Photo Credit: https://kolamifrederick.org/content/sukkot
Speaker: Rev Joe Pang
Scriptures: Lev 23 :26-44
Today is the first day of the Feast of Tabernacle.
Festivals are very important in the Jewish culture — these are days which the Lord have set, days which are set aside for rest and no work can be done. For Hong Kong people, having a day of rest is particularly important, and some of us genuinely benefitted from having an extra day off during typhoons.
Festivals are important for us as modern believers too, because they tell us about the lifestyle of that culture. Each festival has a story and a theme.
During the Feast of Tabernacle, the entire Jewish community lives in a simple tent — everyone, irrespective of rank, must live, sleep and make offerings in the tent. Apart from votive offerings, they must make four other offerings (v37-38: burnt offerings, grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings).
Why so many offerings? We must look at this from the 1st day of July, the beginning of the Jewish new year: the day of the shofar (a musical instrument made out of a ram’s horn). The shofar is not a handmade musical instrument — it comes from nature. This day is also known as the creation day.
Three Essential Questions
The first question the Jewish would ask on that day is: where are you? This question was raised in Genesis when Adam hid from God after having eaten the forbidden fruit (footnote 1). Remembering this on the first day of new year is very interesting and contrasts much with our Chinese culture. Where are you? This is a reminder of where each one of us is — the first sin of all humanity, and the need to redeem their sin later.
The second question relates to the first, and it is: where am I? What pace am I in? Am I “here and now’? What lies at the heart of this question is our being, our presence. So are you really present at this here and now? This goes way beyond just physical presence. This concerns our soul. The inner voice.
Then they ask the third question: can I hear God’s voice? It is here that they blow the shofar in a particular way (footnote 2). Each sound they blow is a language conveying messages . The long blast for example, can represent a voiceless shout, as in a moment of utter speechlessness — and it is easy to relate to some moments in our lives. The shofar must come from male sheep — a reminder of the sacrifice of Issac — he was saved by a ram trapped in the shrub.
The second festival is a Sin Redemption. The high priest will redeem their sins. What is sin redemption? It is not self reproach, keep counting and scolding oneself. Instead, it is a change of direction. It’s about new direction, new decision. On this day, they also have to find those whom they have wronged against to say sorry and to reconcile. The song written by our Bell and Shui Shui reminds us precisely this, a change that are so deep that even our bones are involved (footnote 3).
It is a full human festival. Sometimes we just go through the motions. Yet, for those of us who have tried blowing the shofar knows, we would know that it takes energy from the whole body to make that sound: blowing the shofar requires us to turn our attention to our whole body.
The Tabernacle Reminds Us of God’s Grace: Manna
Essentially, 15th July is the exodus. It marks the beginning of a period lasting 40 years, where God dwells among the Israelites in tents, sends them food in form of manna during the day, and leads them in towers of fire at night. The word “manna” means “what?”, referring to their puzzlement when the Israelites saw this and asked one another “what is it?” Indeed, sometimes we don’t know what God’s grace is. Yet, God’s grace is there though in our ignorance, we keep asking what is it, what is it. Worse still, we forget God’s grace. We all experience God’s grace during the many ups and downs of our lives but we forget God’s grace. The Jewish live in the Tabernacle every year to retell God’s grace. We should learn from the Jews: sometimes, when asked what can we be thankful for in the past week, we Christians struggle to come up with anything, we seem to lose the ability to tell what grace we have experienced.
Do you have something to thank God for?
Do you remember how God has blessed you while in the wilderness?
The Tabernacle is reminder of God’s indwelling among God’s people. God lives with us, just like Jesus’ also known as Emmanuel – God is with us (footnote 4). The Tabernacle tells us that God wants to live with us. The invitation is open. But are we ready? Can He really live with us? God is here with an open invitation. Where are you? Can you hear God’s voice?