Every year at feast time we have old wounds opened by disagreement on the calendar. I find it interesting that God called Israel to come together at Jerusalem three times a year, indicating that He holds a great deal of emphasis on community, but we disagree vehemently about when we should gather and often do nothing together because of the disagreement. Israel didn’t just celebrate the feast at the same time, they came together as a large community to do their moedim together. Today in the nations, the ability to do things together is hampered by the inability to agree on anything. Agreement should not be a prerequisite of unity, so in order to establish unity even though we disagree we must find an alternative to rigid debate. The community is superior in importance to the individual determination of the date.
Every position that we can take concerning how to determine the date and time of a festival will have something that does not fit. Let me give two conflicting examples which both cause problems.
Position A: The date should be determined in Jerusalem according to the crescent moon and the ripened barley there.
There would have been no way to use the moon in Jerusalem for determining the month on the American continent back during the time of Yehoshua. Signal fires cannot be seen over the ocean. If He had been in America, He probably would have kept it with the natives according to the moon here.
If Jerusalem is the important place to determine one’s time, shouldn’t we be consistent? Why don’t we start cooking our Passover meal around 3:00 PM Jerusalem standard time and continue the seder to midnight their time. That would be the practice in Jerusalem but would have us finishing our seder before the day began.
How about the Sabbath, do we keep it according to sunset here or in Jerusalem? If we must use Jerusalem as our standard, we will start it closer to noon on Friday for us in Kentucky and about 8AM for people in California. It gets worse at the crossing of the International date line where some would have to keep the Sabbath all day on Friday. Wouldn’t this make Jerusalem a bad choice as a standard of when to keep Biblical commandments?
Position B: The date should be determined by the crescent moon and the ripened barley in the local area.
People located in the far north regions of Norway, Sweden, Canada, Alaska and Russia, may only get a feast once in their lifetime. They often go months without seeing a crescent moon or the sun.
Barley does not ripen in the southern hemisphere until our fall. So in the southern Hemisphere they will be keeping Passover when we keep Sukkot. That will completely reverse the types given in the feasts and will make the Australians look for the return of Messiah at the wrong time.
Messiah is said to be fulfilling prophecy according to the feasts in Jerusalem, so to use a time contrary to his fulfillment might make us foolish virgins missing some of the exact timing He will be fulfilling in the fall feasts.
Really, most methods of determining the time, dates, years etc. are not as universally applicable as one might think. They all have their limits somewhere. I hope that just mentioning these two opposite positions show that when we set a standard methodology, we often loose a lot of the intent of the Scriptures. It becomes important to organize the most important messages from those that are less import. I believe the community is superior to that of an exact determination. If we are using the date to divide the community, we are missing the point of the feasts. God recognizes the difficulty in making a uniform determination of the feasts in a location away form Jerusalem. It is time we realized that God is not sitting on the judgment throne just waiting for us to mess up so He can condemn us. God isn’t looking for a reason to be mad at His people who are doing their best to follow His instructions.
If you have become a divided congregation over the exact time to keep the feasts, please seek out a method of a unified practice. Our congregation encourages people to do as they are convicted, but also participate with the congregation at whatever time they determine for their practice. One can keep a High Sabbath a day or so prior to the congregation, but keep the congregation’s days too. This is a way to bring about unity rather than division. We need more coming together rather than tearing apart.