Friday, April 3, 2015

Should Christians Celebrate the "Night to Be Much Observed"?

"Should Christians celebrate Easter?" the pastel-colored magazine in my mailbox pointedly asks. "Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians to celebrate this holiday!"

I'd like to turn a similar question back to the well-intentioned Church of God ministers who have so graciously flooded my mailbox in recent weeks.

Should Christians celebrate the Night to be Much Observed? Nowhere does the Bible tell Christians to observe this occasion.

WHAT?!?!?!? How on earth can I say that? It's a Night. To. Be. Much. Observed. The Bible clearly tells us to remember it. It's in the name, for crying out loud.

Let's turn to Exodus 12, the passage the COGs claim discusses this supposedly ancient celebration.

(EXODUS 12:6-7) "Now you shall keep it (the lamb) until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it."

(EXODUS 12:13-13) "Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt So this day shall be to you a memorial, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance."

(EXODUS 12:24-27) "And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord has given you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?' that you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households."

(EXODUS 12:41-42) "And it came to pass that at the end of the four hundred and thirty years - on that very same day - it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations."

Verse 43 launches back into regulations for keeping the Passover. So we have discussion of the Passover from Exodus 12:1 through verse 51, the end of the chapter. The entire context is Passover. What event changed Pharaoh's heart? What did God use to win their freedom? The death of the firstborn, on Passover. When did Pharaoh call for Moses and tell the Israelites to leave? On the very night they are the Passover. Passover is the night of importance, the solemn observance, the night to be remembered. There is nothing that indicates a second observance. We can debate the fourteenth versus fifteenth, we can rehash the Quartodeciman Controversy, but we can't debate the fact that the event this passage discusses remembering is Passover.

Verse 42, the scripture the COGs use to establish this fabricated celebration, tells us the observance in question is to be solemn. The Passover is unarguably solemn, because of what occurred that night - the slaughter of a lamb, and thousands of firstborns, and even moreso because of what it foreshadowed - the death of the Savior. This tone of the COG Passover service seems much more in line with what verse 42 describes than the alleged Night to Be Much Observed. It doesn't appear that the Israelites celebrated their deliverance until Exodus 15, after Pharaoh's army was drowned in the sea. Humanly speaking, this makes sense to me. Would I have been pleased the morning after the Passover, to learn we were leaving? Absolutely. But I can see myself a little shell shocked. Grieved at the deaths of so many Egyptians. A little post traumatic stress disorder from the plagues. And then there was the matter of the Egyptian army pursuing them. All in all, I suspect the day after the Passover was not a big party for the children of Israel.

And really, it's not exactly a reason to party for Christians today, either. The COGs tell us that this supposed Night to Be pictures Israel's deliverance from Egypt and our deliverance from sin through Christ's death. It is a night to prepare an elaborate meal, gather with brethren and rejoice. The tone of this tradition is tragically incongruent with what the evening allegedly marks.

What do the COGs tell us we are celebrating? Christ's victory over sin, achieved by His death. Is the end result of the story something to celebrate? Absolutely. But is His actual death something to celebrate? I think not. Do you start planning an elaborate party when a close relative passes? "Hey guys, Aunt Edna is dead, would you please pass the prime rib? And did you SEE the dessert table?".

Even we "deceived", "so-called Christians" get this point. Arguments about the timing of the crucifixion aside, have you ever been to a Good Friday service? It's solemn, bordering on somber. We know how the story ends, we know we have the victory, and we plan to celebrate it just days later. But still, there is sadness in the fact that our Savior suffered and died for our sins. It's a little harsh to celebrate while His body was still in the grave.

How did Christ's original disciples spend the night after the Passover? Were they celebrating the night of this alleged observance, while their teacher's body lay in the garden tomb?  It seems unlikely. There is no mention of a celebration that night, and John 20:11 tells us that Mary Magdalene was still weeping when she went to the tomb. The disciples appeared to be visibly upset when Christ met them on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:17. Lavish food was the furthest thing from their minds.

I know, we can't just go on emotion.  It's all about the commanded timing. Well, if the correct timing is so important, why do the gospels differ on as whether the crucifixion happened on the first Day of Unleavened Bread or the day before? There are many exceptions in Jewish law that could explain why Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover early, if they truly did. And what they observed obviously was the Passover. That's what Jesus called it, and He would know. But the larger point is, if taking the bread and wine on the self-same day as the Hebrew Passover were a matter of Christian obedience or salvation, the timeline in the synoptic gospels and John's gospel probably should match. There is no wiggle room when it comes to salvation. Perhaps this is one clue that the exact date one takes the bread and the wine doesn't matter, as long as we obey and do it in the reverent manner the New Testament proscribes.

Paul's use of the Greek word hosakis, an adverb that indicates multiplicity, in 1 Corinthians 11:25 is another indication that taking the bread and the wine wasn't a once-a-year thing. Spiros Zodhiates' Complete Word Study of the New Testament tells us the word can also be rendered "as many times as you do this." One must at least admit this isn't iron-clad evidence that the bread and wine were to be eaten annually, only on the Passover date. Christian recommitment and examination are more effective when they take place on a more frequent basis. I don't know about you, but I can't even remember what I ate for dinner on this day last week. Remembering my struggles and failures from 11 months ago is not a particularly effective assignment.

In short, the case for celebrating Herbert W Armstrong's Night to Be Much Observed is flimsy at best. Christians who honestly consider its alleged timing and symbolism may find it a tad distasteful. The COGs have us celebrate Christ's victory when His body was barely cold in the grave, yet they ignore the miracle of His resurrection. If were commanded to keep it, that would be one thing. But we aren't. It isn't even in the Bible.

I'm sorry, guys. I'm really not trying to be spiteful. I know some of you have Night to Be traditions that you find rich and meaningful. I know some find it a great time to fellowship. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But if we're going to be honest, if we're going to believe our Bibles rather than men, well, the Night to Be isn't in the Bible. If it's wrong for man to create his own religious traditions, well, then, the Night to Be has to go. So does the opening night service at the Feast of Tabernacles. So do Purim and Hanukkah, the latter of which we have evidence Jesus observed. But that's another story for another day.

Wait! I have a great idea.  I'll stop now and promise not to further criticize your man-made Night to Be celebration if you promise not to criticize my man-made celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday. Do we have a deal?

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Martha!

I believe the "night to be much observed" is simply another title for the Passover. As you correctly pointed out the entire context of Exodus 12 and even 13 is the Passover for God sanctified the firstborn of Israel the same night he executed the firstborn of Egypt (see Numbers 8:17)! The Hebrew word translated "much observed" is "shimmur" and can mean "watching." What did Christ ask of His disciples on the night He was betrayed to do? Watch! (Matthew 26:38, 40; Mark 14:34, 37-38) Which night were they up all night concerned over the events of the betrayal and arrest of Christ, which would end in His execution later that same day?! The Passover!

Even if we imagine we were slaves for a long time and today the 10th of April the President proclaimed he was setting us free, but we didn't get on a plane to leave the country until tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, which day would I be celebrating as the day of my freedom? Today the 10th of April course!

Yet, the Armstrongist tradition of the NTBMO is just another example of HWA proof-texting to establish another unbiblical doctrine. There is no other solemn and sacred night to be much observed in Scripure that God commanded the people of Israel to keep other than the Passover! If He wanted them to keep the following night as a lavish affair He surely would've recorded exact how He wanted it to be kept as He did the other festivals. The Armstrongists are just as guilty as those they accuse of adding to or taking away from God's commands.