29th August 2020
Our Dear Brethren,
I climbed on my old blue bike and sped away as fast as I could. There was nothing particularly special about my bike, unless you consider shiny metal fenders to be special. The fairgrounds where I had been riding the past few days were mostly empty except for about a dozen campers and RVs parked along the grassy islands in the center of the enormous parking lot. In my limited experience up to that point there was nothing better than meeting up with my friends and riding as fast as we could past our fellow campers, through the empty covered walkways, dodging lampposts and handrails. I didn't really understand the importance of what we were doing there.
For me it was the closest thing I had ever experienced to what some people call a vacation. In fact, through much of my childhood, the only time we traveled very far from home was on Feast days. We would head to Seattle for combined services on the Feast of Trumpets and on the Day of Atonement. The Feast of Tabernacles was the biggest event of the year when all of us would climb into the family car (sometimes a van or truck with a camper) and drive for hours and hours. Life back home was basically forgotten as we enjoyed feasting on the physical blessings that God had blessed us with through the year. It was a time of playing, it was a time of fellowship, it was a time of gathering together, it was a time of feasting.
Year by year, as I began to actually pay attention more purposefully to the words of the hymns and sermons, I began to understand more clearly why we were there. It wasn't just so I could meet up with my friends or so we could eat out at restaurants we otherwise didn't get a chance to go to. It wasn't so I could skip school and ride my bike on a Tuesday morning, or so we could swim in a real swimming pool. It wasn't even so we could see faraway places like Eugene, Oregon, or Spokane, Washington.
"...and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field" (Exodus 23:16b). "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: "Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you"'" (Exodus 31:12-13). "'Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eight day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the 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 as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God'" (Leviticus 23:39-43).
The Feast of Tabernacles is a reminder of so many things in the past, the history of the people of God. A reminder that we seek a homeland and that even the physical blessings we have from God are only temporary. Furthermore it is a reminder of days to come when there will be peace on the earth and a time of renewal. Learning how to properly keep the Feasts of God, both in physical ways, and more importantly, in spiritual ways, is a process. The more we keep the Feasts the more we learn about God and about His plan of salvation for His creation, humanity. The more we keep the Feast of Tabernacles the more we learn how to rejoice before our God in the place He has put His name. In traveling to keep this upcoming Feast we will undoubtedly come across challenges we will need God's help to overcome. Through these challenges we will hopefully learn how much we must depend on God for everything.
There I was as a young boy in our modern age trying to keep ancient festivals of God. I had to learn to rejoice and to give praise to God. I had to learn the importance of fellowship and of serving. I had to learn the meaning behind staying in a temporary dwelling place far from home. I had to learn what it means to seek the kingdom of God. We must always remember that we are always learning year by year. When we think we have it all figured out, when we think we can keep the Feast better than anyone else, that's when we should know that our learning has only just begun. May we all keep learning how to truly rejoice before God as we prepare ourselves for the keeping of His Feasts which are teaching tools for us.
Our love is with you,
Pastor, United Church of God
NYC, NJ, CT, Malawi, Zimbabwe