One of the important Jewish Festivals which comes towards the end of the year is Succot or the Feast of Tabernacles. It was originally a harvest and vintage festival and a feature of its observance is the construction of temporary shelters or tabernacles made from branches in which the people live during the seven days of the Festival. These are a reminder of the temporary shelters which were used by the workers who brought in the harvest.
One of the ceremonies associated with the festival was a procession from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam to bring back an offering of water which was poured out at the altar. As the people processed to the temple they carried a citron, known as the Etrog together with the Lulav which was made up of branches of palm, myrtle and willow, all the while singing Psalms such as Psalm 118 which is very familiar to us from the story of Palm Sunday.
Save us (or Hosannah), we beseech you, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD.
(NRSV Psalm 118:25–26)
The water pouring was seen as a symbol of the fulﬁlment of the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the coming Day of the Lord when the Kingdom of Heaven would be established. "On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter." (NRSV Zechariah 14:8)
Zechariah first describes the way Jerusalem will come under attack and then continues: "Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the festival of booths." (NRSV Zechariah 14:16)
So the Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) was not just a Festival celebrating the harvest of the fruits of the earth it was also the foreshadowing of a greater harvest when the people of all nations would be brought to worship the Lord.
All this is background to some words of Jesus which he spoke on the occasion of a previous visit to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. They are recorded in John chapter 7. "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
John then comments: "Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (NRSV John 7:37–39)
The prophecy of Zechariah would be fulﬁlled and what the Feast of Tabernacles foreshadowed would be realised in Jesus. In him the Spirit would be poured out like water and all people would be drawn to him as he would later tell the crowd: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (NRSV John 12:32)
So when at last Jesus died on the cross he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (NRSV John 19:28–30) Jesus gave up or poured out, his spirit as he hung lifted up on the cross and thus would draw all people to himself as he had foretold.
In this way the great harvest foreshadowed by the Feast of Tabernacles was inaugurated and we with countless Christians have been drawn to Jesus and made members of his body through the waters of Baptism, receiving the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of truth, the Advocate who will teach us all things.
But this great harvest Is not yet complete. Remember that Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (NRSV Matthew 9:37–38) Let us make that our prayer as we remember this morning that Jesus gave up his Spirit for us all.