Starting Thursday night, tonight in the United States, the Church of God will be keeping Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.
The keeping of God's annual holy days and festivals is an important characteristic of the true Church of God. We owe this tradition to Mr. Armstrong and his willingness to believe what God says in the Bible more than tradition, even tradition in the Church of God. We also owe this tradition to the thousands of people who heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio say, Don't believe me, don't believe any minister or man, believe God, believe your Bible. These people believed God more than their church and their traditions and joined in supporting Mr. Armstrong, and it was their support that enabled the work of God to grow at that time. We are the fruit of that effort. Our traditions must be based on God's word and commandments (Matthew 15:1-9).
Each annual festival and holy day that God gave Israel in the Old Testament has meaning for the Church of God. Observing these days helps us to understand that meaning. Together, the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days and festivals help us understand the whole plan of God for the salvation of the human race.
Observing God's ordained festivals and holy days and the weekly Sabbath helps us understand the whole plan of God in two ways. We hear sermons and scriptures on the subject and meaning of the days we keep, and this helps us understand the plan of God. But also, when God sees our obedience in keeping these days, He blesses us by opening our minds to understand His truth and His plan (Psalm 111:10).
Passover is observed at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month, at evening after sunset (each day begins and ends at sunset) (Exodus 12:1-11). It is an annual festival, but not a holy day. Work may be done on the fourteenth day. We observe it, following Christ's example, by eating unleavened bread and drinking a small amount of wine (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:15-20). The bread represents the body of Christ, which was broken for our healing. The wine represents His shed blood - His death - which pays the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and reconciled with God the Father (John 6:32-58, Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12).
We also wash each other's feet, following the example of Jesus Christ, to represent the attitude of humble service we should have towards the brethren (John 13:2-17).
Before Passover, we should examine ourselves so we can keep the Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).
Passover is kept by those who are baptized. God's instructions for Old Testament Israel were that only those who are circumcised could keep the Passover (Exodus 12:43-44). In the Church, circumcision is of the heart (Romans 2:23-29). It is those who have repented and made the commitment to obey God represented by baptism who are spiritually circumcised (Acts 2:38).
Passover day is not a holy day. It is an annual festival of God, but not an annual sabbath. We can work on that day. But the next day is the first day of unleavened bread, and it is an annual sabbath and holy day. It is the first day of a seven day festival in which we avoid leavening and eat unleavened bread each day.
The first and last days of unleavened bread are annual sabbath days - holy days - and we refrain from work and we assemble for services on those days (Leviticus 23:4-8). Offerings are taken up on the holy days (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).
During the seven days of unleavened bread, we avoid eating leavening (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) and leavened products. We should have all leavening and leavened products out of our homes (or our living space we control if we live in someone else's home who is not a Church member) before the first day of unleavened bread. During these days, leavening represents sin because it puffs up and spreads. As Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ that makes forgiveness of our sins and our healing possible, the days of unleavened bread represent our part in putting sin out of our lives. In other words, the days of unleavened bread represent repentance.
As leavening represents sin, the unleavened bread we eat each day represents the righteousness of Christ. We are not only to get sin out of our lives, but we are to live righteously following the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:4).
But at the very beginning of the days of unleavened bread, this coming Friday evening, we keep the night to be much observed.
Passover at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month represents God sparing the firstborn of Israel when He killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. For the Church, it represents God sparing us from the death penalty for our sins because of the sacrifice of Christ. The lamb that was killed in Egypt represents Christ.
But that is not the day Israel left Egypt. Israel walked out of Egypt the following night, the beginning of the fifteenth day of the first month. God has commanded that this time be observed. Egypt represents this sinful society and bondage to sin, and for the Church this night represents our coming out of this sinful society and its ways. We observe this by gathering together, usually in families in a Church member's home, to eat a special meal. Often, members talk about how they were called and how they came into the truth and into the Church (Exodus 12:41-42).
There are lessons to be learned about sin and the effort we must make to put sin out of our lives and keep it out. God often uses physical things to teach us spiritual lessons, and so it is with unleavened bread.
We must be constantly diligent to avoid eating leavening during these days. It is easy to slip up and forget, especially in the workplace and when we are going to lunch with people who are not in the Church. Thus it is with sin. We have to be constantly alert. Also, we may find some unleavened bread - perhaps a package of crackers in a corner someplace - that we missed when we put leavening out of our homes. When we find it, we must get rid of it right away. That is what sin is like. We may discover sins in our lives that we have not been aware of, and when we do we are to repent of those sins.
As we observe the spring holy days and festivals, let's keep the meaning of these days in mind and learn the lessons God wants to teach us. And let us be thankful to God for these days and their meaning.