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Feasting With a Focus

by Anthony Wasilkoff
Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash
 

During the depths of a long, arduous winter, one of my sources of hope is a good quality colour seed catalogue. Many of us receive a copy or two from various seed houses in January or February. I enjoy thumbing through a copy to look over the plants that are promised to grow if I plant that company’s wondrous seeds. The flowers and vegetables are portrayed as tantalizingly lush and lovely.

Finally, at long last, spring does arrive and we are privileged to plant an array of seeds that germinate and poke through the ground with their tiny wisps of green. Some turn into gorgeous flowers, others into leafy vegetables. Every spring I think of John Denver’s song in which he melodically implores, “Inch by inch, row by row/Someone bless these seeds I sow....”

Don’t you just love the first taste of fresh chives straight from your back yard? Don’t you enjoy picking the first batch of radishes and slicing them into a crisp green salad, loaded with succulent lettuce also from your very own kitchen garden? It seems nothing beats the joy of harvest. Oh, how good the first batch of baby potatoes, carrots and peas taste. The joy of harvest, even though miniscule in the spring, is a remarkable treat. A vine-ripened tomato plucked from the pot on your apartment balcony easily beats its cousin purchased at the local supermarket.

In 2003 the Feast of Tabernacles begins on Friday evening, October 10, and concludes on Saturday evening, October 18. (Of course, the eighth day is a separate occasion even though we tend to see and experience both Festivals as one unit.)

You will probably be aware that the third day of the Feast falls on Monday, October 13. However, this is not just an ordinary Monday. This Monday happens to be Canadian Thanksgiving Day! Is there any connection or correlation between the Feast of Tabernacles and Thanksgiving Day? The seventh chapter of the gospel of John describes our Savior observing the Feast of Tabernacles. In his New Testament Commentary, for John 7:2, David Stern writes, “The festival also celebrates the harvest, coming, as it does, at summer’s end, so that it is a time of thanksgiving. (The Puritans, who took the Old Testament more seriously than most Christians, modeled the American holiday of Thanksgiving after Sukkoth.)”

The wonderful Feast of Tabernacles is identified by its Creator by more than one just one name. In Exodus 23:16-18 we read, “Three times you shall keep a Feast to Me in the year…and the Feast of Ingathering which is at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field.” The Feast of Tabernacles is connected to the major harvest that occurs at the end of the growing season. In a sense, it is a type of harvest festival – a time of gathering in, a time of enjoying the fruits of one’s labors, a time of expressing gratitude to the One who makes it all possible.

Of our wondrous Creator, Acts 14:17 states, “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” This passage seems especially applicable during the eight days we spend together at the Feast of Tabernacles. In the Northern Hemisphere the connection between the autumn harvest and the Feast of Tabernacles is hard to miss. Even today, there are numerous Fall Fairs where avid gardeners bring their produce and compete for the biggest pumpkin, squash or rutabaga. How often have we seen the Feast of Tabernacles stage decorated with a harvest motif? I have vivid recollections of Festival stages with beautifully-fashioned cornucopias and a colorful array of autumn fruits and vegetables cascading outwards.

Our family was blessed to observe the Feast of Tabernacles in Prince Edward Island one year. Some of you readers may have been at that lovely locale during the years the Church sponsored a Feast in the home province of Anne of Green Gables. One of my recollections is that of the brethren from Newfoundland taking excursions to local fruit orchards after Church services. They so much enjoyed picking a goodly number of apples to take back home with them. There is definite joy in participating in the harvest.

Deuteronomy 16:13 instructs us, “You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days, when you have gathered from your threshing floor and from your winepress.” The agricultural connection is clear, isn’t it! Those amongst us who are farmers see the significance of this connection more readily than others. Verse 14 further admonishes, “Seven days you shall keep a sacred Feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you shall surely rejoice.”

What this implies is that we humans are the recipients of the bounty of a benevolent God. Thus it is necessary for us to express our gratitude and joy accordingly. Too often Thanksgiving Day is lacking because many people aren’t really thankful while those who are don’t know who to direct their thanks toward.

The Pilgrims came to North America in search of religious freedom. The Mayflower Compact was an amazing document: “[H]aving undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith…a voyage to plant the first permanent colony....” They soon discovered that their search for permanence was not easy to come by. The first Thanksgiving observed in October, 1621, centered on acknowledging God for seeing them through the ravages of winter, when half their contingent sadly succumbed to the elements.

Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an official event by a proclamation issued on October 3, 1863. In his proclamation, Lincoln upbraided his fellow citizens for having “forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.” Lincoln continued, “We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

The Feast of Tabernacles is surely a time of rejoicing and celebration. But it must also focus on expressing sustained gratitude to the Source of all our blessings and bounty. We do this all week long. This year we have the special opportunity of expressing extra thanks on Thanksgiving Day Monday.

In Luke 12:48 we read, “…to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Of the Sabbath keeper, God says in Isaiah 58:14, “Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” In Matthew 13:16-17 we read, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Spiritually speaking, so much has been given to us. Our ears are blessed to hear and our eyes are blessed to see what others earnestly wished they could but couldn’t. We are given spiritual food and drink all year round but especially so on the annual Holy Days. Most of all, we are given spiritual sustenance in remarkable quantity and quality at the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day.

In a column she wrote some time ago, Dr. Laura Schlessinger addressed the topic of covetousness. She referred to a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal about the “haves and the have-mores.” Even in these times of an economic bonanza, one could observe “the wave of envy gnawing at those near the top of the economic pyramid as they see others making even more.” Dr. Laura concluded her column by saying, “With the help of the commandments we can rise above these baser instincts to focus on our blessings and be thankful for all that we do have. Gratitude is the best medicine for covetousness.”

Hebrews 6:4-5 describes what happens to us as the result of conversion, “enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Surely this occurs to us most of all at the Feast of Tabernacles, a time of celebration, rejoicing and thanksgiving.

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