23The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 24Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord’s offering by fire.
26The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 27Now, the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you: you shall deny yourselves and present the Lord’s offering by fire; 28and you shall do no work during that entire day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. 29For anyone who does not practice self-denial during that entire day shall be cut off from the people. 30And anyone who does any work during that entire day, such a one I will destroy from the midst of the people. 31You shall do no work: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your settlements. 32It shall be to you a sabbath of complete rest, and you shall deny yourselves; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your sabbath.
33The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 34Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths to the LORD. 35The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. 36Seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord’s offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.
37These are the appointed festivals of the LORD, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the LORD offerings by fire – burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day – 38apart from the sabbaths of the LORD, and apart from your gifts, and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill offerings, which you give to the LORD.
39Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the LORD, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. 40On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 41You shall keep it as a festival to the LORD seven days in the year; you shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute forever throughout your generations. 42You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
44Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the LORD.
If you have ever tried to read the Bible straight through you probably started second-guessing yourself by the time you arrived at Leviticus. The priestly code and sacrificial instructions are enough to alienate any modern reader. There also happens to be explicit instructions for holiness that may uncover some of our modern discomfort with God and ourselves—who are we to be holy? But maybe something like today’s reading is more approachable. In the midst of creation, God makes space for atonement, for rest, and for celebration. Some of the description has to do with atonement—the steps Israel was to take so that they would be reconciled with God. The latter portion of the reading has to do with the festival of booths, which was the festival of harvest when Israelites would sleep in hastily raised shelters in the fields as they brought in the fruit of their labor. The effect of these festivals connects with the larger theme of Leviticus: that just as God calls us to be holy, God sanctifies us through the observances we keep, through the times of the year, which mark God’s faithfulness in such things as disparate as our sin and God’s provision. God is in all of it. So as the regular pattern of life has been interrupted—in church, in work, in family—maybe we can remember that God uses all time to sanctify us, to make us holy and like God. Now is not the time for planting or for harvesting. Now our lives are fallow. Leviticus reminds us that fallow fields produce a harvest, too.
God, we trust in you, that you are at work every day of our lives: that you are with us before our beginning: that you lead us beyond the time when you close our eyes. Be with us today in the waiting, in the fallow life, which you make holy by your presence. Let your Spirit come upon us again, that we would bear fruits of your kingdom, even as we pray for this time to end. We pray through Christ, our Lord. Amen.