The major pilgrimage festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot) marked the three times in the year that the Israelites would make the trek to the Temple in Jerusalem as commanded by the Torah. They would participate in festivals and ritual worship in conjunction with the Kohanim at the Temple:
But why were the people living in Israel expected to schlep back to Jerusalem after just schlepping there seven weeks earlier for Pesach? That sounds like a lot of schlepping!
The Psalms of Ascent give us a taste of what this trek to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals would have been like. First of all, they reaffirmed that this was an ascent—not an easy, flat journey! But as they sang, they were assured of God’s protection and care on this journey and conveyed joyful anticipation of going to worship at the Temple. This was not a burden—it was a core part of the cycle of their year and an anchor of their identity as a people chosen to point the nations towards the mountain of the Lord (Isaiah 2:3).
The pilgrimage connected the people with their land, heritage, community, and God
This was also a joyful, community-building journey. The journey was strenuous, but the reward was worthwhile. The pilgrimage festivals were an opportunity for the Jewish community to reaffirm their commitment to God. Not only was this a necessary pilgrimage because the Torah required the people to bring their offerings to the Temple, but it was a joyful one as it connected the people with their land, heritage, community, and God.
The journey to sacrifice at the Temple was just that, a sacrifice, but it also brought the people deep joy, reflected in the Psalms. I can only imagine the great excitement the people must have felt as they made their journey to bring to the Lord the first of what they had. I wish my life was always infused with this kind of joy to bring my best to God, and nothing less. In response to God’s provision, we joyfully give our first to Him.
Even today, we place a high value on things that come right from the land to our table, hence, the growing farm-to-table movement. We highly prize the natural, nourishing, ethical, and sustainable quality of farm-to-table food. But for the Israelites, God was asking them to bring the first of their crop–their “farm-to-table” harvest—to His table.
We can find very deep joy when we give some of ourselves away.
We intuitively know in our souls that giving our best means sacrificing some of what we have. We can also find very deep joy when we give some of ourselves away, whether that’s through raising kids, caring for the elderly, or buying a meal for a homeless person. The long journey of giving the best of ourselves for someone else is often where we find the most meaning in our lives.
How can we give our best and our first to God just like our ancestors did? Maybe it means reevaluating our finances and being charitable. Or maybe it’s giving up some of our personal time to volunteer and help those in need. It could also be as simple as giving the first moments of our day to Him in prayer.
God made His own pilgrimage to Jerusalem to extend His arm to us. He gave the first of what He had—His only Son—as a sacrifice to redeem His people to Himself. That kind of love prompts us to give our first and our best. And whatever that looks like for you, there is mercy. In giving the best of ourselves away, we find abundance.
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