by Richard H. Bliese, President, Luther Seminary
In John's Gospel, Chapter 7, the writer describes Jesus as a pilgrim during the festival of Booths or Tabernacles. This national holiday of joy was a seven-day harvest festival observed like our Thanksgiving, but as the entire nation made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Leviticus 23:40-43 describes the festival:
"On the first day, you shall take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, a palm frond, myrtle branches and willows. You shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days ...
"During these seven days you must live in thatched huts ... This is so that your future generations will know that I caused Israel to live in huts when I brought them out of Egypt."
Three main symbols defined the feast:
First, a booth: These temporary huts symbolized God's care during the exodus. Every citizen in Israel moved from their homes into these thatched dwellings. Life is temporary, and we are but temporary dwellers within it. As during the exodus, these pilgrims were surrounded by the presence of God. The confidence of God's care brings joy!
Second, fruits of the harvest: The children of Israel marched around the temple raising palm branches and fruits of the harvest. By thanking God for the harvest, Israel recalled God's constant presence. The knowledge of God's provision brings joy!
Third, light and water: During a time when the days were getting shorter and colder, the festival liturgies lifted up symbols of light and water. It is God's heavenly resources that renew the land and make it rich, both in terms of harvest and of spiritual renewal. God's renewing power brings joy!
Jesus defines who he is within this festival of harvest. He isn't just an ordinary pilgrim. No, Jesus declared: If you want true joy, even when you live in uncertainty, "come to me. Let anyone who is thirsty come to me ..."
Jesus used the festival to give one message to his disciples—and to us: If you are looking for joy and harvest, even in shaky times, "come to me; believe in me."
It's this message that marks the professors and teachers at Luther Seminary. Today, they are equipping a whole new generation of leaders with joy for the harvest. I trust that reading their stories will inspire you.