The Bible lists seven festivals to be celebrated each year (Leviticus 23), and the New Testament shows many examples of Jesus, His apostles and the Church of God celebrating them. The first, the Passover, is a memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. This is also when we renew our agreement to come under the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect Passover Lamb, for the forgiveness of our sins. We approach this period of the year with deep spiritual introspection. We commemorate the Passover on the 14th day of the first month of the sacred year with a service based on the instructions of 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 and the Gospel accounts of the New Testament Passover that Christ instituted.
This solemn service begins with a brief explanation of its purpose, followed by foot-washing (based on Christ's example and instructions in John 13). Then the minister gives an explanation of the symbols of the Passover, unleavened bread and wine, which represent the body and blood of our Savior. Each baptized member of the Church eats a small piece of the unleavened bread and drinks a small glass of the wine (Mark 14:22-24). Passover is the only festival that does not also include a Holy Day (annual Sabbath).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is symbolic of the Christian's responsibility to strive to live a sin-free life. We prepare for the Feast of Unleavened Bread by removing leaven and leavened products (bread or other baked items that are made with yeast, baking powder, baking soda or potassium bicarbonate) from our homes (Exodus 12:18-19). We also do not eat bread products made with leaven during the seven days of the Unleavened Bread festival in keeping with God's instructions. Two of the most common commercial unleavened breads are Ry-Krisp and matzos. (Not all matzos are free of leaven, however, so one has to read the labels.)
This festival begins and ends with an annual Holy Day on which church services are held similar to the kind of services we hold on every weekly Sabbath. However, on each of the annual Holy Days, the messages focus on various aspects of the meaning of the day we are observing.
The meetings begin with congregational singing, followed by a prayer. After that, an elder or someone designated by the pastor gives a 10- to 12-minute message. This is followed by announcements and the collection of an offering (in accordance with Deuteronomy 16:16-17). (Offerings are not collected on the weekly Sabbath, because there are no instructions or examples of this in the Bible.) More congregational singing may follow, or a choir or musicians may present special music.
The main message lasts approximately one hour and is given usually by the pastor or an elder that he designates. Occasionally, we will use alternative formats, such as having two messages of equal length (around 40 minutes each), between which we have the announcement segment and congregational singing or special music. All of the messages provide guidance, encouragement and education to the membership, as well as help us worship God. The service ends with a final congregational hymn and a closing prayer.
The next two Holy Days are Pentecost (reminding us of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the Church of God) and the Feast of Trumpets (picturing the return of Jesus Christ). All Holy Days are high day annual Sabbaths, so Christians do not perform their regular work on them, resting in the same way that they do on every weekly Sabbath.
The Day of Atonement has a unique aspect to it, in that God instructs us to "fast" or to go without food and drink. "Afflicted in soul" (Leviticus 23:29) is explained in Vine's Expository Dictionary as meaning to humble oneself through fasting.
Most of the Holy Days are observed in local congregations, with the exception of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day. Church members and their families gather in centralized locations for that entire eight-day festival season. We observe this main festival season of the year with daily church services, including those days that are not annual or weekly Sabbaths. This festival is also a time of great spiritual and physical enjoyment and includes programs for families, seniors, teens and young adults.