’t bother to be like Jesus, and practice kindness and generosity. For them Christmas is about being a dick to any clerk who wishes ’em a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I don’t blame people for hating that behavior. Really, Christians should hate it. It’s works of the flesh, y’know.

Christmas, the feast of Christ Jesus’s nativity (from whence non-English speakers get their names for Christmas, like Navidad and Noël and Natale) begins 25 December and ends 5 January. What are we to do these other 11 days? Same as we were supposed to do Christmas Day: Remember Jesus. Meditate on his first coming; look forward to his second coming. And rejoice; these are feast days, so the idea is to actually enjoy yourself, and have a good time with loved ones. Eat good food. Hang out. Relax. Or, if you actually like to shop, go right ahead; but if you don’t, by all means don’t.

It’s a holiday. Take a holiday.

Hanukkah.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December 2023

The Hebrew lunisolar calendar doesn’t sync with the western solar calendar. That’s why its holidays tend to “move around”: They don’t really. Passover is always on the same day, 15 Nisan, but in our calendar it wobbles back and forth between March and April. Likewise Hanukkah is always on the same days, 25 Kislev to 2 Tevet. But in the western calendar, in 2023, this’d be sundown 7 December to sundown 15 December.

Christians sometimes ask me where Hanukkah is in the bible, so I point ’em to this verse:

John 10.22 KJV
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

The “feast of the dedication” is Hanukkah. The word חֲנֻכָּה/khanukká (which gets transliterated all sorts of ways, and not just because of its extra-phlegmy kh sound) means “dedication.” Other bible translations make it more obvious—

John 10.22 NLT
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.

—because their translators didn’t want you to miss it, whereas other translators figure that’s on you.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday which celebrates the Hasmoneans’ rededication of the temple in 165BC.

St. Nicholas’s Day. (Yep, it’s this early in the month.)

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December 2023

Whenever kids ask me whether Santa Claus is real, I’ll point out he is based on an actual guy. That’d be Nikólaos of Myra, whose feast day is today, 6 December, in honor of his death on this date in the year 343.

Here’s the problem: There are a whole lot of myths mixed up with Nicholas’s life. And I’m not just talking about the Santa Claus stories, whether they come from Clement Moore’s poem, L. Frank Baum’s children’s books, the Rankin-Bass animated specials, or the various movies which play with the Santa story. Christians have been making up stories about Nicholas forever.

That’s why it gets a little frustrating when people ask about the facts behind St. Nicholas: We’re not sure we have any facts behind St. Nicholas. There are way too many myths! We honestly have no idea which stories are true, partly true, or full-on fabrications. It could all be fiction.

But I’ll share what little we’ve got, and you can take it from there.

Round the year 270, Nikólaos was born in Patara, in the Roman province of Lykia. That’s just outside present-day Gelemis, Turkey. No, he wasn’t Turkish; the Turks didn’t move in till the middle ages. He was Anatolean Greek. Hence the Greek name, which means “people’s victory,” same as Nicodemus.

Nicholas’s parents were Christian. When they died, he was raised by his uncle, the town bishop, who had the same name as he, Nikólaos. Seems his uncle expected him to go into the family business, so Nicholas was trained to be a reader, the person who reads the bible during worship services. Later he became a presbyter—or, as they were considered in the Orthodox tradition, a priest.

Tradition has it Nicholas’s parents were wealthy, and he was very generous with his inheritance, regularly giving it to the needy. Probably the most popular St. Nicholas story tells of a man who couldn’t afford to marry off his daughters. Apparently they needed a large dowry in order to attract decent husbands. (Though you gotta wonder just how decent such husbands would be… but I digress.) Mysteriously, three bags of gold appeared just in time to pay for each daughter’s dowry. Of course their anonymous benefactor was Nicholas.

Depending on who’s telling the story, these weren’t bags of gold, but gold balls—and here’s where the three-ball symbol on pawnshops supposedly comes from. Or the gold appeared in the daughter’s stockings as they dried over the fireplace (even though stockings weren’t invented yet) and here’s where the custom of gifts in Christmas stockings supposedly comes from. Or Nicholas threw the gold down the chimney, and here’s where that story comes from.

Of course, people are gonna try their darnedest to link Nicholas myths to Santa Claus myths, so as to explain how on earth a fat white magical Dutch-American is the same person as an ancient brown devout Anatolean Greek. There’s the strong likelihood none of these stories are true. Nicholas had a reputation as a gift-giver… and maybe he was. We don’t know! Hope so. But the rest is probably rubbish.

Advent Sunday.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 December 2023

Four Sundays before Christmas, the advent season begins with Advent Sunday. That’d be today, 3 December 2023. (Next year it’ll be 1 December. It moves.)

The word advent comes from the Latin advenire, “come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to where? That’d be Jesus, formally coming to earth. We’re not talking about the frequent appearances he makes here and there to various Christians and pre-Christians. It refers to the formal appearances.

  1. His first coming, when he was born in the year 7BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas.
  2. His second coming, when he takes possession of his kingdom, at some point in the future. Maybe our future. Maybe not.

Many Evangelicals have lost sight of the advent tradition, figuring it’s only a Catholic thing—as if Roman Catholics haven’t likewise lost sight of this tradition. In the United States we’ve permitted popular culture to define the Christmas season for us… and of course popular culture much prefers Mammonism. Gotta buy stuff for Christmas! Gotta boost the retail economy. Gotta buy decorations, and seasonal Christmas food and drinks, and go to Christmas parties and give Christmas gifts, and fly home for Christmas to be with family, or at least send them expensive gift cards so they can go shopping.

Popular culture reduces the advent season to advent calendars: Those 25-day calendars which count down from 1 December (not Advent Sunday, obviously) and every day you get a little piece of chocolate-flavored shortening, unless you bought the calendards made with good chocolate. Or bought one of those advent calendars with different treats, like Lego minifigures, a different-flavored coffee pod each day (admittedly I really like this one), or a daily bottle of wine—

Wine advent calendar. Sorta.
It actually turns out these bottles are table markers, but this photo’s been making the rounds of the internet described as an advent calendar. Still, you can easily find wine advent calendars on almost every wine-seller’s website. Pinterest

—which, if you drink it all by yourself, means you’re an alcoholic. These 25-day calendars are pretty much the only “advent” most American Christians know about. And on the years where Advent Sunday falls in November, they’ve no idea they’ve been shortchanged.

As for the rest of the Christmas season: Nobody’s actually getting ready for Jesus. We’re getting ready for Christmas. We’re getting ready for pageants and parties and gift-giving. Wrong focus and attitude—meaning more humbug and hypocrisy, more Santa Claus and reindeer and snowmen somehow brought to life without the aid of evil spirits.

And less Jesus and good fruit and hope.

You see the problem. It’s why so many Christians themselves don’t care for Christmas either. Too much humbuggery. Too much fake sentiment. Too many feigned happy smiles when really they don’t like what so much of the “season” is about.

So lemme recommend an alternative: Let’s skip the Christmas season, and focus on the advent season. Let’s look to Jesus. He’s coming back, y’know. Could happen at any time.

Thanksgiving Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 November 2023

In the United States, we have a national day of thanksgiving on November’s fourth Thursday.

Whom are we giving thanks to? Well, the act which establishes Thanksgiving Day as one of our national holidays, provides no instructions whatsoever on how we’re to observe it. Or whom we’re to thank.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the last Thursday in November in each year after the year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and in the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22d day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the first Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day are now made by law public holidays.

—77th Congress, 6 October 1941
House Joint Resolution 41

The Senate amended it to read “fourth Thursday in November,” and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. So it’s a holiday. But left undefined, ’cause our Constitution won’t permit Congress to pick a national religion, nor define religious practice. Article 6; Amendment 1 Not that Congress doesn’t bend that rule on occasion. Making “In God We Trust” our national motto, fr’instance.

Though our government is secular, the nation sure isn’t. Four out of five of us Americans call ourselves Christian. (I know; we sure don’t act it. Look at our crime rate. Look at the people we elect.) Regardless, a supermajority of us claim allegiance to Jesus, which is why we bend the Constitution so often and get away with it. Our presidents do as well; our first president was the guy who first implemented a national Thanksgiving Day.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

—President George Washington, 3 October 1789

Yeah, Americans point to other functions as our “first Thanksgiving.” Usually a harvest celebration by the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Although technically the first Christian thanksgiving day on the continent was held by the Spanish in Florida in 1565—followed by another in Texas in 1598, and another by the Virginia colonists as early as 1607.

Over time, colonial custom created a regular Thanksgiving Day, held in the fall. Sometimes governments declared a Thanksgiving Day, like the Continental Congress declaring one for 18 December 1777 after the Battle of Saratoga. But Washington’s declaration in 1789 didn’t fix the day nationally—and he didn’t declare another till 1795. States set their own days: In 1816, New Hampshire picked 14 November, and Massachusetts picked 28 November.

It wasn’t till 1863 when it did become regular:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

—President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863

Lincoln and his successors declared Thanksgiving every year thereafter.

Day of the Dead. Or “All Souls Day,” for traditionalists.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 November 2023

Once you become Christian you receive the Holy Spirit: He comes to live within you, to confirm your salvation, and lead and teach you, and hopefully grow good fruit in you. Many Christians confuse this with being baptized in the Spirit, but that’s a different thing. Regardless, he lives in you, and makes you holy. You’re a saint now.

Yes, you are.

Yes, an actual saint, same as all the other famous Christian saints. Same as the first apostles and Jesus’s parents. Same as St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Nicholas, St. Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul; same as those non-Orthodox and non-Catholic saints who don’t always go by the title, like Jonathan Edwards and D.L. Moody and C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham. The only difference between your sainthood and theirs, is degree. They did more for Jesus, or at least had better publicists. That’s not to say you can’t do just as much for Jesus—because you too have the very same Holy Spirit in you as they did.

I know; not every Christian believes this. Many believe you’re not a saint till you’re definitely in heaven. Till then, you’re on earth, or dead and in purgatory. You may yet become a saint, but not yet.

For those people there’s All Souls Day, which in the west is observed on 2 November. In the United States it’s usually called the Day of the Dead—or if you speak Spanish, Dia de los Muertos.

Day of the Dead is huge in Mexico, where Roman Catholic customs have largely been ditched, ’cause Mexicans way prefer partying to mourning. A lot of Aztec and indigenous customs got mixed in, much like Halloween swiped British and German folklore, and evolved in the United States into something which doesn’t look at all like All Saints Day. But no, Day of the Dead isn’t Mexican Halloween; the holidays don’t practice the very same things. Fr’instance if you’re dressing up, or eating candy, you’re always gonna go with a skull motif. Skulls everywhere. (Hey, everybody has one.)

The reason you don’t see Evangelicals bother with All Souls Day, is because Evangelicals generally believe the same as I do: Every Christian is a saint. If we’re gonna remember our fellow Christians, it’s gonna be on their particular memorial day, or All Saints Day. We don’t need a second holiday to remember the Christian who aren’t saints; there is no such creature.

Still, if you wanna remember departed loved ones, and All Saints Day is a little too solemn for what you have in mind, the Day of the Dead is way less formal. And has tamales and candy! Every holiday should have tamales and candy.

All Saints Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 November 2023

Sometimes, but rarely, you’ll see Halloween spelled Hallowe’en. It’s a reminder the word is actually a contraction. The e’en part of it means evening or eve—the day before, like Christmas Eve. ’Cause Halloween is the day before Hallowmas, or All Hallows… and hallow is the Saxon word for saint.

As you probably remember, the earliest Christians regularly faced persecution in the Roman Empire, ’cause the Romans wanted its occupants to prove their loyalty to Rome by either worshiping the emperor’s guardian dæmon, or in some cases straight-up worship the emperor himself. Some Christians capitulated ’cause they wanted to live; others refused, and were executed. Usually their fellow Christians would honor them on the day of their martyrdom, and these days of remembrance turned into all the saints’ days in the Christian calendar.

But there are so many martyrs. Plus popular saints who got their own day even thought they weren’t killed for Jesus; they definitely lived for Jesus, so to be fair they probably merit a day just as much as certain martyrs who happened to be killed because they were swept up in some anti-Christian purge, and not because they confessed anything.

There’s also the fact there are many people who lived and died for Jesus, and we know nothing about them. God does, but we don’t. People who did a whole lot of charity, but unlike philanthropists who want to make a name for themselves, they wanted to keep their benevolence secret. People who lived very devout lives, but went unseen… or went unappreciated and ignored. People who matter to God.

So if they don’t have their own holiday, they have All Saints Day.

Which likewise tends to go unappreciated and ignored by many Evangelicals. Sometimes because they consider it “a Catholic thing,” a religious custom which they feel contributes nothing to their Christian lives; sometimes because they’re anti-Halloween, and their distaste for that holiday spills over into the holiday which started it.

But properly, we oughta think of it as a Christian version of Memorial Day. It remembers all the people who gave their lives for Jesus. It appreciates them. Some churches, like the liturgical churches, go all out for it. Other churches don’t have to do likewise, nor even celebrate it on 1 November. But it’d be nice if we did something to honor our forebears.

Reformation Day.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 October 2023

31 October isn’t just Halloween. For Protestants, many of us observe the day as Reformation Day.

On 31 October 1517, bible professor Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire (now Germany), nailed to the chapel door, which served as his school’s bulletin board, 95 propositions he planned to discuss with his students. Specifically, about certain church practices to which he objected.

Technically Luther’s 31 October doesn’t line up with our 31 October. Y’see, in 1517 Europeans were still using the Julian calendar, and it was out of sync with the vernal equinox by 11 days. That’s why the Catholics updated it with the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Once we correct for that, this really took place on 10 November. But whatever. Reformation Day!

Luther didn’t realize what he’d done was a big deal. Certainly not the huge deal it later became. It’s dramatically described as if Dr. Luther, enraged as if he just found out about these problems in his church, nailed a defiant manifesto on the Castle Church door. Really this was just a class he was teaching, and he may not have personally thumbtacked ’em to the door at all; he could’ve had a teaching assistant do it.


Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, tacking up the theses. From the 2004 film Luther—not to be confused with the Idris Elba cop show Luther, which is… actually much better. Okay, I’m gonna watch that now.

Luther posted his propositions (or theses, as we tend to call ’em), then sent a copy to his bishop and archbishop, ’cause he still did answer to them you know. But in January 1518, Luther’s friends translated them from Latin to German and printed copies for the general public. Now they got controversial. Because instead of a controlled classroom discussion about whether Luther had a point, now you had people in pubs throughout the Holy Roman Empire (which I’m just gonna shorten to HRE) raging about how the Roman Catholic Church had no biblical basis for what they were up to. Now it wasn’t just an internal debate among clergy-in-training. It was everywhere. It was a firestorm.

Pentecost.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 May 2023

Pentecost is the Christian name for the Feast of Weeks, or שָׁבֻעֹת֙/Šavuót: Seven weeks after Passover, at which time the Hebrews harvested their wheat. Ex 34.22 On 6 Sivan in the Hebrew calendar, the 50th day after Passover, they were expected to come to temple and present a grain offerng to the LORD. Dt 16.9-12 Oh, and tithe a tenth of it to celebrate with—and every third year, put it in the community granary.

Our word comes from the Greek τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς πεντηκοστῆς/tin iméran tis pentikostís, “the 50th day” Ac 2.1 —the Greek term for Šavuót.

Why do Christians celebrate a Hebrew harvest festival? (And have separate “harvest parties” in October?) Well we don’t celebrate it Hebrew-style: We consider it the last day of Easter, and we celebrate it for a whole other reason. In the year 33—the year Jesus died, rose, and was raptured—the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’s new church on Pentecost. Happened like so:

Acts 2.1-4 NRSVue
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

The speaking-in-tongues part is why the 20th century Christian movement which has a lot of tongues-speaking in it is called Pentecostalism. Weirdly, a lot of us Pentecostals never bother to keep track of when Pentecost rolls around. I don’t get it. I blame anti-Catholicism a little. Anyway, Luke goes on:

Acts 2.5-13 NRSVue
5 Now there were devout Jews from every people under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Christians like to call this “the first Pentecost.” Obviously it wasn’t. It’s the Feast of Weeks, which meant every devout Jew on earth was bringing their grain offerings to temple on that very day, 25 May 33. And suddenly a house full of Galileans broke out in every language they knew—spoken to as if to them personally.

Got their attention.

Passover: When God saved the Hebrews.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 April 2023

“Why don’t we celebrate Passover?” asked one of my students, when I once taught on the topic.

“We do,” I said. “Christians call it Pascha or Pascua or Páques. But in languages with a lot of German words mixed in, we call it Easter. And obviously we do it way different than you see in the bible.”

So different, English-speaking people routinely assume Easter and Passover are two entirely different holidays. I can’t argue with this assumption. Christians don’t bother to purge our homes of yeast or leavening. Don’t cook lamb—nor do we practice the modern Jewish custom of not having lamb, ’cause there’s no temple in Jerusalem to ritually sacrifice a lamb in. Don’t put out the seder plate. Don’t tell the Exodus story. Don’t have the kids ask the Four Questions. Don’t hide the afikomen and have the kids search for it—although both holidays have eggs, and we do have the kids look for eggs.

Well, some Christians observe Passover as a separate holiday. Some of us even celebrate it Hebrew-style, as spelled out in the scriptures, as in Exodus and Deuteronomy. But more often, Christians do as Messianic Jews recommend—and Messianic Jews borrow their traditions less from the bible and more from the Conservative Judaism movement. (Which, contrary to their name, ain’t all that conservative.) Their haggadah—their order of service—is nearly always adapted from Orthodox or Conservative prayer books, which means it dates from the 10th century or later.

Yes, some Messianic Jewish customs are in the Mishna, so they do date back to the first century. Still, Mishnaic practices weren’t standard practices; not even in the 10th century. Just as Christians celebrate Christmas every which way, Jews then and now got to choose their own customs. Hence families have unique customs, and various synagogues emphasize various things. Medieval Jewish communities in eastern Europe, north Africa, Spain, and the middle east, all came up with their individual haggadahs. (As did Samaritans.)

The point of the haggadah is to teach the Exodus story to children. And remember, Jesus’s students weren’t children. Teenagers certainly, but still legal adults who already knew the Exodus story: If they hadn’t heard it at home, Jesus would’ve taught it to them personally, and they’d have celebrated several Passovers together by the time of his last supper. So, just as some families don’t tell the nativity story every Christmas once the kids get older, don’t be surprised if Jesus skipped the haggadah’s customary Four Questions (what’s with the matzot, why are bitter herbs part of the meal, why roasted meat in particular, and why does the food gets dipped twice) as redundant.

Christians don’t always realize this. Nor do Messianic Jews. So whenever they attend a Passover seder, or ritual dinner, and hear whatever haggadah the leader came up with, they routinely think it’s so profound how Jesus “practiced” and “brought such meaning and fulfillment” to these customs. Even though it’s highly unlikely he practiced any of the present-day customs. It’s pure coincidence his ministry “fulfilled” them. But y’know, not every Christian believes in coincidence.

Passover’s origins.

The bible’s second book, Exodus, is about how the Hebrew descendants of Israel were enslaved by the Egyptians, and how the LORD miraculously and mightily rescued them from slavery. Passover memorializes the LORD’s last plague upon Egypt, which finally convinced their pharaoh to release the Hebrews: God “passed over” the Hebrews’ houses on his way to smite the Egyptians’ firstborn children. I know; that’s an extremely drastic punishment. But thus far the Egyptians had resisted bloody water, frogs, lice, flies, livestock disease, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Their stubbornness meant things had to escalate.


Those two things hanging on the black inside of this clay oven (or tannúr) are bread. For Passover you just made ’em without yeast. Biblical Archaeology Society

Passover’s also called the Matzot Feast, or Feast of Unleavened Bread. Ex 23.15, Mk 14.1 Unleavened bread is of course מַצָּה/matzá, which in Yiddish became mátzo, so that’s what we call it in English. (Plural מַצּ֖וֹת/matzót, and you pronounce that final T, ’cause it’s Hebrew, not French.) I should warn you some companies make matzot with yeast, which is why not all matzot is kosher for Passover. Today’s matzot tends to look like giant saltines, but in Moses’s and Jesus’s days it was simply flatbread, baked in a clay oven the same way as you usually made matzo, but without yeast.

During the feast, the Hebrews were to purge all yeast, leavening, and fermenting agents from their houses. Ex 12.15 (Yep, that also means no beer for Passover.) Why? Probably to represent haste, much like cooking a lamb you hadn’t gutted properly. Which is also part of the LORD’s details on how to observe Passover:

Exodus 12.1-20 KWL
1 In Egypt’s territory, the LORD told Moses and Aaron to say,
2 “This is your main month, your first month of the year’s months.
3 Tell the whole Israeli assembly: On the 10th of this month,
every man pick yourself a sheep for your father’s house; one sheep per house.
4 If it’s too small a house for a sheep, take your neighbor’s house,
nearest in number of souls, in mouths to feed. Figure that for the lamb.
5 Pick yourselves a sound male lamb, born this year, from your sheep or goats.
6 Put it under your watch till the 14th of this month.
The whole Israeli assembly, together: Slaughter it between the evenings. 7 Take blood from it.
Put it on the two doorjambs, on the lintel, in the house where you eat it with one another.
8 Eat the meat this night, roasted over fire. Eat it with matzot and bitter herbs.
9 Don’t eat it raw, nor boiled in boiling water,
because its head, its legs, its innards must be roasted over fire.
10 Don’t have leftovers of it in the morning.
Burn the leftovers of it in the morning in the fire.
11 Eat it like this: Your waist belted, your sandals on your feet, your staff in your hand.
Eat it quickly. It’s the LORD’s Passover.
12 “I pass over Egypt’s territory that night.
I smite every birthright in Egypt’s territory, from Adam to the animals.
I enact my judgment upon all Egypt’s gods: I’m the LORD.
13 The blood on the houses where you are is your sign. I see the blood: I pass you over.
No smiting comes to destroy you when I smite Egypt’s territory.
14 This day is your memorial. Celebrate it as a feast to the LORD.
It’s an eternal doctrine for your generations. Celebrate it!
15 Eat matzot only seven days. On the first day stop using leaven in your houses.
If anyone eats leavening, get their souls out of Israel—whether the first or the seventh day.
16 The first day’s a holy assembly, and the seventh day’s a holy assembly.
Don’t do any work on them—other than what all souls need to eat. Only do that.
17 Watch the matzot. For on this day, in power, I brought your armies from Egypt’s territory.
Watch this day! It’s an eternal doctrine for your generations.
18 On the first month, the 14th day, at evening,
eat matzot till the 21st day of the month, at evening.
19 Seven days: No leaven is to be found in your houses.
If anyone eats leavening, get their soul out of Israel’s assembly, whether stranger or national.
20 Don’t eat any leavening in any of your dwellings.
Eat matzot.”

After that first Passover, after the LORD dealt with the Egyptians and the Hebrews were on their way out of Egypt, Moses added these instructions:

Exodus 13.3-10 KWL
3 Moses told the people, “Remember this day! You left Egypt, the slaves’ house!
You went out like this with the strength of the LORD’s hand! Don’t eat leavening!
4 The day you went out is in the month of Aviv.
5 Work this work in this month
once the LORD brings you to the land of Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites, and Jebusites,
which he swore to your ancestors he’d give you—a land where milk and honey flow.
6 Eat matzot seven days. Feast to the LORD the seventh day.
7 Eat matzot seven days. Don’t even look at fermentation, at leavening in all your vicinity.
8 Proclaim it to your child on that day.
Say, ‘This action was done for me by the LORD when he took me from Egypt!’
9 It’s a sign on your hand for you. A memorial between your eyes.
It’s so the LORD’s Law would be in your mouth:
With a strong hand, the LORD took you from Egypt!
10 Keep this doctrine on its date in days to come.”

Passover thus became one of the three great festivals of Israel. Further commands were added about it: It had to be observed at temple, Dt 16.2, 5 and the firstfruit offering Lv 23.10-14 and other specific offerings Nu 28.16-24 became part of its observance. And of course the rabbis added the haggadah to ensure the children, like Moses said, were properly instructed as to why Passover is so important.

The last supper.

Yes, Jesus’s last supper was a Passover seder. Mk 14.14, Lk 22.15 In the year 33, Passover began on Sabbath/Saturday, Jn 19.14 but the Law permits a little wiggle room to do it the day before, when you started eating matzot. Dt 16.3 Jesus chose to eat the lamb that day, ’cause he knew he’d be busy getting killed. (Although as you know, some Christians like to nitpick, and insist Passover musta started on Thursday—contrary to what the gospels describe.)

So Jesus’s students had to perform all the ritual sacrifices and offerings Thursday morning in preparation. Mk 14.15-16 Once sundown came—’cause the middle eastern day is figured evening to evening—they got the lamb killed, drained, shaved, and cooked, and Jesus and his students came and ate. Mk 14.17 So we know they had lamb, matzot, wine, and something to dip bread in. Jn 13.26 Which might’ve been a bitter herb sauce, but also could’ve just been oil. We aren’t told.

Christians tend to think of the last supper as a somber reflection of Jesus’s self-sacrifice. True, Jesus was a little agitated, and interrupted everyone else’s calm with it. Jn 13.21-22 But otherwise the mood was just the opposite: Passover was a celebration of how the LORD saved Israel. And now, through Jesus, he was gonna save ’em again—them, and the whole world.

Jesus added one feature to his seder, one we Christians now do all year round, and not just on Good Friday or Easter: Holy communion. Mk 14.22-24 Our ritual meal is done in remembrance of Christ Jesus, and for many Christians it replaces the seder altogether.

Not that God’s deliverance of the Hebrews is irrelevant. Far from it! But for gentiles (Egyptian Christians in particular, y’know), the Exodus isn’t our story. It’s not about our salvation. It’s about the Hebrews’ salvation from Egypt. It provides us a significant historical context for what Paul and the apostles had in mind when they later wrote in their letters about the salvation Jesus brings us. It definitely explains the Lamb of God idea, where Jesus takes away the world’s sin. Jn 1.29 You wanna understand salvation, election, and covenants better, read Exodus.

But again: Christians have largely replaced Hebrew-style Passover with Easter and communion. So unless we’re of Jewish descent (or unless we’re legalists), we don’t bother with seders. Go ahead and check out a seder sometime; it’s interesting. But not mandatory for Christians, ’cause we celebrate Passover our own way.

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 January 2023

6 January is Epiphany, the day which celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world.

True, the Christmas stories depict that taking place on Christmas Day. With angels and sheep-herders, and frequently magi; with Jesus’s dad fully dressed as if he’s about to travel, either ’cause they’re gonna flee to Egypt really soon, or because he and Mary only arrived minutes ago, ’cause they didn’t know better than to travel when you’re heavily pregnant.

Well technically he was revealed to the world at his circumcision, and when those two prophets identified him as important. But really he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry—at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.

John 1.29-36 The Message
29 The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, 30 “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ 31 I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”
32 John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. 33 I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. 36 He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby, and said, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb.”

In eastern churches which still follow the Julian calendar, Epiphany’s gonna wind up on 19 January, and sometimes it’ll be called Theophany.

The third-century Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s baptism in January. Why January? Two theories. One is Jesus’s baptism had to take place when the Jordan was in flood, otherwise there wouldn’t’ve been enough water to immerse him. January’s a good bet.

The other theory is the early churches divided up the gospels into a year’s worth of readings—and if you begin with Mark, you get to the baptism story in the second week of January. So since that’s when they always read the baptism story, stands to reason that’s when they’d celebrate Jesus’s baptism. This theory’s much less plausible: The ancient civic year began on 25 March, not 1 January… and why start with Mark when historically Christians start the gospels with Matthew?

Regardless of why, ancient Christians picked 6 January to celebrate Jesus’s baptism. And since Jesus was also sorta revealed as God incarnate at his annunciation, Epiphany celebrations began to include all his birth stories. Till the early Christians realized Jesus’s birth needed its own celebration. Thus the 12 days before Epiphany evolved into a separate celebration of Christmas.

Yep, that’s how it happened. I know; pagans like to claim we Christians took over all the pagan winter solstice festivals, and shoehorned Jesus’s birthday into that. Didn’t work like that. Any Christian can tell you: We didn’t swipe pagan holidays. We swipe Jewish ones. If they happen to line up with pagan ones (as Jewish equinox and harvest festivals naturally would) it still doesn’t mean we swiped pagan holidays.

Nope, we still don’t know when Jesus was born, or baptized. Does it even matter? We just need a day or two to celebrate. Or 12. And for the longest time Epiphany also lasted several days. Usually eight.

Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastime. Bummer.

Saints’ days.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July 2022

Today is 11 July. In North America this means it’s Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven convenience stores, ’cause most of us in North America write the date as 7/11 instead of 11/7. (Blame the British, who used to write their dates that way too. They switched to match the rest of Europe; we didn’t. Anyway.)

It also means today is the feast day of Benedetto de Norcia (480–548) whom English-speaking Christians know as Benedict of Nursia. He founded 12 Italian monastic communities, and created a list of rules for the monks to live by—“the Rule of St. Benedict,” which was adopted by European religious communities throughout the medieval period. The Roman Catholic Order of St. Benedict is named for him. So are a number of popes.

So today is St. Benedict’s Day. Well, it’s St. Benedict’s Day for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and most Protestants; for the Orthodox Church in America it’s 14 March. Neither of those dates correspond to the day Benedict died, which is traditionally how feast days are determined; that’d be 21 March 547. Back in 1970, the Catholics changed the date ’cause they wanted to honor Benedict, but Lent kept getting in the way, and you don’t fast on feast days, so they figured it was easier to move it to where nobody would schedule a time of fasting. As for the Orthodox… well, it’s close enough.

As I said, a saint’s day is traditionally the anniversary of their death. Usually by martyrdom: They’d get murdered or executed, sometimes in nasty ways, for following Jesus. And since ancient Christians didn’t always know these folks’ birthdays, the date of their death would do as a marker. Plus it’s the day they went to be with our Lord.

Of course there are exceptions. Like St. Benedict’s Day, which got moved for convenience. Like saints from the bible, or saints whose date of martyrdom and birthday we don’t know. And of course there are recent saints, whose birthdays are more likely to get celebrated than their date of death—which is why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on or around 15 January, not 4 April.

Ascension: When Jesus took his throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May 2022

If we figure Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 wasn’t an estimate, but a literal 40 days, on Thursday, 15 May 33, this happened.

Acts 1.6-9 KJV
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

I usually translate ἐπήρθη/epírthi, which the KJV renders “he was taken up,” as “he was raptured.” ’Cause that’s what happened. He got raptured into heaven.

From there Jesus ascended (from the Latin ascendere, “to climb”) to the Father’s throne—to sit at his right hand, Ac 2.33, 7.55-56 both in service and in judgment. We figure Jesus’s ascension took place the very same day he was raptured, so that’s when Christians have historically celebrated it: 40 days after Easter, and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday.

Some of us figure ascension celebrates Jesus’s rapture. And yeah, we can celebrate that too… but the way more important thing is Jesus taking his throne. When we say our Lord reigns, you realize his reign began at some point. Wasn’t when he died, and defeated sin and death; wasn’t when he rose from the dead, and proved he defeated sin and death. It’s when he took his throne. It’s his ascension day. Which we observe today.

Sundays in Lent.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 March 2022

If you’re observing Lent, and fasting in some form during that time, you actually get Sundays off.

Really. I know; most people aren’t aware of this, and think we have to fast every day of Lent; all 40 days. But Ash Wednesday is actually 46 days before Easter Sunday—which means there are six extra days. Days which aren’t part of the 40 days. Those are the Sundays. We don’t fast on feast days. For most Christians Sunday is our Sabbath, and Sabbath is always a feast day.

So you get little holidays from your Lenten fast. Gave up cocaine? This Sunday, do a few rails.

Kidding. But if you’ve given up something which hasn’t enslaved you (and be honest with yourself and others about this!), go ahead and partake this Sunday. If you’ve given up desserts, feel free to have a little something with your dinner. Try not to overcompensate though!

Since all these Sundays are little breaks from fasting, they can feel a little extra special during Lent. Over the centuries Christians have treated ’em as extra-special days. Even given them special names. And when I, or other Christians, refer to these names, sometimes curious Christians wanna know what that’s all about. Is there anything important we’re meant to do or remember about these Sundays? Nah, not really.

The names come from the first words of the prayer book or missal, used in liturgical churches as part of their services. They’re the first word of the first prayer in the order of service. The traditional names of the Sundays in Lent come from the first words of the German Lutheran prayer book read on that day. Generally it comes from the Latin translation of the psalms they’re reading.

  1. INVOCABIT SUNDAY is the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the Psalm 91.15: Invocabit ad me, et ego exaudiam eum, “He will call upon me, and I will answer him.” (The Nova Vulgata, Roman Catholics’ official bible, uses the synonym clamabit, but the prayer books quote one of the previous Vulgate editions.)
  2. REMINISCERE SUNDAY is the second. Comes from Psalm 24.6: Reminiscere miserationum tuarum, Domine, “Remember your mercy, LORD.”
  3. OCULI SUNDAY comes from Psalm 24.15: Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, “My eyes are always on the LORD.”
  4. LAETARE SUNDAY is also called Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday, and is a day for Christians to remember their moms—both the women who raised them, and the elders in their churches who encourage them. Comes from Isaiah 66.10, Laetare cum Jerusalem, “Rejoice with Jerusalem.”
  5. There’s some controversy about what to do on the fifth Sunday of Lent. Historically it’s been PASSION SUNDAY, as Christians used to spend two weeks, not just Holy Week, in remembering Jesus’s suffering. So there’d be Passion Sunday one week, Palm Sunday the next. But more recently churches combine the two into Palm Sunday, and the fifth Sunday is simply another Sunday, sometimes called JUDICA SUNDAY from Psalm 42:1, Judica me, Deus, “Judge me, God.”
  6. PALM SUNDAY begins Holy Week or Passion Week; it’s the week Jesus died, so there are special memorial days throughout.
  7. EASTER SUNDAY isn’t really the last Sunday of Lent; it’s the day after. Lent ended on Holy Saturday. Now it’s Easter for 49 days till Pentecost.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of uniquely Eastery things about the Sundays in Lent; just unique names. Churches vary about how they’re gonna observe them. Some liturgial churches don’t even bring up the particular names for them; they’re just another of the Sundays in Lent. And of course if you don’t go to a liturgical church, it’s just another Sunday… till Palm Sunday.