Standing within the gates: Sukkot

I arrived in Israel to discover that it is the week of Sukkot. This is one of the most important festivals of the Jewish year during which they celebrate the harvest (Exodus 34.22) and the exodus from Egypt (Leviticus 23.42-43). During the week long festival, Jewish people create intentionally fragile shelters with branches on the roof where they eat their meals and sleep at night, recalling the shelters in which their ancestors spent 40 years in the wilderness. I have seen lots of these Sukkot, large and small as I have wandered around Jerusalem.

The Sukkah shelter on my neighbour's roof

The Sukkah shelter on my neighbour’s roof

Sukkah at the Western Wall

Sukkah at the Western Wall

The city is full of Jewish families from all over the world who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the way in which God redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. It is also full of Zionist and Millenarian Christians who have come to celebrate the blood moon and the restoration of Israel. (Simply put, Zionist Christians believe that Jewish people have a God-given permanent right to the Land. Millenarian Christians believe that the return of Jews to the Land is a pre-requisite for the return of Christ.) Due to the Festival, the old city is even busier than usual and much of it is in party mood.

I went to midweek communion at Christ Church which does much work with Jewish Christians. There, we gathered around the Sukkah which stood over the Communion Table as we remembered how Jesus redeemed us by his life, death and resurrection.

Christ Church's Sukkah

Christ Church’s Sukkah

It was extremely powerful to celebrate Communion a stone’s throw from the Church of the Resurrection and the traditional site of the Upper Room where the events we were recalling in the Communion service took place.

The two grey domes of the Church of the Resurrection, site of Golgotha and Jesus' tomb

The two grey domes of the Church of the Resurrection, site of Golgotha and Jesus’ tomb with the Mount of Olives in the distance

Upper Room

The medieval Church built on the traditional site of the Upper Room

The Palestinian Christians I spent yesterday with are not celebrating Sukkot. For them it is the cause of additional pressures as roads are arbitrarily closed and banks shut early. For them it means many more soldiers and police, all armed with machine guns and the power to make their lives ever more difficult. Yesterday they were more interested in when they might get water again than in celebrating. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem pay full municipal taxes but are not allowed to be on the water mains. Instead they receive water once a week – or not, depending on the will of the government – which they store in black tanks on their roofs. (Top tip: if you want to know whether a house has Jewish residents or not, look at the roof; if it is the home of Jewish people there will not be a black tank, just a white one for solar heated hot water.). Omar had not received water for two weeks so whilst the Jewish family opposite his house were liberally using a sprinkler to maintain their lawn, he only had what bottled water he could afford. What was amazing and humbling about the Christians I spoke to, including Omar and two elderly ladies who remembered what their lives were like before 1948, was that they are hopeful. They are full of  hope that one day they will receive justice, that one day they will be restored, that one day they too will be able to celebrate their freedom for they know that in Christ, they are also sons and daughters of Abraham, they know that because of Christ they are beloved children of God. So we were able to celebrate Communion together knowing that God will redeem all his people.

I am giving thanks for the opportunity to be here and for the people I have met who have blessed me in so many ways.
I am praying for peace with justice for all who live in Jerusalem and for good relations with all I meet.


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