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A Guide to the Christian Observance of the Biblical Sabbath, Feasts, and Holy Days

 

Many people who accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, whether they refer to themselves as Christian or Messianic, observe the biblical Feasts and Holy Days, including the weekly Sabbath, as times of worship, fellowship, and celebration. They believe that these Feasts and Holy Days are shadows pointing to the reality of Jesus. And they believe that there are valuable spiritual lessons to be learned week by week and year by year through actually physically setting aside these times as “appointments with God.”

 

See The 3 Rs Introduction article  for an overview of the three biblical principles of Refreshment, Rejoicing, and Remembering as they apply to the observance of the biblical Feasts and Holy Days. The rest of the articles in this series on The 3 Rs provide specific, practical suggestions for building those 3 Rs into these observances.

 


Refreshment






Preparations

The preparations your family will need to make for celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles may depend on the customs of any group you may be in regular fellowship with. If you are part of a group that celebrates the Feast at a central Feast site, much like a church convention, your primary preparations will involve travel arrangements and accommodations for the period of the Feast. See the section below for information on such “pilgrimage” Feast options.


If you are celebrating with a group that keeps the Feast locally, or if you have no group to fellowship with at all, you will have to decide whether the idea of building a sukkah at your home might be a way to enhance your family observance. For more information on this see the section below on traditional Jewish celebration customs of the Feast. If you decide to go this route, you will need to create building plans and gather building materials for your sukkah, and construct it in time for the beginning of the Feast.

Another option for a one-family celebration might be a family camping trip for the eight days, or even camping in the back yard in a tent or trailer. If your family is not the “outdoor” type, you will need to come up with some creative ways to weave the themes of the Feast into indoor activities.  

Environment

Many families find that changing their home environment for  the Feasts and Holy Days adds to the feeling of celebration and refreshment. This can include:

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Special tableware and centerpieces for one or more of the meals for each day.
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Special lighting such as candles or a fireplace.
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Special background mood music that is themed to the observance.
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Special decorations around one or more rooms.

See some of the suggestions below for decorations and music for the Feast of Tabernacles for group settings, and adapt them to home use. It is particularly important to involve the children in planning and creating these elements, as that gives them an “investment” of their own in the celebration.

Children’s Activities

Most of the suggestions in the Crafts, Games, and Other Special Activities for Children section below on group projects for children for the festival period can be adapted to home use with just a little creative adaptation



Devotional

An eight day Feast of Tabernacles devotional booklet titled Bringing in the Sheaves of Your Year is available in this Times of Refreshing series.

This devotional is available also for viewing on the Internet, or printing out for your use individually or with a group.



Each day’s entry provides relevant scriptures to consider, inspirational thoughts, and points for meditation or discussion. For those who observe the Feast in their own home, this devotional will help keep a focus, each day, on this time of celebration. For those who print it  out to  take to a Feast site, it can provide a very personal emphasis to why you are there.

In Bringing in the Sheaves of Your Year you are invited to consider the spiritual harvest you have reaped in eight areas of your life in the year just past. In each area, you will be asked to reflect upon: Provisions the Lord made for you to sow; seed that you sowed; the harvest that you reaped; and how you might improve next year’s harvest..

Both devotionals are suitable for one person to use alone, two people to share with one another, or for whole groups to use as a focal point for a group discussion. If you are at home (or have a lap-top at a Feast site) you can read the devotional right on your computer screen. You can also print it out from the Internet in black and white or color as full 8.5 X 11 sheets. Since it includes sections that require writing down your thoughts, it might best be printed out  so that you can make use of the printed lines in the appropriate sections.



Rejoicing






Among those Christians or Messianics who observe the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day, there are several distinct styles of observance. Below are three typical ways that Christian or Messianic congregations choose to celebrate. See the 3 Rs Introduction booklet for more details on each of these types of groups. 

Varieties of Contemporary Observances

Traditional Jewish Celebrations

Some groups, particularly those which label themselves as Messianic or Hebrew Roots congregations, model their Tabernacles (Hebrew: Sukkot) celebrations closely on the traditional modern Orthodox or Conservative Jewish customs for this Feast. They will, however, often interpret these customs in ways that emphasize Jesus (whom they may refer to by a Hebrew version of His name such as Yashua or Y’shua) and the Gospel of salvation.

Such celebrations are local and community-based. Each family builds a sukkah (small booth or hut) at their own home, perhaps in the back yard or on a patio. Family members eat their meals, study the Bible, and perhaps entertain friends in the sukkah.
Family members will each have their own esrog and lulav to use throughout the Feast. (For a description of these items, and details about this and related Jewish customs, see the Times of Refreshing booklet Jewish Feast and Holy Day Customs: Sukkot.)


A congregational Holy Day worship service is held on the Holy Day that begins the seven-day Feast, and for the Holy Day of the Eighth Day (Hebrew: Shemini Atzeret). Other social events and Bible studies may be held on the other days of the eight-day period, most often in the evenings. Special children’s activities are commonly included, both on the Holy Days and at the other group gatherings.

All of these activities will mirror closely the customs and symbolism of contemporary Judaism. Decorations and rituals, including traditional prayers, will be distinctively Judaic.

Opinions among such groups may vary on whether individuals are expected to take the full eight days as a vacation from their regular jobs, or just take off on the two Holy Days and the weekly Sabbath and continue working on the other days, participating in the evenings in the special Feast activities.

Non-Jewish Celebrations

Some Christian groups which observe the Feast of Tabernacles pay little attention to Jewish customs and instead create their own style of Feast celebration. Among such groups it is typical to focus on the “pilgrimage” aspect of the Feast, and staying full time in “temporary dwellings” for eight days somewhere away from home, rather than on having a sukkah in the back yard in which one just spends a few hours a day. This most often takes the form of gathering at central “Feast sites” in various parts of the country. The size of such meetings can vary from a few dozen people to hundreds or even thousands. The emphasis is the communal experience of getting away from the workaday world for the whole eight days (the Feast itself and the Holy Day of the Eighth Day Assembly), and spending all that time in regular fellowship with others.

This style of Feast would be more comparable perhaps to a religious convention or conference. Daily gatherings are typically held in a central convention facility, and families stay in nearby temporary housing such as motels, hotels, vacation rental homes, condos, cabins, or campgrounds. Each morning, afternoon, and evening may include one or more gatherings. Such gatherings may include worship services, seminars and classes for adults and youth, social events such as Ice Cream Socials, amateur Variety Shows, sing-alongs, and more.

Some groups prefer if possible to find a facility, such as a State Park convention center, that allows all the people in attendance to stay in the same building or complex of buildings (and/or campgrounds), so that there are constant fellowship opportunities at all times. Regular group meals are also very important to some.

This type of centralized Feast site is most often attended by the members of more than one congregation. There are some denominations (groups that have a central headquarters with oversight of multiple congregations) that sponsor their own denominational Feast sites, serving their own members. People from a number of their congregations scattered around a section of the country would join together at one of these central sites. It is typical in this type of organization for all Feast activities to be organized and administered by the central headquarters leadership.

There are other “ministries” (as opposed to “denominations”) that sponsor Feast sites that are designed deliberately to attract anyone and everyone who would like to attend. The ministry may do all of the planning, presentation, and coordinating of activities at the site. Or it may “sponsor” such a site and promote it, but leave the planning and such to an independent group of people who volunteer to provide that service.

One example of a ministry that sponsors and promotes such a Feast site, but leaves the coordination of the actual planning, administration, and coordination of activities to an independent “Festival Association” made up of volunteers, is Christian Educational Ministries. The Feast site sponsored by this organization attracts nearly 1,000 people from all across the US and several other countries each year to a Christ-centered Feast of Tabernacles. In 2008 the CEM-sponsored site was in Panama City Beach, Florida. In 2009 it will be on Okaloosa Island, east of Pensacola, Florida. Information about the site sponsored by CEM can be seen at www.borntowin.net.  Click on the menu selection “Feast of Tabernacles” from the navigation bar on the left of the page.

Description from the website above:

For eight days in the fall of the year, Christians in our tradition pause to observe “The Feast of Tabernacles.” We celebrate this festival because it is commanded of God and because we see a powerful Christian significance in the feast. For us, this is not merely a Jewish holiday, but one of the “Appointed Times of God,” given to remind us every year of an important part of His plan, and to deepen our understanding of the work and ministry of Jesus Christ.

... Come and keep the feast with us. Everyone is welcome, and no prior reservations are required. We have plenty of room for you. Come and worship for one day or eight, but come. You will grow deeper in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Hybrid Celebrations

Some groups, while borrowing some of the customs, rituals, and symbolism of Judaism, are more experimental in their inclusion of these. Rather than try to imitate the whole package of the standard Jewish Feast of Tabernacles celebration, they will pick and choose those aspects which appeal to them, perhaps sometimes for spiritual reasons because they seem to be deeply meaningful, and at other times just because they are aesthetically attractive or seem fun.

These groups vary in custom also regarding whether they keep the Feast as a local activity or at a central Feast site. Some may choose to stay in the local community and build one central, “symbolic” sukkah at their place of worship rather than at their individual homes.

Their worship services during the Feast may feature music with a particularly “Hebraic flavor.” Yet some may completely ignore such customs as the esrog and lulav. Others may include these items, but not necessarily follow all of the detailed, traditional guidelines for their use typical among Jews.

Those who choose to create a larger, centralized site to which people travel may include some variation of Jewish customs there also. If the site is suitably rural, one common activity is to have the children and teens construct a single outdoor sukkah as a project for youth classes.

Local or regional gatherings both may include features that are more “Messianic Jewish” than Orthodox Jewish, such as the so-called “Davidic Dancing.” This is viewed as a form of worship, in which groups often dance to Hebraic-flavored contemporary Praise and Worship music in a style loosely based on Jewish folk-dancing mixed with stylized dance moves reminiscent of ballet.




Festive Food

While there are no specific foods connected with Feast of Tabernacles celebrations, the Feast is a fall harvest celebration, and in the Holy Land it would have been particularly the time of the harvest of fall fruits and vegetables (grains such as wheat and barley were harvested earlier in the year). This makes it quite comparable to the American November Thanksgiving celebration, and typical Thanksgiving-type foods would be certainly be appropriate. In fact, regional seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, and regional recipes, would be particularly suitable.



Remembering






Message Ideas

The original command for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles noted that God wanted the Israelites to annually “dwell in booths” to commemorate the time period after the Exodus when their ancestors stayed in such “temporary dwellings” during their wilderness wanderings and had to rely on God totally for both protection from the harshness of the elements and for food and drink. As a nation, they weren't yet “home” in the Promised Land, and were only looking forward to it. During some periods they seemed to trust Him to keep providing, but all too often they became impatient and whined and grumbled, and even threatened to go back to Egypt just to get their bellies full. Just so, Christians as a people aren’t yet “home” as they will be in the resurrection in the Kingdom, but are “dwelling in temporary dwellings” in their physical bodies, waiting for the “blessed hope” of the return of Jesus, when they will dwell permanently with Him. We all have some periods when our trust in His provision is strong, and some times when we just aren’t sure if it’s “worth it” when we go through difficult times.

In addition, it was God’s plan for them to go directly to the Promised Land shortly after their sojourn at Mt. Sinai to receive The Law. But because they were fearful, and didn’t trust God’s assurance that He would go before them into the Promised Land and take care of the enemies there, He chose to let them wander in the wilderness until that whole generation died off.

Suggested message titles related to these factors:

“God’s promised provisions”

“What are you complaining about?”

“Are the ‘giants’ in your life keeping you from trusting God?”

“While you wait to enter the Promised Land” (redeeming the time in His service)

“So you want to go back to Egypt?”


Ideas for Bible Studies and Discussion Sessions

Adults

The Daily Feast Devotionals described earlier in this booklet are designed in such a way that they would be ideal as a group study opportunity.

Other topic ideas:

Share stories of God’s provision in your lives.

Are there times since you became a Believer when you have wanted to go “back to Egypt” (to your old way of life) because trying to do the right thing all the time seemed so hard? How did you get past those feelings?

Many adults in the 21st century who have been swept up in prophetic teachings have been convinced that Jesus would return in their lifetime. That’s a good hope for all to pray for ... but if it turns out not to be true, what do you think you should be doing to prepare your children and grandchildren to move on into an earthly future that can only get more tumultuous and dark in many ways?

Teens

What would it have been like to live among the tribes of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness? What would your daily life have consisted of?

What do you think you would miss the most if you were stuck having to emigrate with your family like that? What do you think the teens back then had to say about it?

All of the people over 20 who left Egypt died off in the wilderness before the Israelites were allowed to go into the Promised Land, because all the older people had been fearful of the giants in the land. What do you think that they should have taught their children in order to prepare them to live in the new land, before they died off? For most of the people who got to take the Land, being out in the desert was all they'd ever known! Even for those who had remembered living in Egypt, it was pretty much a dim memory by then.

Children

What was it like to be a child at the Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus was a boy?

For material to spark this discussion, check the youth section of your local Christian book store for illustrated books on life in Bible times. They almost all include a section describing the celebration of the Feasts in Jerusalem. At online booksellers like Amazon.com, type “life in bible times” in the book search box.


Crafts, Games, and Other
Special Activities for Children






Crafts

Make scrap-craft 3-D pictures of the Feast of Tabernacles in Bible times in Jerusalem, with sukkahs made out of straw glued to the picture.

Provide construction materials such as twigs, popsicle sticks, and pieces of cloth or paper for each child to design, construct, and decorate a small “doll house-sized” sukkah. They can make either paper or perhaps clay or Play-Doh Bible Times characters of a family to live in the sukkah.

Games

Have older classes make “board games” for younger classes—or for themselves—to use for learning and memorization. Each is to have a theme, which carries through from the look of the board, to markers for players, to bonus cards. These can be based on such popular commercial games as Bibleopoly or Bible Trivial Pursuit.

Have older classes make other kinds of games, including card games, for younger classes—or for themselves—such as ones based on the idea of Bible Blurt, Bible Bingo, or Bible Pictionary.

Game themes for the Feast of Tabernacles could include traveling on maps of the route from Egypt to the Promised Land, advancing by a combination of rolls of the dice and answering Bible questions; gathering materials to make a little sukkah by answering questions correctly; or using charades to act out scenes from the wilderness wanderings.
Get ideas from rummaging at your local Christian book store, or in online catalogs of Christian supply houses such as Christian Book Distributors at www.christianbook.com .

Other Activities

If your fellowship group celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles locally in your home area, and you have your own meeting building, in the weeks leading up to the Feast, youth classes could have a group project of designing, building, and decorating a group sukkah.

Consider preparing the older students to teach the younger ones about the history and Christian significance of the Feast of Tabernacles. The teaching could be done through a play, in which “children” ask their “parents” about the various aspects of celebrating the Feast. Or the lesson could be conveyed by a lecture complete with Power Point presentation in which several older students take turns speaking, or through a panel discussion.

Buy or make Bible character puppets and accessories: Muppet-style puppets, finger puppets, shadow puppets on sticks, sock puppets, paper bag puppets. Then use these to tell stories about aspects of celebration of the Feast.
If you are celebrating the eight days of this festival at a central site, or if you have a fellowship group where families live close enough to get together throughout the whole period, there could be daily get-togethers for the whole period, with the equivalent of a Vacation Bible School for the children. This would be a themed series of activities and lessons that combine to give a total picture of the Christian significance of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day Assembly. Check out the Vacation Bible School materials available at your local Bible bookstore or online at such sites as Christian Book Distributors, for ideas on the kinds of activities you might include, and then just adapt the basics of the activity to convey the specifics of the content you wish to cover.






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The 3 Rs of the

Feast of Tabernacles

and the

Eighth Day Assembly