Its origins can be found as we read Exodus 23 and Leviticus 23. On the Hebrew Calendar, this year the feast starts at sundown on the 11th, and concludes at sundown on the 12th June. It is exactly 50 days (7 weeks) from Pesach/Passover – hence the name Shavuot, simply translated from the Hebrew as Weeks. It is a time to thank God for his blessing and abundance and to rejoice over the final grain harvest which would see the children of Israel through till the next season.
Additionally, this feast is one of the three chief feasts when God required the people to come up to Jerusalem to give their offerings each year, so it was a time of pilgrimage and sanctification for the whole harvest as well.
As is often the case in Israel, the Feasts are celebrated as just that, feasts that include wonderful food traditions that have been passed down the family lines for generations. The story of Ruth took place around this time, so often this book is read out in Jewish families together as they commemorate this time with fruit, honey and dairy products. The tradition for this type of food comes from the understanding that God’s word, the law, was as milk and honey to the reader – and a little literal symbolism can often be appropriate, given that it is a Feast after all!
For us as believers today, we recognize this as the time when God breathed life into His baby church with the release of His Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For many of us we see this as a Christian event, not really connected to the Law from the Old Testament. But what a great opportunity to stop and ponder the significance of this day: that God’s law is now written on our hearts and not just on ancient tablets of stone; that the Holy Spirit is now ever present with us and not only a cloud that hovered over the most Holy of Holies; that it is a time to thank God for his daily provision – perhaps you don’t have a wheat field to harvest but most of us have a pay cheque that we can buy fresh groceries with every week; and certainly we can offer Him our ‘first fruits’ as we ask Him to highlight what that would be for us in our particular situation. And if you really want to embrace the Jewish traditions of the Feast, go on and add a little cheesecake to your menu, topped with fresh fruit – perhaps beginning to recognise the Jewish roots of our Christian faith is better idea than we originally thought!