We hadn’t even finished one week of classes before my elementary students were already thinking about next year. “You’ll still be in this class…” “My teacher is going to be…”
Come on! I thought. We’ve just begun. Why are you already thinking about moving on?
Then I realized that I couldn’t really blame them because I was doing the exact same thing…thinking ahead, dreaming of the future. Where would I live? What would I do? Should I ever go get that alluring Ph.D?
We all think ahead, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Planning for the future, being proactive and visionary is good. Yet always thinking about what’s next can keep us from investing right where we are, from being content and faithful in the moment. We’re always longing, grasping after something else: the greener grass, the elusive perfection.
And yet, again – perhaps there is more to this longing than simply a restlessness and discontent. Perhaps this longing points to something more – to our “inconsolable secret” (as C. S. Lewis calls it). And Sukkot, I think, points in the same direction.
The “Feast of Tabernacles” (as we Christians refer to it) originally seems kind of weird. Why is God so concerned about people dwelling in tents – does He just really like camping? But then, one year, Sukkot finally came alive to me. That was a nomadic period. I was looking for a job, then looking for a new apartment, switching my place of sleep 14 times in one month, living out of boxes, longing for a place I could unpack my books and call home. And in the midst of this longing, Sukkot hit me.
In a sense, we’re all nomads on this earth, our lives as temporal as our sukkahs. Our bodies – these “earthly tents,” as the Christian Bible puts it – are frail and transitory. Our relationships, too, are often transient, shattered by relocation, conflict, or death. And yet, we dream of a love that lives “happily ever after.” Or we have our body parts frozen after death, longing to be resurrected to immortality. The eternity which God has put in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) cries out. Even in the most beautiful moments, our inconsolable secret longing cries that there is more, that we must go deeper. In the midst of the temporal, in the midst of the nomadic, we feel a homesickness for something beyond this world.
Sukkot is a time of looking back, of remembering “that [God] made the children of Israel dwell in booths when [He] brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:43). But it’s also a time of looking forward to the fulfillment of Zechariah’s messianic prophecies – to the day when “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” and the nations “will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:9,16). As a Christian, I look forward to the time when I will, at last, “tabernacle” with God.
Sukkot reminds us that we are nomads in the hope that we will seek and find true rest. It reminds us of our longings so that we will notice to what those longings point. Sukkot is God’s gift, for those who are willing to accept it, of a day when temporality will be swallowed up in eternity, the nomad will find a home, and my divine homesickness shall be appeased and my inconsolable longing satiated when at last I tabernacle with the God for whom “my soul thirsts” and “my flesh faints” (Ps. 63:1).