13th Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2010
Leviticus 23: 33-43, Nehemiah 8:13-18, 1 Kings 8:2
Living in Tents: Sukkot – Resting in God’s Presence
The LORD spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths – or tabernacles – to the LORD. The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. Seven days you shall present the LORD’s offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the LORD’s offering by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations….
Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the LORD, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eight day. On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. You shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute forever throughout your generations. You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall lie in booths, so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 23: 33-43)
Every year the Jews celebrate Sukkot – the Festival of Booths, which are called sukkah, in Hebrew. It usually happens at the end of September – this year it begins on the evening of Sept 22 and lasts for a week. This is one of the biggest festivals in the Jewish tradition – a pilgrimage festival, for which people went up to Jerusalem to celebrate.
Each year you move out of your house for a week into a temporary shelter. It is built on the roof, in the courtyard, in the back yard or on the sidewalk – where ever there is room for your family to gather. The shelters are decorated with branches – citron tree branches and fruit, date palm branches, myrtle branches and willow branches. These symbolize both the richness of the land in which you dwell and the crops they produce, and the fact that God provided food and shelter thousands of years ago during the wilderness journey and still provides food and shelter today.
This is also the last festival before the fall rains, and the last day of prayer most likely included prayers for a good rainy season. During the last day of the festival, Jews in Jerusalem marched around the temple seven times. Even today, marching around the area of tents waving the branches is part of the prayers. It was decreed that every seven years, the Torah would be read to the gathered people at the beginning of the festival.
This festival is like a big camp-out. People eat and sleep in their ‘tabernacles’ and visit with each other. They sing and play games and cook and eat. Regular work and housekeeping chores are forbidden. The harvest is in, agricultural work is done, it’s time to sacrifice in thanksgiving, and catch up with each other.
The remembrance of living in tents in the desert journey reminds you that God is your provider. It reminds you that God knows what you need to thrive, and that under God’s protection you will never need for anything of importance. It reminds you that you have been blessed and taking a moment to recognize the gifts of fellowship, food, comfortable homes and God’s word puts life back on the right track.
When Jesus preached about the lilies of the field being more beautifully arrayed than Solomon in all his glory, and about God noticing if even one sparrow falls, he is teaching the principles which undergird the Festival of Sukkot.
“Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matt 6:31-34.
So the next time you are camping, whether you are sleeping in your fifth-wheel or in a pup-tent, take a minute to look up at the stars. Take a moment to inhale the smell of trees and sunshine on the ground. Toast those som’ores over the campfire and tell jokes and ghost stories, and remember.
Remember that God made the world beautiful so that you could see that God loves this earth and made a home for you in it. Remember that God came in person to bless and save people who didn’t deserve it, simply because God loved them, and us, so much.
Remember that even the best we do for God is flawed by our imperfection but that God loves us so much Jesus made up for everything we could not do to be loving and obedient to God’s desire for us. Remember that Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that nothing can separate us from God’s love and God’s protection.
Remember that God will provide as God has always provided for God’s people, and that we never need to be afraid. Remember that we are beloved people, claimed and forgiven to be a blessing to the world God loves. And then when your rest is done, go forth to love and serve God as you serve God’s people.
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds at rest in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.