A festival or a pilgrimage?

Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. -Exodus 23:14

Dear members and friends,

According to Exodus, God commands that people observe three festivals: the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering. The Hebrew word which is translated as “festival” is chagag, meaning “to make a pilgrimage,” or “to keep a pilgrim feast.” In English, to have a festival and to make a pilgrimage do not have the same meaning: festival is from the Latin word festa, meaning feast. Meanwhile, pilgrimage is defined as the journey of a pilgrim, which is from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning foreign. It becomes little more interesting when we compare how Wikipedia defines festival and pilgrimage: A festival is an event ordinarily celebrated by a community and centering on some characteristic aspect of that community and its religion or cultures. A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. What is clear in the context of Exodus is that Moses intended chagag to be a time of both celebration with food and dancing while undergoing pilgrimage to their God. God commanded them to have such an event three times a year.  

According to Swedenborg, the three festivals “were instituted on account of the liberation of people from damnation.” Swedenborg believed that the first spiritual state of human beings is the stage of damnation, not because of God’s punishment, but because of people’s inclinations. In other words, at birth we all are damned, meaning positioned far away or in opposition to God. Again, this is so not due to God’s punishment, but due to the fact that we all are born in the condition where we accept and acknowledge what is physical as the true and only reality. Our destiny as human beings are to break through the darkness that surrounds us at birth, and to seek and embrace truth from God. According to Swedenborg, this process is symbolized by the first festival, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, as this festival symbolizes the purification from falsities. Thus, Swedenborg suggests that the festivals commanded by God means three stages of spiritual growth through which we reach God and thus unite with God. However, this journey cannot even begin if we do not acknowledge and accept that we are born and educated in spiritual darkness, and thus need purification from it. 

My brothers and sisters in God, let us reflect on how we are living as believers of God, and remember that the core purpose of God’s teachings is to restore us so that we become once again capable of receiving what is of God.  

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee