Someone asked me how it is that Pentecost (Shavuot) also known as the Feast of Weeks was this past Wednesday if the Church is celebrating it this Sunday. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai and to New Testament believers, it also celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples in the Upper Room. Shavuot falls 50 days after the first sabbath after Passover (more on that below).
The year that Jesus celebrated “the Last Supper” with His Disciples, Passover fell on a Thursday night. It is important to remember that a new day (in the Jewish counting of days) starts at sundown the evening prior, so Thursday night after sundown is the beginning of Friday. The day Jesus was crucified (“Good Friday”) was the day of the Passover.
To know when Pentecost is, one needs to know when Passover is. Now here is where it gets a little tricky. Each year, Passover falls on a different day on the Western or Gregorian calendar, because the Jewish Calendar is a lunar calendar of 354 days and the Western calendar (Gregorian calendar) is a solar calendar of 365 days). If you read my last note, you’ll recall that as a lunar calendar, the Jewish calendar has a “leap month” to make up the difference between the lunar calendar (~354 days) and the solar calendar (of 365 days).
Pentecost in Jesus day, this year and in the Western Church
1. In Jesus’ day, Shavuot (Pentecost) was calculated as it is now, by counting 49 days after the first Sabbath after Passover and adding a day(Leviticus 23:15). This is called “counting of the Omer”. Passover was Thursday night, Jesus was crucified on Friday and He rose from the dead on Sunday (the Lord’s Day). The first Sabbath (Saturday) following Passover was the one between His crucifixion and Resurrection; so when you add one day to the 49 days (7 weeks) in accordance with Leviticus 23:15, Shavuot / Pentecost fell on a Sunday… Pentecost Sunday. Since the Jewish calendar is a lunar, the year following Jesus’ death, Shavuot would have fallen on some other day other than Sunday. That is, the Disciples and Early Church would not have been celebrating “Pentecost Sunday” because it would not have fallen on a Sunday for several more years.
2. This year, Passover fell at sundown on April 14th (2014) so counting of the Omer (i.e. 49 + 1 days from the first Sabbath following Passover onthe Jewish calendar), Pentecost fell this past Tuesday night (June 3rd) at sundown, which as I mentioned above is the beginning of Wednesday. That is how it is that Pentecost was this past Wednesday.
3. The Western Church however no longer uses the calendar that Jesus and the Disciples used (a lunar calendar of 354 days) but use the Gregorian(solar) calendar of 365 days. So the Western Church counts 49+1 days from when Good Friday falls on the Gregorian calendar, Pentecost always falls on a Sunday.
A Note about the Sabbath
Since the counting of the Omer necessitates knowing when the Sabbath is (as it is counted from the first Sabbath after Passover), I thought I’d say a few words about that.
As can be seen in Scripture, the Disciples and Early Church continued to celebrate the feasts according to the Jewish calendar. The Sabbath was celebrated from Friday night until Saturday night and when the Church gathered on “the first day of the week” (also known as “The Lord’s Day”). The Lord’s day fell Saturday night after sundown; hence what we would call Sunday.
Since Jesus rose from the dead on that day, Sunday was referred to in Scripture as “the Lord’s Day” and the Sabbath remained as it had always been. As the Gentiles outnumbered the Jewish believers in the Church, the celebration of “the Lord’s Day” became known as the “Sabbath”; a concept that was foreign to the Disciples and early Church.