SUKKOT, or better known as the Feast of Tabernacles, comes on the fifth day of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It is a Jewish festival that lasts for seven days (Leviticus 23:42).
This special occasion commemorates the period of wilderness experiences after the exodus of Israel from Egypt. The Israelites were commanded to live in sukkah (booth) “so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:43).
This central celebration draws important lessons for us who share our spiritual heritage with the Jews. Besides the great historical event made possible by God through the display of His awesome power, the basis of this commemoration is the call to memory a God who is the Lord of our lives. The Israelites should teach their children by retelling this historical tale of a God who acts in history. This is a tradition that enables the younger generations to understand how God was faithful to His promise and brought their ancestors to the land of promise.
Arrival at the land of promise is, however, not the end of a journey, which unfolds dramatic encounters. Anxiety, fear, hunger, pain and thirst drove the Israelites to question the rationale for Moses to bring them out of a land that provided the basic provision of life.
Israel of the later periods suffered similar emotional upheavals when they were in exile in foreign lands, facing the ruins of the temple upon their return and the systematic destruction of the holocaust.
Like the Israelites, we should recognise that a commemoration of an historical event should not bring our memory to a closure but rather open our lives to face the living God with fresh courage. Remembering is an opening for believers to learn to trust God.
Fearing that the chasing Egyptians would overtake and destroy them brought to the Jewish mind the fresh remembrance of the tortures and oppression in Egypt. There was a real threat to their existence even though numerous obstacles were removed. This historical precedent is not a closure to pain and suffering.
One does not live in a perfect world that only promises equality, freedom, justice and happiness to all. Divine intervention in history should, however, help us to remember how God deals with the painful memory.
For the victims and marginalised, the remembering not only encourages those who survive. It also enables them and their descendents to expand their narrative that goes beyond suffering. This narrative will encourage believers to be resilient and prepared to ride above the discomfort and insecurity of trusting God. The practice of remembering creates a continual opening that demands affirmative action. Transcending their suffering serves as a resource to life.
For the privileged, they should respond by committing themselves to courses of actions that bring life and empowerment. The church could be the “community of remembrance, holding and honouring the memories we have heard” (Flora A. Keshgegian) that eventually brings the redemption that Jesus has offered to humanity.
By exercising our common Christian memories, God invites us into a relationship that gives life. The church, with the associated memories and testimonies, testifies that God is present in this life that is tainted by conflicts, darkness and ambiguities.
God is ready to honour our practices of memory and testimony by being present in the desires of hope for our future. His presence empowers us with an attitude of openness and a readiness to change. God is the focus and the Lord of our Christian life. Future triumph is not our emphasis as we experience the resurrected Christ in the journey of faith. His presence is our assurance to our actions, which in turn seeks to bring about a change in the human condition, as we experience a change in our own life.
The celebration of Sukkot is a timely reminder of the presence of God and the place He holds in our life. A search for God in time and memory begins with the practice of our Christian traditions. Recollecting the historical deeds of God unravels a life story of which we face the task of fitting God in our lives. It is neither history through memory nor the future through anticipation that really matters, but in the present, where we need to examine our life. The time of humankind runs parallel with God’s time and our days are full of God which in turn prompt us to seek God in our concrete life, despite our tough circumstances.
The works of Qoheleth are read during the celebration of Sukkot and his echo of time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) is an appropriate lesson that we must, while searching through time and memory of the modern life, understand the self and its limits, to look “for a greater story, a story of God, of which the story of self would be a part”. (John S. Dunne).
Chan Yew Ming is a lecturer at Trinity Theological College. A member of Fairfield Methodist Church, he worships at Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.
FITTING GOD IN OUR LIVES
‘The celebration of Sukkot is a timely reminder of the presence of God and the place He holds in our life. A search for God in time and memory begins with the practice of our Christian traditions. Recollecting the historical deeds of God unravels a life story of which we face the task of fitting God in our lives. ’