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Feb. 28 lesson: Feast of Booths

February 15, 2016
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Feast of Booths

Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 3: Holy Days

Sunday school lesson for the week of February 28, 2016
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers

Lesson scripture: Leviticus 23: 33-43
Background scripture: Numbers 29: 12-40; Deuteronomy 16: 13-17; I Corinthians 15:20-29; Revelation 14:1-5

As we conclude the Winter Quarter, with its emphasis upon Sacred Gift and Holy Gatherings, and the final unit, highlighting Holy Days, we arrive at the Jewish festival of the Feast of Booths. We Protestant Christians may have difficulty understanding and finding meaning in an event lasting eight days of worship. For us older Methodists, revival week was about the only time we remember setting aside a week to come to church! As a child I still remember wondering “Why?” Let’s see if we can dig here for the “Why?” 

Thinking back, we do find meaning in Sabbath with our weekly worship on Sunday. Passover can be identified with Lent and Easter. Certainly, Pentecost has meaning as a special day for the birthday of the Church. We do not observe a Day of Atonement, but we do indeed find meaning in confession and repentance. However, to set aside a whole week to live in temporary housing in huts or booths is beyond our comprehension. Even today, the Jewish people build these structures for observance of the Festival of Booths, but they don’t inhabit them!

Remember, all of the Festivals have an agricultural component to their observance. From First Fruits to Booths, something about a harvest is included.

Appropriately, this observance is called not only a Feast, but a Festival – a prolonged holiday – and its timing was the final harvest of the growing season. We have always loved the American Thanksgiving holiday! Less commercialized than Christmas (until Black Friday was invented!), Thanksgiving is a special time. To Whom do we give thanks? The cornucopia overflows with symbols of the harvest. For this reason alone, we love to sing:
    Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
    All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
    God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
    Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

We’ll return to this hymn a little later when we examine some of the companion scriptures for this lesson, but for the moment, just focus on gratitude to God for the gifts of life. 

Ah, here is the first lesson of Booths – focusing! What difficulty we have concentrating on God, Who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift – and to do it for eight days! Not only were the Jews reminded of the abundant harvest, but of the God of the Exodus, who had led them from Egypt and into the Wilderness. For 40 years, they lived in temporary huts, while being formed into God’s people. Alas, like us, how easily they forgot! They needed to be reminded, and so do we!

In the Service of Holy Communion, we pray the Great Thanksgiving, which lists God’s mighty acts of deliverance in Jesus, to accomplish this needed reminder of Whose we are and why we are gathered together in worship around the table. With our Jewish sisters and brothers, we remember and give thanks. 

We can remember on the Emmaus Walk, when we intentionally took an extended period of time, sleeping in less than comfortable beds, to focus and concentrate on matters of the Spirit. Our effort was well-rewarded in so many ways – great fun, enriching fellowship, deepened understanding of our faith, and growth in our relationship with God and to each other.

Such events are not ends in themselves, but launching pads into the world. Revivals, retreats like Emmaus, mission trips, even Sabbath worship are only means by which the people of God are reminded of the Power within them, so we move into the future to serve the God who guides us through the Wilderness.

Remember Sammy Clark’s holy geography? We are in bondage (Egypt), God saves us (Red Sea waters), we live our lives in the world (the Wilderness), we die (crossing the Jordan River), and we live eternally with God (the Promised Land).

So the Wilderness is where we live every day, with all the joys and sorrows of life. This journey is hard and difficult, and we are here only temporarily. Nothing is permanent, and change is constant. Our housing is temporary. Get the picture? Paul helped us at this point in II Corinthians 5:1ff:
    Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,
    we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven,
    not built by human hands…For while we are in this tent, 
    we groan and are burdened because we …wish to live in our 
    heavenly dwelling.

The New Testament passages for today move us to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Paul uses the simile of the first and second Adam to assure his readers Jesus repaired what Adam destroyed: our eternal relationship with God. With the proper relationship restored, we journey from life to LIFE with the confidence of the children of God.

In the passage from the Revelation, the vision of the Lamb with the angels and martyrs is drawn in powerful word-pictures, so the reader will know the ultimate victory of good over evil is certain. These passages fill out the meaning of the hymn we began earlier:
    All the world is God’s own field, fruit as praise to God we yield;
    Wheat and tares together sown are to joy or sorrow grown;
    First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
    Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
    For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home;
    From the field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
    Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
    But the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.
    Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
    Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
    There, forever purified, in Thy presence to abide;
    Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.
    AMEN and AMEN.

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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