Monday, June 05, 2006

Dear Friends,


I would like to start by saying “Gut Yom Tov” to my Jewish friends. The reason for this is that last Friday was the festival of Shavuot. For those who do not know, Shavuot is also known as Pentecost. Now, most of you will recognise that term. Christians celebrate Pentecost and I will explain what that is, but before I do, let me expand a little on the Jewish significance of the festival – What are the Jewish people celebrating at Shavuot. It is a harvest festival but its Spiritual significance is that it commemorates and celebrates the giving of the 10 “utterances” (commandments) by the Lord to Moses at Sinai. I listened this afternoon to a most interesting service on the radio – from a Synagogue in Cape Town celebrating Shavuot. It was a most enlightening experience. The speaker, the rabbi, spoke about the Aliya – which I understand means “lifting up”. He spoke of three Aliya but I recall only two – The lifting of the Torah, The “going up” of the people of Israel to Jerusalem during the Pilgrim feasts, I think the other one is the Going up of Moses to Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. The rabbi explained that before the reading of the Torah in the synagogue and afterwards, a blessing is said. The gratitude to God for his Words to us is acknowledged in that. In a nutshell, Shavuot celebrates God giving the 10 Commandments.


This morning, Ray preached at church, and he emphasised that we should really know the Word. Let God’s word dwell in us richly, and not to rely on stale bread, as it were, but constantly search the Scriptures and get a fresh understanding of what the Lord would say to us. That wasn’t part of his main sermon, but he kept on coming back to that, so God was clearly speaking to us about it.   


So what is the spiritual significance of Shavuot – Pentecost – to the Christian. Firstly the term Pentecost comes from the Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Old Testament. It means 50. Why fifty – Seven weeks and one Day after Pesach – Passover, Jews celebrate Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks. ( 7 times 7 = 49 + 1 = 50)

Jesus was crucified on or just before the Passover, according the Gospels, three days later, however you work it out, Jesus was resurrected. For a period of 40 days, Jesus continued to appear to various disciples to convince them of the Resurrection, then on the 40th day, He ascended into the heavens. He left the disciples with instructions to return to Jerusalem and wait there. This they did, and during the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) – I want you to picture this scene. It was a pilgrim festival, the Bible says that there were Jewish believers from far-flung places. All in Jerusalem, to celebrate Shavuot. The disciple were together – (All the followers of Jesus who remained faithful) – there were 120 of them –  Then there was a sound of a mighty wind and what appeared to be tongues of fires appeared above the heads of all the believers and they all started to testify. They were testifying to the crowds around and the people were amazed, because these uneducated Galileans were speaking the languages of the far flung places that people had come from.  During this time, the Apostle Peter stood up and started to speak. His sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-36

I won’t go into the detail of what he spoke that day, but I strongly urge you all to read it. What was happening? Jesus had told the disciples at the last super that he would send the Comforter – the Greek word –Parakletos – means one who goes alongside – and that Comforter is none less than the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Trinity.

It was during the festival of Shavuot – the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers – it was the birth of the Church. In a sense, Shavuot represents the birth of Judaism, with the giving of the 10 commandments - It was the birth of the Church with the giving of the Holy Spirit.


Shavuot is the harvest festival – a time to give thanks to God for the harvest. It also is a time for us to give thanks to God for his commandments – and by extension for His the Word, the Bible, and for Christians, it is a time to give thanks to God for pouring out His Holy Spirit, who continues to live in his followers to guide us firstly to himself, and secondly, in the works prepared in advance for us to do, and to empower us to be His witnesses throughout the world. Without His indwelling Holy Spirit, Christians could not function – such is our need for Him.


I find it ironic that Christmas and Easter are celebrated widely and well known, even among non-Christians. These two are important celebrations and I would not want to mimimise their importance, but I think that Pentecost – or Shavuot – is also a significant Christian celebration that goes almost un-noticed. In a way it is a good thing as this wonderful day does not attract to itself many of the irrelevant “trappings” of the commercial world as has Christmas – with Father Christmas/Santa Clause – and Easter – with Easter bunny and Easter eggs. But I believe that Christians should celebrate the Feast of Pentecost – keeping in mind both the Jewish significance of harvest and the giving of the 10 commandments – and the Christian celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.



This week has been a busy week for me, finishing off the first part of my Teaching Practice. The second part starts tomorrow. I had a number of Crit lessons to present last week. I have learnt a great deal about Shaka, the first Zulu king as I was teaching the children about him in a history lesson. I had intended to give a power point presentation about him, but as things go with technology – they did not fire up as I had expected and so after trying for 10 minutes to get it working – I had to give it up, and instead taught the lesson from memory. I had sat up until 2 in the morning preparing the presentation – all to no avail Fortunately the teacher assessing me credited me for my recovery as I was able to recount the stories of Shaka from memory and was able to keep the children’s attention through my verbal presentation. I have to say that the people at the school at which I am doing my prac, they are very helpful and encouraging. Thank you Lord for opening that door to me.


KwaZulu-Natal has been hit by a flu epidemic. Schools have been hard hit. One school actually closed because so many of the staff and learners were affected. Another school, a Government school, was not allowed to close, but they had 125 learners and 7 teachers away due to the sickness. Other schools have not been as badly affected, but their attendances have been significantly reduced. Mum and Dad have also been affected and Dad especially so. I fortunately had had an anti-flu jab and I think it has helped me keep illness at bay. Mum was at the Royal Show this week looking after a stand selling a pool ioniser that helps reduce the amount of chemicals needed to keep the swimming pool clean. It was something Mum and Dad were going to do together, but because of Dad’s illness, Mum only went. She was not alone though as there were other people involved too.


On Tuesday, Mum and I watched the show of the Lippezahne Horses and the Drakensburg Boys Choir, in the main arena. It was quite an experience I must say. Those horses were really beautiful and quite impressive when they jumped on their back legs in what the announcer called a “Cabriolet”. The Drakies as they are affectionately known here gave their usual star performance with songs from different eras as far back as Mozart to the modern times with songs from the movie “The Lion King”.


May was actually a comparatively cultural month as two weeks ago we went to see my nephew play the role of “Bill Sykes” in Oliver, the musical. He performed wonderfully, and well deserved the Drama Honours he received for his performance. It was an enjoyable evening, and all of the young actors performed very well.


Your friend, John

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