How I found Jesus in a sukkah blog image from jonhorton.com

How I found Jesus in a sukkah

Every year in the fall, Jewish people are preparing to celebrate the fall feasts written about in the Bible. From the blowing of the shofar on Yom Teruah (also known as Rosh Hashanah), to the day of fasting on Yom Kippur, to the culmination of these feasts in the seven day celebration known as Sukkot. In fact, Sukkot is so momentous, that there’s an eighth day added on to the end to celebrate how God gave the Torah to the ancient Israelite people.

A few years ago, we decided as a family to start celebrating the biblical feasts listed out in Leviticus 23, also known as appointed times (or modeim if you're following along in Hebrew). It started as we stumbled our way into keeping the Sabbath, to eventually inviting family to a Passover Seder. After our first lonely Sukkot at home by ourselves, this year we decided to shake things up by kicking off a party at home that would culminate with a trip to the mountains of North Carolina.

Sometimes it feels a little strange going all in and celebrating a Jewish holiday. I'm a gentile, one from the nations. Grafted in but feeling not quite Jewish enough to say "Chag Sameach" and just a little too weird for my Christian friends to understand why in the world Sukkot would matter enough to celebrate.

But this year I found Jesus in a Sukkah.

But what is a sukkah?

A sukkah is simply a shaky tent like structure used to represent the tents the ancient Israelites camped out in as they wandered through the desert after being delivered from Egypt. 

Usually made of 3 or 4 walls of fabric, decorated inside with art from the kids, strands of apples or string lights, and draped with leafy branches overhead with enough space to still see the starry night sky—its a present reminder of how it was only God who sustained then through the 40 year journey in the wilderness. And what do you call a lot of sukkahs? Sukkot, of course.

As we rolled out the fabric and stapled it to the columns on our deck, looking up at the blue sky, I couldn't help but think of how much God has sustained  us through these past few years. Through difficulty and good times, through joy and change, God has always been there guiding and providing whether or not I take the time to recognize it in the moment.

Symbolism in the Biblical Feasts

As we've gone through a few years of this rhythm, I'm always amazed at how much symbolism in scripture harkens back to biblical feasts. Yeshua (Jesus) was observing Passover with his disciples the night he was arrested and he died a sacrificial death as our Passover lamb, drinking the cup of redemption in our place. God's Spirit was poured out afresh to his disciples as they gathered in the upper room to celebrate the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). And Sukkot is a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb—seven days of feasting and celebrating that one day our Messiah who has come, will come again to restore the world and make all things new.

So this year, with these themes permeating our thoughts, we invited family and friends, we made delicious food, brought out the best wine, we talked about how God was moving in our lives, we enjoyed the beauty of new friendships, we laughed and told jokes, we opened present with the kids, and we lifted our glasses to the King of the universe to honor the one who made all of this possible. I couldn't help but feel God's Spirit hovering over our time together.

The God who comes near

We eventually made it to a creekside cabin near Bryson City, NC where we spent a lot of time outside, playing in the creek, feeding the local goats, fishing, or hanging out by the campfire.  On the first night we heard what sounded like someone blowing a shofar. The next day the kids would ask other kids walking by if they were celebrating Sukkot and sure enough, a few were.

We eventually met a kind hearted group of families who invited us in and we shared stories of our journeys, enjoying the richness of community and common ground, amazed at how God had caused our paths cross. As the kids played and the fire danced, we sang songs of God's goodness, reminders of his faithfulness and how he leads us through the desert places, teaching us to trust him and follow wherever he leads. I had tears in my eyes as we sang, in awe of the wonder of this God who would be present with us in these moments. The God who sees us and comes near even when we least expect it.

After the seven days of Sukkot, there's an eighth day. It's as if God's saying, but wait there's more! Always giving us more than we deserve.  In Jewish tradition, the eighth day after Sukkot marks the beginning of their cycle of reading through the Torah. A new beginning, if you will. 

It always amazes me at how dedicated many Jewish people are to studying the Torah. It puts most Christians to shame, where we usually skip all the old testament stuff and send people straight to John 1:1. Which is ironic since that's what I found myself reading that week.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. He was with God in the beginning. 3. All things were made through Him, and apart from Him nothing was made that has come into being. 4. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
—John 1:1–4 (TLV)

Now go and read Genesis 1, which is the traditional reading from the Torah starting the week after Sukkot. The parallels are amazing. John is telling us that Jesus is the Torah made flesh.

And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.
—John 1:14 (TLV)

I had to reread this. Jesus tabernacled among us? Your version might read "dwelled among us, but the Greek word here is σκηνόω (skēnoō), which simply means a tent, a temporary place to live. This God of the universe sent his Son to hangout with us because he loves us and wants us to get to know Him. The word made flesh, full of kindness and truth.

I immediately thought about our time in the sukkah, our cabin by the creek, and our times around the campfire, all of the times that I felt his presence and I imagined Yeshua, the word of God made flesh, dwelling in a tent right next to us. Present on our deck in our shaky Sukkah. The King of the universe was with us because if we've seen the son, we've seen the father.

No one has ever seen God; but the one and only God, in the Father’s embrace, has made Him known.
—John 1:18 (TLV)

How amazing is it that whether you're celebrating Sukkot, or you're busy with the details of life, that God would take up residence on this earth because he wants to be near to us. May we always remember that as we get close to Jesus, we know what the Father is like —full of kindness and truth.

Finding Yeshua (Jesus) in a sukkah this year filled Sukkot with depth and meaning that I’ve never seen before and already I’m looking forward to next year when we’ll celebrate again. If you find yourself in the NC area and are curious about the feasts, or just want to talk about how following Yeshua is changing your life, leave a message—I’d love to connect!

October 20, 2022