According to the Middle Eastern fertility religions, the gods had to be bribed or manipulated into giving good harvests. But the Israelites did not have to do this! Instead, at the beginning of the barley harvest they were to acknowledge the goodness and generosity of their God, by offering to Him the very first handful of grain that was cut. None of that year’s produce could be eaten until this ceremony had been performed (Leviticus 23:9-14). The date was not specified (since it would depend on exactly when the grain ripened), but it later became fixed as the Sabbath that began the Feast of Unleavened Bread – which was the Sabbath immediately following the Passover. By offering that first sheaf to God, the whole harvest was consecrated and brought under His blessing.
Now it was on that day of the firstfruits ceremony that Jesus was raised from the dead. And just as the firstfruits were the ‘first instalment’ of the harvest, the promise of more to come, so His resurrection is the promise of the resurrection of all His people. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:20).
Do we now celebrate this festival? Yes – this is why most churches worship together on a Sunday. Be reminded of the Resurrection tomorrow, and every Sunday!