I’m writing this in the last few hours of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
In Leviticus 23, the Lord establishes the Day of Trumpets, also known as the Feast of Trumpets. (See also Numbers 29.) This holy convocation was the foundation for what we now know as Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the trumpets was something like the sound of “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve in the English-speaking world. The trumpets bid farewell to the past and rang in the year to come!
Rosh Hashanah was meant to be an important memorial day, and it always falls on the seventh new moon of the Jewish year. The appropriate observance and significance were sidelined for multiple generations, as we discover in Nehemiah. Thankfully, God’s people rediscovered the significance of the holiday, and two key features – sorrow for past wrongs and joy at the prospect of reconciliation – have permeated the holiday ever since. I am glad.
The heart of the Feast of Trumpets is the blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – and ultimately 100 blasts are heard. For the Jewish people, the sound of the shofar is a sacred sound. It calls them – and us – back to Mount Sinai, where the sound poured forth from a thick cloud and the people shook with fear. The sound evokes many emotions: despair, penitence, and profound hope. Rosh Hashanah is a sanctified reminder of God’s creative authority in our world, and in our lives. For Christ-followers, it reminds us of the Day of the Lord and our soon-coming King, Yeshua.
It is a day of solemnity and joy. Let that sink in for a moment. A day of solemnity and joy.
I just read from a reliable source that, within the last 24 hours, one in 3000 Americans was diagnosed with COVID. Of course, other people piled on to dispute that calculation (doesn’t every number get disputed these days?), but – whether or not the statistic is accurate to the penny – we can all agree that our nation is experiencing a wave of disease like we never thought we would personally witness. It’s everywhere, friends, and it’s deadly serious at this point.
For us, this ought to be a season of solemnity. That goes without saying, I suppose. But I think that it should also be a season of great joy! And I’m encouraging both the solemnity and the joy not so much because of the pandemic – as pervasive as that can feel at times – but simply because God has told us what will happen in the future. We don’t know all of the details, of course, but we know as much as God thinks we need to know for now. Thus, the solemnity: the only rightful Judge of all the earth is on His way! But, also, the joy! For the exact same reason you and I ought to be joyful: we ought to be joyful because God has told us what to expect: Jesus is coming soon!
The Bible promises: every tear wiped away … death entirely banished … Christ with us forever! But getting from here to there will require a walk of faith and a life of no-matter-what-happens worship. Charles Spurgeon said it like this: “We should shout as exultingly as those do who triumph in war, and as solemnly as those whose utterance is a psalm. It is not always easy to unite enthusiasm with reverence, and it is a frequent fault to destroy one of these qualities while straining after the other.” I could never say it any better than the other Charles, so I won’t even try.
This is a time to cry, but it is also a time to clap. That might sound like a strange combination, and I get that, but you and I are the ones who know the rest of the story.
The Garden, ransacked. The New Earth, restored!
Mount Sinai, terrifying. Mount Zion, electrifying!
My sin, grotesque. My redemption, gorgeous!
The cross, so bloody. The empty tomb, so glorious!
With solemnity and joy, the brilliant C.S. Lewis abandoned his steadfast commitment to atheism and wholeheartedly embraced Biblical Christianity. Said Lewis: “All joy reminds. It is never a possession, but always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still about to be … joy is a by-product. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer.” The Other and Outer is coming, friends! He’s coming with the clouds! The ultimate trumpet sound will soon be heard! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
I’ll close with this prayer from the rich liturgy of our priceless Jewish roots: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast kept us in life, and hast preserved us, and enabled us to reach this season.”
Wishing you great solemnity, and great joy,