Our little missional community has decided to gather next weekend and have a meal together. The plan is to bring whatever info or reflections that each of us can glean on the feast of tabernacles, and share that together — as well as the meal. I’ve said before that christians would do well to take greater note of and even find ways to participate in some of the feasts and holy days that come from our shared heritage with the Jewish people. This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada; Sukkot (aka Tabernacles, Booths, Ingathering) has already begun, and will take us up to the point of our next meeting as a group.
I’ve had a particular desire to more fully appreciate the feast of tabernacles. This dates back to several years ago when my wife and I were still sitting on the leadership team of the congregation we helped plant, our CLB. The leadership team had gathered one fall evening and were praying together. In the context of prayer and some prophetic words and impressions, I read the passage where the feast of tabernacles was first instituted, noting that it was to be a lasting ordinance. We were considering what (if anything) we should do as a community to mark and celebrate Thanksgiving that year, and this idea of the Feast of Tabernacles landed in the midst of it. We held a feast. In fact, this marked a season where we started to really get something right… we embarked on a season where for a period of six months or more, we held a feast approximately every six weeks. We felt clearly that God wanted us to learn something about giving thanks, celebrating, and feasting as a community. It proved to be quite a rich season, and several of us were very clear that God wanted us to continue in this pattern until we’d properly internalized the whole thing, until we really had ahold of it. The events were popular from the start, and really enriched our experience of community as we shared and ate together with little in the way of an organized program. There even seemed to be some envy coming from the sister-congregation (aka the mothership) about the whole thing. As time went on, some of the leaders got their fingers into it though, and it started to take on an evangelistic thrust. It was reasoned that since we were having such a good time, it would be good to bring unsaved friends and neighbours. This led to a more evangelistic program, followed by a decrease in people’s overall enjoyment of the event and an eventual petering out of the whole thing. But that’s part of another story… the main concept here is the fact that God seemed to feel it was vitally important for us to learn how to feast, to celebrate, and to give thanks together, as a community.
We were thinking about these things during the week just passed. We were discussing with friends, ones who had been there with us for the feast season, and who are there with us now in the gatherings of our missional community. We were remembering that season from several years back, and talking about our upcoming feast… and, of course, the Feast of Tabernacles. Coincidentally (if you go in for htat sort of description), they just received this week a book about the Feast of Tabernacles, and we looked at some snippets from it as we chatted this week.
Thanksgiving as a holiday really only occurs in the USA and Canada, but it seems that there are similar types of harvest-based holidays in nearly every agrarian society that one might look at. Having been recently inducted into the Daily Scribe list, I’ve now got a fairly natural place to look for well-written non-christian perspectives on things like this. The Judaism Channel has a lot on Sukkot, of course (though it could use a general introduction, most of the posts assume familiarity… but to a lesser extent, I might say the same of the Wikipedia entries). In addition to that, there’s even a Wiccan perspective in the unexpected A Witch on Yom Kippur. Of course, in considering Sukkot, one naturally begins to think about Yom Kippur, the proximity of the two in the calendar, and any relationship one might see between them. Quite instructive is a post quoted by Angela-Eloise (the witch) from another Daily Scribe blog from the Judaism Channel, Reb Chaim HaQoton. So instructive is it on this point that I’ll repeat the same quote here.
[T]he repentance during the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh HaShannah to Yom Kippur is a repentance out of fear (fear from Heavenly punishment and fear of the awesomeness of G-d), while the repentance during the holiday of Succos is a repentance from love. The difference between the two types of repentance is that repentance from fear only erases one’s sins, while repentance from love transforms one’s sins into fulfillments of positive commandments…
This Jewish blogger provides further insight:
Perhaps one can answer the seeming contradiction between the two Mishnahs by explaining that both Yom Kippur and the Holiday of Succos are the happiest time of the year. In addition, Yom Kippur and Succos are to be considered one long period, so the happiness on both is the same. The Avodah/service of Yom Kippur, forgiveness and atonement, is the same as the service of Succos, which is happiness.
So it is that in the fall as the harvest comes to a close, one tends to reflect on the year just passed. I think this a near-universal phenomenon, regardless of faith tradition… some yield to this much more readily than others and some have fixed observances through their faith, but I think the tendency toward this reflection, whether one formally recognizes it or not, is almost innate. And with every looking back, there’s a looking forward. What things have been poor in the year preceding, and are of our own doing? Make repentance, and resolve. What things have been good in the year preceding, and not of our own doing? Give thanks. In the autumn, there is a natural change of seasons during which the harvest is brought in… the life that was seen through the spring and summer months begins to change, to die or become dormant as it settles in for the winter ahead. Winter demands resolve, it requires certain practices to help lead one through it to the newness of life that comes in spring. (I pause here to say how I pity those who live in the temperate climates which don’t show enough change in the seasons to appreciate any of this, the insight that comes from watching the changes in the seasons.) There’s enough of a call in this idea of harvest and the preparations made for winter that traditions of almost every kind recognize some of these themes in the harvest moon.
In the prairie towns where I grew up, there was a phenomenon called the “fall supper.” Sometimes there was a pun in the name of the event, the “fowl supper.” It’s when people in the agrarian society that drives the small town all pile into the Legion or the Orange Hall or whatever and have a big feast. There’s a bit of a “fall supper season” in which one can find these events strung out all over the place for several weeks, and for a very few dollars you can have a feast with half the rural neighbourhood as people raise funds for something-or-other and celebrate the end of the harvest together.
For a several months now I’ve been thinking I should have reviewed Alana Levandoski‘s first CD, “Unsettled Down” (Amazon.ca Link). It’s a severe discredit to the Juno Awards that she wasn’t nominated last year. Seriously, I think it’s a massive oversight. Others have given it said some cool things, such as “Levandoski reminds me a bit of a female Dylan. Just an excellent songwriter, with the lyrics being the centerpiece.” It’s for this reason I think that Levandoski’s album is so outstanding. She has a way of turning out a phrase that sets her apart. What else can you say about a songwriter who spins out lines like “And no one talked about the grin that slapped heaven in the face and took hell for a spin” from Red Headed Girl, a song about her mother — and “My dreams have gone to seed Now I’ve gotta watch out for the weeds” or “my grave awaits my body but it don’t await my soul” from I Ain’t No Saint?
All this about Alana Levandoski is just an aside so I can talk about her song Prairie Sun (MP3). Latch onto this:
And a prairie town has the heart of a workin horse
Gotta have your hands in the dirt to stay on course
And whatever you’ve done, gets purged in the plough
Hard feelings reconciled in harvest somehow
You see, it’s in the very fabric of an agrarian society. It’s universal.
Bob Carlton reflected recently on Yom Kippur and on forgiveness, saying to understand everything is to forgive everything. (His post has some good links to more info/posts on Yom Kippur.) Bob quotes from the Wikipedia entry (linked above), where a famous Jewish writer, said “Dieu me pardonnera; c’est son metier.” (God will forgive me; that’s his job.) He notes that in Yom Kippur, one repents of the sins committed against God, and “this is why it is necessary for Jews also to seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged.” So Yom Kippur is also a time for forgiving one another… and so is harvest.
In the harvest, the work is done, the season has passed, and a difficult season lies ahead. Fall is a season of completion, of fulfillment — anything left undone will lie dormant until next season. The winter season ahead is one of incubation, which gives way to new birth in the spring, one should necessarily put aside grudges, set aside one’s own guilt through absolution from God and cast off the guilt of one’s friends and neighbours toward ones’ self. Forgive. Have a feast togther, celebrate the blessings we share. Mark and give thanks for the goodness of God toward us, for the season ahead requires the grace of God from the past, his provision for the winter. Only two things can make the winter longer, harsher, more bitter, and unbearable. Looming unforgiveness and a lack of provision in the harvest. Thanks be to God, he provides remedy for both.
There really is something about the changing of the seasons, the fall colours, and the harvest.
May you all find the purging of the plough
for the transgressions of your past year.
May you bury them deep in the fresh-tilled earth, dead,
to be covered over with the frost and snow of the coming winter.
May you find the forgiveness of your friends and the forgiveness of God.
May you extend forgiveness to others,
as it’s been shown to you.
May you feast together with those around you,
giving thanks to God for the harvest,
and may you find new life again in the spring.