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In Good Times and Not So Good -- Leviticus 23:33-34, 39-43; Psalm 136 (Thanksgiving Sunday)

Celebrating thanksgiving and giving thanks are practices that reach way back into the foundational stories of our tradition. Now, by tradition, I’m not talking this morning aboutAmerican Thanksgiving traditions. I’m not talking about that particularly American myth of pilgrims and indigenous peoples. That’s a myth that we should leave behind.[1] It doesn’t honestly represent the history of colonization – of white colonial people and indigenous peoples. It gives a smiling face to all manner of atrocity and wrong.

No, I’m talking about the traditions of our Scriptures – and particularly traditions we find in the Hebrew Scriptures. In this morning’s Scriptures, we find ancient, still-living traditions of Thanksgiving celebration – a day set aside to give thanks – every year – and, in the Psalm we read together, we find a regular practice of giving thanks – every week, every day. All the time.

Give thanks to God for God is good.

God’s steadfast love endures forever.

In the Leviticus text this morning, we find God’s command to celebrate Thanksgiving.[2] That’s right. It’s a command. We think of Leviticus as being an ancient tribal rule-book: Do this. Don’t do that. And there is that. But at its heart, Leviticus is about living in healthy relationship with each other and with God. It’s about what is sacred – what ought to be set apart so that humans can learn what it is to live life with God.

And so Leviticus offers its ancient tribal rules: Do this. Don’t do that. And, in the midst of all that, God commands three holidays – three feasts – three Festivals. Every year do this. Every year set apart some time – make some time holy – to feast and to give thanks.[3]There’s Passover: Every year, without fail, remember and celebrate how God brought us up out of slavery and into freedom. Our Psalm this morning tells that story. Then, there’s the Feast of First Fruits (or the Feast of Weeks), celebrated in late spring, as the first of the crops come in. (It lines up with what we call Pentecost.)

And then – in this morning’s text – there is the Feast of Booths (temporary structures, huts) or Sukkot (the Hebrew word for Booths). It’s also known as the Feast of the Ingathering. Sukkot is the Hebrew harvest festival.[4] When the crops are in, after all that work is done – God gives an explicit command to rejoice and give thanks.

The central tradition of festival of Sukkot, to this day, is for each family to build a booth – usually a three-sided structure – with branches for a roof – branches gathered in the harvest.[5] It’s a reminder both of the huts they might have set up in the fields as they harvested – and also a reminder of the tents their ancestors inhabited in their 40 years of wilderness wandering.[6]