This week we’re celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (in Hebrew, “Sukkot”). A “Sukkah” (Sukkot is plural) is a temporary dwelling constructed to remind of the 40 years God’s people spent living in the wilderness, sleeping in tents. My kids call this holiday the Feast of Tents.
Aside from remembering their time in the wilderness, why do we recreate this ancient festival every year?
- To remind us of what’s temporary, and what’s eternal.
- To remind us of how God came in the flesh, and “pitched his tent” on earth.
- To stir up our desire for the day when his kingdom comes fully and we celebrate this feast with him.
The Bible calls Sukkot the most joyous holiday season of the year. In ancient times it was celebrated with feasting, singing, dancing, acrobats, juggling, and of course, camping out in the Sukkah. We celebrated in a slightly more subdued way, but we did put up 3 different Sukkot.
The first was a group effort. Some friends hosted a feast for 25, and we needed a big Sukkah to accommodate that many. We made a rectangular frame entirely out of branches lashed with twine, covered it with smaller branches, and decorated it with colorful foliage and garden produce. It took a long time to raise the frame, and longer to stabilize it. Then we ate and drank and talked and sang and basked in the perfect weather. We watched the full moon rise and make its way across the sky.
The second Sukkah was just for our family. We built it a secluded spot in the country. We made a cone shaped structure of branches and sticks that was big enough for all of us to sit on the ground inside. We ate a few meals, had a few campfires, and enjoyed stargazing through the gaps in the branches one mild, still evening.
The third Sukkah was a nylon tent we put up in our backyard. We couldn’t make it to our secluded retreat every day this week, so we needed a more accessible option. It wasn’t beautiful, and we couldn’t see the stars through the roof, but we did camp out there.
As the week went on, the weather turned cold and the sky became gloomy. With it, my mood darkened. I wanted just a few more glorious days of sunshine to celebrate by. Was that too much to ask?
Maybe. I wanted to experience God on my terms. I realized that I could easily worship the symbolism, or the beauty of creation, or the tradition, and still miss the point.
The biblical Tabernacle was also called the “tent of meeting”, the place where God met with people. God met me in each one of these structures this week. But none of them was perfect, and they’re all temporary. No matter where you live, it’s a temporary dwelling. Even your body is a tent, a Sukkah that will one day be be cast aside. We can get so attached to a structure, a tradition, a way of experiencing God, that we miss out on him.
How have you experienced God most powerfully? What assumptions have you set aside so you can meet with him?