Moments & Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith

Moments & Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith

by Michelle Van Loon


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Michelle Van Loon helps us treasure our time as a gift and a spiritual responsibility, and God as faithfully present in all our moments and days.
People rarely slow down to experience their days, and so they feel rushed through life even as they begin to suspect that life lacks significance. By introducing (and reintroducing) us to the feasts and festivals of the Bible, as well as the special celebrations of the Christian calendar, Moments and Days restores a sacred sense of time throughout our year, enriching our experience of each “holy day” and enlivening our experience of even the most “ordinary time.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631464638
Publisher: The Navigators
Publication date: 09/01/2016
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.40(d)

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Moments & Days

How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith

By Michelle Van Loon

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Michelle Van Loon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63146-464-5



The Calendar

I glanced at the clock on the wall in my kitchen, and the familiar whoosh of adrenaline flooded into my system. I had to get my three young teen kids to three different destinations at the same time, and we were running late. In other words, it was a typical Tuesday in our suburban household.

"Get a move on, you guys," I called, ratcheting up my voice half an octave so my three young teens would catch my sense of urgency. "We should have been out of here five minutes ago! Rachel, do you have your Spanish folder? Ben, where's your tie?"

Jacob yelled from the basement, "I'll be there in just a minute. I just have to finish —"

"No, not 'just a minute,' Jake," I interrupted him. "Now!"

Rachel stomped into the room. "I can't find my Spanish folder."

"Did you look in that pile of books by the piano?" She stomped out of the room in double time. On cue, Jacob emerged from the basement, no shoes or socks on his feet.

"I think all your socks are in the laundry," I told him. "You'll have to run back downstairs and grab a pair from the dirty pile. Hurry!"

From the living room, Rachel called, "I can't find my folder anywhere!"

At that moment, Jacob emerged from the basement holding an unmatched pair of tube socks as if he were carrying a sack of rabid bats. "This is the only pair I could find."

Ben clipped his tie onto his grocery store uniform shirt as he hustled past me to the car, muttering, "I'm gonna be late for work."

It's been more than a decade and a half since I was chauffeuring my kids around our local suburban solar system. I have plenty of cherished memories of them during those growing-up years, but precious few of those memories were made during the frantic daily chase to lessons, after-school jobs, get-togethers with friends, or youth group activities. Though there are certainly seasons of life that are busier than others, it is true in every stage that abundant activity does not equal abundant life.

Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 captures Jesus' winsome invitation to each one of us:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. MATTHEW 1 1:28-30, MSG

A rhythm is by definition a pattern. Many of us get used to living without a pattern, without pauses or punctuation marks:

Our days bleed together onetothenext. Though penciling onto our calendars some breaks in the form of vacations, downtime, and appointments to gather with family and friends will create a little bit of emotional breathing room in our 24/7 lives, we still function as though we're the author of our stories. There's not much space for grace if that's the case.

Most of us in the church have heard plenty of messages about the generous use of our financial resources or the value of serving others with our gifts and talents. The way we use our time is often included in the way we talk about stewardship. Time is a precious, irreplaceable resource, certainly. But when we speak of it only in terms of something at our disposal, we risk missing much grander and more beautiful truths about ourselves and the One who made it for us.


The first words of Genesis 1 highlight the way in which the eternal God first chose to express himself as Creator. The words "in the beginning" establish a line of demarcation between the eternal One and his finite creation. He anchored time to a fixed point "in the beginning" in order to unfold the rest of his creation. Indeed, the notion of time itself speaks of limits. Time can be measured, a distinct contrast with the limitlessness of God.

Yet God reveals his own use of created time throughout Genesis 1. Each movement of creation ends with a time stamp: "There was evening, and there was morning — the first day ... the second day ... the third day" — all the way through to the description of the creation of Adam on the sixth day. Even on the final day of the creation week, the holy rest had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The way in which time was lived and measured by the ancient Jews was extremely countercultural. Writer Thomas Cahill credits the God of the Jews with changing the way in which ancient peoples measured time. Every other ancient civilization (such as the Sumerians and Egyptians) saw time cycling continually in place, without a larger purpose. "Cyclical religion goes nowhere," he writes, "because, within its comprehension, there is no future as we have come to understand it, only the next revolution of the Wheel." The human race began to talk about time differently when God called Abram to leave Ur by faith and head to an unknown land God would show him. Cahill continues,

Since time is no longer cyclical but one-way and irreversible, personal history is now possible and an individual life can have value. This new value is at first hardly understood; but already in the earliest accounts of Avraham [Abraham] and his family we come upon the carefully composed genealogies of ordinary people, something it would have never occurred to Sumerians [the dominant civilization in the region at the time Abram was living] to write down, because they accorded no importance to individual memories.

Time became a journey, not a wheel. What's more, the journey had an eternal purpose — and a destination.

Within a few generations, Abraham's descendants eventually found their way to safe harbor in Egypt during a time of famine in the Promised Land. Within a few more generations, these honored guests of one pharaoh became slaves of another, who carried no memory of the blessing Abraham's great-grandson Joseph had been to the Egyptian people.

After four centuries of slavery, Moses led the people into the desert and then, after forty years of wandering, to the edge of home once again. As they traveled through time and place in God's company, they learned what it meant to stop living as refugees and begin living as pilgrims. The journey from slavery to freedom, from wandering to rootedness, and from seeing themselves as a family of tribes to embracing their calling as God's Chosen People occurred in the school of the desert. They'd known God as their Creator in Egypt, but by the time they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they'd learned that he was their Redeemer and Provider.

If you were to trace this journey on a map, it would form a ragged loop. But this loop doesn't represent the meaningless, repetitious, impersonal cycle of the pagan. This journey through time is, to use a New Testament term, a narrow path. It has a distinct beginning and a specific, holy destination.

Before they entered the Land, God emphasized once again that their lives with him would be formed both by their day-to-day labor and by receiving his gifts of rest, celebration, and reconnection. Leviticus 23 prescribes the weekly Sabbath and the yearly cycle of holy days. The Sabbath gave God's people a day of sanctified rest, designed to renew their relationship with him and one another. In addition, throughout the year, the community would celebrate six holy gatherings that anchored them in the story of God's redemption. As they received these gifts of time from the Eternal One, he empowered them to spread his light to the world he loved.

Relationships are forged from time together. The unique relationship between God and the Hebrew people has been indelibly imprinted by both everyday discipleship and the weekly/yearly festal cycle. The calendar has been integral in developing Jewish identity — an identity that has held the Chosen People through millennia of dispersion, oppression, and suffering. It reminded them of who (and whose) they were when it would have been far easier to forget and assimilate into the surrounding culture.

The effect of living in time differently than the prevailing culture has essential lessons for us today. Our personal schedules are not the extent of our identity. When we are focused on the mission of God and allow its story to determine the rhythms of our lives as a community, we proclaim to the world around us that our God is one and our Messiah is Lord — and all the little Caesars around us are not.


The Gospel of John opens with the words, "In the beginning," a direct reference to Genesis 1. John emphasizes Jesus' eternal, divine nature as Lord and Maker of his creation. In order to restore this creation to himself, Jesus maintained his divinity while at the same time choosing out of love to become a fully human member of his own creation: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14). In so doing, he placed himself amid the Hebrew community he'd called millennia earlier to reflect his light to the world. The Jewish Jesus grew up celebrating the holy days prescribed in the Law. As he stepped into his ministry years, Jesus applied to himself his heavenly Father's intention and meaning for those days in ways that confounded some of his listeners and caused others to draw near to God. Every time he healed on the day of rest, he reflected his Father's restorative purpose of the Sabbath (see Mark 3:1-6). He modeled the kind of actions that flow from a clean heart as he washed his disciples' feet during his last Passover meal with them (John 13:1-7). And in his resurrection he showed us that eternal life was his gift to us in our here and now (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20).

On the first Shavuot (Pentecost) after his resurrection, Jesus' band of Jewish disciples became a body of more than three thousand people (Acts 2). They were first known as a sect of Judaism, followers of the Way (Acts 22:4). It was only as Gentiles flowed into the church over the following decades that a shift began to occur away from the Jewish cycle of marking time. Paul's words to his Gentile friends in Rome reflect the beginning of that shift:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. ROMANS 14:5

The apostle to the Gentiles was concerned for what motivated Gentiles to adhere to the festal cycle given to the Jews:

Now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. GALATIANS 4:9-11

But it's important to remember that the Jewish man who wrote these words himself continued to mark time by Jewish feasts, even as he spoke or wrote to primarily Gentile audiences (see Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 16:8). Paul did not want to see those who'd been incarcerated in the prison of paganism continue to function as if they were captives — not after they'd been set gloriously free by Jesus the Messiah. Paul wanted them to remember that Jew and Gentile alike were free to live, celebrate, and proclaim God's salvation story.

Gentile Christians continued to grow in number, and in order to trace the story of their Savior through time each year, they adapted essential days from the Jewish calendar while also reimagining some of their own cultural festivals. The church calendar that took shape served as both a discipleship tool and missional "marching orders" for the Christian community. It was how the church learned what it means to walk in the way of Jesus. As such, this calendar mirrored the same message as the Jewish festal calendar from which it grew: You and I are not the center of the universe. It's really, truly not about us.


The calendar used by a people shapes their culture. Calendars in all cultures mark big events and measure ordinary days as well. The Jewish people worshipped in time to the festal calendar and eventually came to use the festal calendar as the basis for their civil calendar.

The festal year was linked to agricultural seasons. The first month of the year, Nisan, is in early spring, but the Jewish civil year begins in the fall, on the first day of the seventh month of the year. Confusing? Consider the way in which we mark time in our own culture.

Our calendar tells us a new civil year begins on January 1. However, we also have an academic year, beginning in late August or early September. The academic year was set up as a way of standardizing public education in a way that reflected earlier agrarian rhythms and accommodated common cultural practices such as summertime travel that allowed families to escape the sweltering heat of congested cities.

The Jewish calendar was a lunar calendar. Each month traced the twenty-eight-day cycle of the moon. Several other ancient civilizations used a lunar calendar as well, but those calendars didn't reflect the belief of the Jews that they were on a pilgrimage through time with and toward God.

Because most of the first followers of Jesus were Jews, the lunar calendar shaped the worship of the early church. If you've ever wondered why we celebrate Easter on March 28 one year and April 15 on another, your answer is found in the lunar calendar: Passover, the holiday so linked to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, is calculated from a lunar year of only about 355 days. (A "leap month" is added to the Hebrew calendar every few years so that the feasts remain aligned with their agricultural seasons.)

Over the next centuries, for a host of reasons, the church moved to a solar calendar. Roman emperor Julius Caesar introduced this calendar about four decades before Jesus was born in an attempt to correct the discrepancy between the lunar cycles and our earth's 365-and-a-quarter-day annual trip around the sun. Christian celebrations such as Christmas were anchored in this Julian solar calendar. But the Julian calendar had its own issues with imprecision. The "movable feasts" of Easter and Pentecost (so named because they were tied to the lunar calendar and changed from year to year) had been drifting ever later in the calendar. So in AD 1582, Pope Gregory XIII (aided by mathematicians and astronomers) fine-tuned the Julian calendar. These adjustments included changing the way in which leap years are calculated and removing ten days from that year's calendar. Over time, the Gregorian calendar became the de facto civil calendar of the West, and today it is the primary tool by which much of the world plans its business meetings, date-stamps legal documents, and schedules piano lessons and work hours at the local grocery store.

Many of us treat the civil calendar as if it's a giant empty cabinet awaiting the details of our lives. We stock it with containers of appointments, boxes crammed full of work time, and stacks of recreational activity, acting in the process as though we're captains of our calendars. But this approach to the calendar more closely resembles that ancient, cyclical calendar in which there is no meaning in our past or future, only in the acquisitions and achievements of our present. There is no story, no journey associated with our civil calendar. We have to look elsewhere for that.

When we pray, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12), we are not asking for a tidier organizational system for our calendars. Wisdom is not a clever squishing of time to fit daily Bible reading into our schedule or have better attendance at weekly worship services. The Chosen People discovered more than three millennia ago that when God called them to number their days, it wasn't about rearranging their calendar, but about reorienting their lives — heart, soul, mind, and strength — as they followed him like pilgrims through time.


Excerpted from Moments & Days by Michelle Van Loon. Copyright © 2016 Michelle Van Loon. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Take My Moments and My Days xi

1 Measuring Time, Being Measured by Time: The Calendar 1

Part 1 Jewish Biblical and Historical Feasts

2 In the Beginning: Introduction to the Jewish Calendar 13

3 Day of Yes, Day of Rest: The Sabbath 23

4 Into Freedom: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits 37

5 Fifty Days and First Fruits: Shavuot 49

6 May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life: Rosh Hashanah, Feast of Trumpets 59

7 Atonement and Mercy: Yom Kippur 69

3 God with Us, Us with God; Sukkot / Feast of Tabernacles 79

9 Stones of Remembrance: Jewish History's Holy Days 89

Part 2 The Christian Calendar

10 From Here to There: Introduction to the Christian Calendar 99

11 Longing for Home: Advent 111

12 Welcoming the Word Made Flesh: Christmas 121

13 The Light to the World: Epiphany 129

14 Ashes to Ashes: Lent 135

15 Walking Toward the Cross with Jesus: Holy Week 143

16 Living in Resurrection Time: Easter 155

17 Signs, Wonders, and New Community: Pentecost 165

18 Right Here, Right Now: Ordinary Time 173

Conclusion: It's About Time 179

Acknowledgments 189

Glossary 191

Side-by-Side Calendar Comparison 192

Recipes 195

Additional Resources 205

Notes 207

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