It is commonly believed today that the Jewish festival of Shavuot and the Christian holy day of Pentecost have little, if anything, to do with one another. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the two are actually the same holiday, albeit with varying traditions and an extended interpretation on the Christian side.
Even the name Pentecost (literally “the 50th ”) is a reference to one of the key components of Shavuot – the counting of 50 days from Passover, known in the Jewish world as the “counting of the omer.” Just as Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Pentecost is marked exactly 50 days after Easter, and we have already written about Easter’s close connection to Passover and the notion that Jesus and his disciples were most likely enjoying a Passover seder prior to his crucifixion.
The theme of Pentecost is also a kind of extension of the Shavuot theme, which is a celebration of the giving of the Torah (God’s Word) to Moses on Mount Sinai. Christians believe that Jesus is the “word made flesh” (John 1:14) and Pentecost is the moment following Jesus’ death and resurrection when that word was spiritually implanted in the hearts of his followers.
So, does it make sense for Christians to celebrate the biblical festival of Shavuot in addition to (or even in place of) Pentecost?
Sharon Sanders, co-director of Christians Friends of Israel, believes so, considering that Shavuot is the version of the holiday actually ordained by God.
“I remember well my childhood growing up in a traditional church where we celebrated only Easter and Christmas as set by the historical Church. I had no idea God actually established ‘appointed times’ for those in His great assembly,” Sanders told Travelujah. “It is unfortunate that many churches overlook the significance of the three main festivals God speaks clearly about in His Word; namely, Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succot.”
Today, Sanders lives in Israel and, like many Christians living in the Holy Land, actively participates in celebrating Shavuot with Jewish friends.
“I am thrilled to be able to celebrate Shavuot with the Jewish people,” said Sanders. “I love celebrating the festivals of God in Israel because more emphasis is put on times of gladness, joy and fellowship with one another rather than commercialism and self-indulgence that so often comes with other festivals. Shavuot for me, as a Christian, is special because the Book of Ruth is read, a beautiful story about God’s redemptive love.”
Like many Christian ministers urging a return to the biblical, Hebraic foundation of the Christian faith, Sanders believes that Christians “will surely find a new awareness of the power of the Spirit of God” by becoming aware of and partaking in His appointed feasts. And there is no better place to do that than in Israel.
Celebrating Shavuot in Jerusalem
Because the Torah was given to the Jewish people on Shavout, to mark the holiday it is customary to prepare oneself to receive the Torah, just as a bride prepares to meet her groom. Similarly, on the eve of Shavout (erev Shavout) it is customary to study Torah all night long too. The texts that are studied will often vary from one community to another, but often includes passages from the Torah, Mishna or the Zohar.
The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot accompanied by various liturgical songs connected with the precepts in the Torah.
Dairy products are customarily eaten on Shavout. If you are spending time in Israel you will notice that most of the supermarkets and advertising in the country are focused on cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products. Cheesecake is a particularly popular item consumed on the holiday. Fancy holiday meals based on dairy products are traditionally eaten.
Where to go
Shavout is one of the three harvest holidays making it very worthwhile to enjoy on a kibbutzh. The annual Bikkurim ceremony commemorating the custom of bringing the first fruits of the harvest and the first animals born in the year is still retained and many kibbutzim will hold their own individual ceremonies. Wheat, barley grapes, figs, olives and dates are among the many foods blessed on this holiday. The bikkurim ceremonies include parades and beautiful displays of produce grown on the kibbutz. Most kibbutzim ceremonies are open to the public though some may charge a small fee.
Sidebar- Sites to visit during Pentecost
May 27 -Catholic Pentecost
Church of the Dormition
St. Saviors Monastery
Mass is followed by a procession from Saint Savior to the Room of the Last Supper at Mt. Zion
May 29 – Special mass in Italian at San Savior Church with Mons. Antonio Franco (Apostolic Nuncio)
June 3,4 – – Orthodox Pentecost
Holy Sepulchre Church – The Patriarch celebrates Divine Liturgy in th monring on Sunday
Mount Zion – Festive Liturgy in the Seminary for Orthodox Christians on Mt. Zion with a procession to the Cenacle and back – June 3, 2012.
Tomb of King David – on Mt. Zion
Patriarchal Church of Sts. Constintine and Helena
Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Russion Compount
Syrian Church of St. Mark in the Old City