OK what's up with this? Past Elder, the blog, has been saying since it started that Christian liturgy is essentially a transformed, Messianic Jewish liturgy, but if that's really so, then how is it that in Fall, when Judaism is about to begin a whole bunch of major observances, the Christian calendar ain't got nuttin major until Christmas?
Some background. Past Elder, the blog, commenced operations 22 February 2007. In my first posts about Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost, I mentioned that the Christian pattern of yearly worship derives from the Jewish one. In my second year, I took to posting a few posts again, revised here and there, that relate to our cycle of observances of major parts of our faith in the church year, and also the civil calendar, calling it the "blogoral cycle" as a play on terms like "sanctoral cycle" for the saint's days in the church year.
The Blogoral Cycle takes particular note of how our church year comes from and fulfills the cycle of observances in the Jewish calendar. However in Fall, where the Jewish calendar is FULL of stuff, the Christian church calendar has -- NOTHING, precisely where, if it indeed comes from and fulfills the Jewish cycle, one would expect it to be full of stuff too!
So what's up with that? Here's the 2015 version of my post about it.
I. About Fall.
In the US, Labor Day is the unofficial start of Fall, or Autumn if you insist. In 2015, the official start in the U.S. is 0420 EDT on 23 September. That's 0320 CDT here in Omaha. Worldwide it starts on 23 September at 0820 hours GMT. Huh?
OK 0820 is often called 820am, but now what's GMT? It means Greenwich Mean Time, aka, which means also known as, UTC, which means Universal Time Co-ordinates. To get GMT from CDT you add six hours, five during "daylight savings time"; from EDT five, or four in DST; to get CDT or EDT from GMT you do the reverse. GMT never goes on "daylight" time and is always the same as a worldwide point of common reference. Greenwich of course is in Mother England, but GMT is not necessarily local time there since England has "daylight" time too -- BST, or British Summer Time -- as does the EU, so even in London, which is in the GMT timezone, you gotta add an hour for local time during "daylight" summer hours.
Well actually, that's just one of the official starts of Fall. Holy crap, what's up with that -- two official starts and an unofficial one too? And to a season with two names! What's up with THAT, and that's before we even get to this post's actual What's Up With That?
A. About the Two Starts.
The first thing is, there's two Falls, the astronomical one and the meteorological one. Astronomical Fall is determined by the relative amount of light and dark in a day, in turn determined by the relative position of the Earth and the Sun. Just like the word Man, which can mean either all human beings or just the male ones, the word Day is used sometimes for the whole 24 hour period or just the light part of it.
Astronomical Fall starts on the day, as in 24 hour period, with equal amounts of light and dark in it, called the autumnal equinox ("equal night" in Latin), and goes to the day with the least amount of day light in it, called the winter solstice ("sun stand still", solstitium, sol or sun and sistere or to stand still in Latin). And some think Latin is not still with us! But we all note these daylight changes do not align exactly with the air temperature changes. That is because of the thermal latency of land and sea.
Judas H Priest, what is thermal latency? How many what's up with thats can we have in one post? Don't freak. "Thermal latency" are simply more Latin derived words for the phenomenon that while as the earth rotates toward and then away from the sun, thereby giving more and then less heat, it takes both land and water a while to warm up or cool off.
Meteorological Fall is determined by the changes in air temperature. Huh, if it's meteorology why ain't it about meteors? Holy crap another What's Up With That! Now ain't you glad you read Past Elder so you can know all this stuff? Meteorology comes from the Greek meteoros or "up in the sky", and -ology or the study of something. Matter of fact, although weather forecasters take flak for having the only job where you get paid to be wrong, and TV has gone through phases where the weather segment was done by somebody just reading stuff, a comedian if male or a stacked babe if female, meteorology was started by Aristotle in a book by that name he wrote in 350 BC in which, with no modern instruments whatever but just being a keen observer and smarter than all hell, he described what is now called the hydrologic cycle.
Don't freak, more Greek derived words, here meaning water cycle, in which water is not just distinct from land but interacts with land in changing cycles in various forms; liquid, otherwise known as rain, vapour, otherwise known as fog, and solid, otherwise known as ice. Think that's just some musty ancient stuff, who cares? Think again, because our planet, though we call it Earth, is actually mostly water, and a planet with a lot of water over long periods of time loses hydrogen, which is part of water (H2O, remember?), which in turn leads to what is called the "greenhouse effect", which leads to more hydrogen loss, which leads to more greenhouse effect, and this natural cycle can be accelerated by what Man's activities put in the air, and, while we don't know exactly how the two affect each other, they do interact, and everybody is worried as hell about that now or damned well ought to be.
Sound musty now? Old Ari was sharp as a tack, wish we had more like him now with modern instruments. Which doesn't mean you can't be a comedian or a stacked babe while you're doing that. Which is also why, besides Blogoral Calendars and stuff like that, Past Elder goes on about musty ancient stuff -- because it helps us understand where in the hell we are right now and what "where we are right now" even is.
So, meteorological seasons are determined by average air temperatures, which lag behind the astronomical events of solstices and equinoxes that determine astronomical seasons, due to thermal water latency. Fall in this definition is from 1 September to 30 November. Well, in the northern hemisphere that is. Our planet being a sphere, when one side rotates toward the sun the other rotates away, so Fall in the southern hemisphere happens when our Spring does, and vice versa.
Now topping that all off are school boards, who as any kid or parent knows, are God, and determine when Summer ends by when school starts. When I grew up when it was after Labor Day, the unofficial start of Fall, and after 1 September, the official start of meteorological Fall. Now it starts in August sometime when you oughta still be swimming in the city pool and stuff like that, probably because they don't want any lawsuits so they have room for "snow days" in the Winter, which unlike when I grew up simply meant you got up earlier, shovelled the crap outta the way and went about your business, leaving early because you drive slower, or should.
B. About the Two Names.
Oh yeah and on the two names for the same season thing, so we can clear up all the What's Up With Thats before we get on to the main What's Up With That. Guess what? More Latin. The original name was the Latin autumnus, and the modern languages derived from Latin all have similar words for it. But English isn't totally Latin derived, the Latin and Greek stuff is an overlay onto basically a form of German. Now in German itself autumn is Der Herbst, which means harvest, and that is what the season was called in English too, Harvest. It wasn't until the 1500s, when people were tending to live more in towns than in the country, that "harvest" in English became more the activity of harvesting and the season began to be called Autumn and Fall.
OK we saw the derivation of "autumn" from autumnus but where did this fall thing come from? Because the leaves are falling, and the amount of daylight is falling, and the year is drawing to its close. In the 1600s English colonisation of the Americas was in full swing, and both terms came over, but back in Mother England by the 1700s "fall" fell to "autumn" in usage, and that is why now Autumn is used in both places but Fall in mostly heard here.
Sukkoth is the easy part of this Fall stuff. It begins at sunset, the start of the Biblical day, on 15 Tishrei in the Jewish calendar. But, expressing this in the secular calendar, which actually is religious in origin being commissioned by Pope Gregory, in 2015 this is sunset of 27 September. Remember the Jewish calendar is a lunar one so things move, and the "day" starts at sundown. It was sunset of 8 October in 2014, 18 September in 2013, 30 September in 2012, of 12 October in 2011, and of 22 September in 2010. God's pretty straight up about what he wants. Speaking of which, let's see what the real God, not the school board, wants regarding observances through the year.
II. Here's What God Wants For A Festival Calendar.
In the religion God delivered to the Jews in the Old Testament, he commands three major festivals: 1) Pesach or Passover; 2) Shavuot or Pentecost, also called Weeks; 3) Sukkot, called Tabernacles or Booths. These three are the Shalosh Regalim, the Three Pilgrim Festivals where all Jews go to Jerusalem.
And in the Fall, in addition to Sukkot, before it there is the High Holidays, more properly the Yamim Noraim or Days of Awe. These are the Ten Days of Repentance, from Rosh Hashanah, the so-called Jewish New Year, through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year, commanded in the Law of Moses. Then comes Sukkoth itself, which runs seven days. Then comes the Eighth Day, Shemini Atzeret, when normal living indoors resumes (huh, what's up with that; hang on, we'll get to it below, or as we say, vide infra, Latin for "see below", a term once common in the scholarly apparatus -- you know, footnotes and stuff -- of scholarly works and which I damn straight would use if I ever resume writing like a PhD). We're not done yet; then comes Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in Torah, with the conclusion of the annual reading through of Torah and starting it right over again, and dancing that often goes on for hours. LOTS of stuff in the Fall. Or Autumn.
In some of the other posts, we saw Passover transformed by Christ at the Last Supper, or Last Seder, into what we call Holy Communion, the new and eternal testament of his body and blood, and ratified by his Death and Resurrection which we celebrate as an event in time on Good Friday and Easter. Then we saw God himself count the commanded Omer and transform the celebration of the giving of the Law at Sinai at Pentecost by the giving of the promised Holy Spirit to the Apostles, which we celebrate as an event in time on the day also called Pentecost.
Then, what -- the whole thing seems to, uh, fall apart!! Where's the transformed Rosh Ha-Shanah, where's the transformed Days of Awe, where's the transformed Yom Kippur, where's the transformed Sukkoth, where's the transformed Eighth Day and Rejoicing in Torah? And where's the dancing?
The Christian calendar is entirely absent of such things. Fall, full of observances in Judaism, comes and goes with nothing until the secular Thanksgiving and then Advent which is a time of preparation for Christmas. So does the parallel fall apart here, or perhaps show itself to be irrelevant anyway if it exists at all?
No. Consider how Jesus gives himself. Christ has himself become our atonement, that to which the Day of Atonement led. The "Day of Atonement" is the historical Good Friday, once for all. Rosh Ha-Shanah too, the day on which creation was completed and God judges each person for the coming year, has been fulfilled in God's having re-created lost Man by making justification possible because of the merit of Christ's sacrifice. That is how we are now inscribed, not just for the coming year but for eternity. So these two are absent because they have served their purpose and been fulfilled.
But what of Sukkot? At Sukkot, one lives, or at least takes one's meals, in a temporary structure called a sukkah in Hebrew -- a booth, a tabernacle, not in one's actual home. This is to remember the passage of the people after the Passover and Pentecost to the Promised Land. Zechariah (14:16-19) predicts that in the time of the Messiah the feast will be observed not just by Jews but by all humanity coming to Jerusalem for its observance. That would be a pretty big event. It ain't happening. And a transformed Sukkoth in the Christian calendar ain't even happening either. So what is the deal here?
III. Here's The Christian Sukkoth.
Consider. Christ is our Passover, in whose blood we are washed and made clean, and the Holy Spirit has empowered the spread of this Good News beginning on that Pentecost recorded in Acts. But the end of the story, unlike the arrival in the Promised Land, has not happened. The real Promised Land is not a piece of geography but heaven itself, the ultimate Jerusalem. So, there cannot be a Christian Sukkoth because we are still in our booths, as it were, not in our permanent homes, still on our pilgimage to the Promised Land, and what Zechariah saw is happening, as "the nations", all people, join in this journey given first to the Jews and then to all Man, the Gentiles.
Our Sukkot is our life right now, in our "booths" or temporary homes on our way to heaven! So this feast awaits its transformation, and that is why it is absent. The first two of the "pilgrimage festivals", the Shalosh Regalim, have been transformed, into the basis of not just our calendar but our life and faith itself, but the third will be heaven itself, toward which we journey as we live in our booths here on the way.
While we do not, therefore, have a certain observance of a transformed Sukkot in our calendar, being in our booths presently, we do have something of it as we go. Our nation, and others too, have a secular, national day of Thanksgivng at the end of harvest time, preserving that aspect of thankfulness for our earthly ingathering of the fruits of our labour. And in the final weeks of the Sundays after Trinity, we focus on the End Times in our readings, the great ingathering that will be for all nations when our Sukkoth here is ended, not just at death personally but finally at the Last Day.
Before the Conclusion, a word or two on Eastern Orthodox observance. As a comment to an earlier version of this post, "orrologion", an Orthodox blogger, observed that "In the Orthodox Christian tradition the Transfiguration fills the place of Sukkot. Fruits are blessed and it commemorates Peter's offer to build three booths for Christ, Moses and Elijah". In the Eastern observance the "Blessing of the First Fruits" does give it a harvest connexion, but, Sukkoth is not about first but last fruits. And, in the Transfiguration we see Jesus' fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah), and the appearance of all three persons in God, as he is about to go to Jerusalem for the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection.
Related to that, the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated in both the Eastern and the Western church on 6 August, not at all the time of Sukkoth. The West had the feast, but only settled on this date in 1456, when the Kingdom of Hungary broke the Siege of Belgrade and forced the Islamic Ottomans back. News of the victory made it to Rome on 6 August, and in view of its importance Pope Callixtus III put the Transfiguration in the general Roman church calendar on this date.
We Lutherans do not follow this, but follow a tradition which places the Transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany, placing the event where it is in the course of Jesus' life followed by the Gospel readings of the traditional church cycle. The military connexion of 6 August would be odd for a harvest feast. In our times however it has found a significance which is altogether spooky, which I have never heard anyone East or West mention.
6 August is also the anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons, Hiroshima. It puts in stark contrast the world and God: one can approach a transfiguration by God shown in this event, or one can approach a transfiguration by Man shown in Hiroshima -- salvation is of the Lord.
At my wife's funeral, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the secular Sukkoth, in 1997, the pastor concluded the sermon by saying: A few days ago most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.
So is the promise to us all. And that's what happened to Sukkot. And also to the rejoicing and dancing, not for hours, but eternity!
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