The island nation of Tonga sits astride the International Date Line in the South Pacific Ocean. When the sun sets Wednesday, September 24, the 25 Tongan members of the Worldwide Church of God will be the first people in the world to begin observing the 1980 Feast of Tabernacles. But only the first! A few minutes later, the sun will set over Fiji, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands, and God's people will be gathering for the first evening services in those countries. Next, members will begin meeting in Australia, where there are nine different Feast sites this year. And so the sun will continue setting around the earth, across Asia and Africa, through Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the United States of America. By the time the sun sets over Lihue, Kauai, the Hawaiian Feast site, the Feast of Tabernacles will be under way in 86 sites, on every inhabited continent on earth.
A worldwide Feast
Truly, we are part of a Worldwide Church of God. Our physical and spiritual ancestors in ancient Israel, going up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast, would have been astonished if they could have known that 3,000 years after them, this same Feast would be observed in places as far-flung as Exloo, Netherlands; Oaxtepec, Mexico; Nasrapur, India; Umgababa, South Africa; and Kiokkleiva, Norway, or that God's ministers would be instructing His people in languages ranging from Kikuyu, in Kenya, to Karen, in Burma. Wherever you are or wherever you are going, don't forget that you are a part of a worldwide Feast. Remember this and it will help you understand the deep spiritual significance of this Festival. We are picturing the time when the whole world will serve God in peace, cooperation and happiness.
From humble beginnings
It hasn't always been a worldwide Feast. More than 40 years ago, God showed Herbert W. Armstrong that the true Church of God should be keeping His true Holy Days. But the spiritually dying Sardis church laughed him to scorn. For seven years Mr. Armstrong and his wife had to keep the Feast by themselves. As God blessed the fledgling Work, more members were called, and they began to keep the Feast as God commands — first at Belknap Springs, Ore., then at Siegler Springs, Calif. Later, the Church obtained its own property on which to keep the Feast, in Big Sandy, Tex. The first overseas Feast site was in England. In recent years we have seen an explosion in the number of Feast sites. The number of U.S. Feast sites doubled this year, and the list of international Feast sites is quite lengthy. This has given some of us a chance for travel. Some of you, perhaps even as you read this article, are on your way to a new country or a part of your own country you haven't seen before. But as you travel, filled with excitement, don't lose sight of why there are so many Feast sites. The Feast is kept in all these places because God has people there. Many of the Church's Feast sites are attractive, but some are not. Some are not at all plush, and the average member might not find them comfortable. Many brethren in Third World countries are very poor. Some, after faithfully saving a 10th of their income for a year, still have only about $20 in second tithe. In some cases, only the heads of households can afford to come to the Feast. They will not be looking forward to deluxe accommodations, luxurious convention centers and gourmet meals, but they will still have a wonderful, inspiring and fulfilling Feast. Think about this. Don't let the harsh realities of this world spoil your enjoyment, but rather rejoice in that God has called and begotten future members of His Family from all walks of life around this globe. God's people, although from many different races and nationalities, are one. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people... Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God" (I Pet. 2:9-10).
The Bible shows that we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. All nations, large and small, have special days to commemorate significant events in their histories. For example, the United States has Independence Day, Memorial Day and Thanksgiving Day. The Australians have Australia Day and Anzac Day. Many countries keep as special days the anniversaries of their independence from colonial rule. These days are celebrated with displays, parades and patriotic speeches. Citizens are often commanded to attend, but loyal citizens do so willingly, out of pride for their country and a desire to participate in its future. In a sense, God's Holy Days are the national days of the Kingdom of God. They are commanded assemblies ordained by the Ruler of the Kingdom to commemorate significant milestones in the nation's past and to focus the citizens' minds on the great achievements yet to come. Each of the Holy Days portrays one of the vital stages in God's plan of salvation for all mankind. First is the Passover, marking for Christians the anniversary of Jesus Christ's sacrificial death on behalf of mankind. Then the Night to Be Much Remembered and the Days of Unleavened Bread remind us to come out of sin. Pentecost looks back to a significant day in our nation's history — the day God sent His Holy Spirit to the first citizens, empowering them to begin the Work that still is being done today. The Feast of Trumpets foreshadows perhaps the greatest day in earth's history — the day when Christ returns. He will quickly oust the present, evil, world-ruling power (an event anticipated on the Day of Atonement) and establish His rule over the human race. For 1,000 years the spirit-born citizens of the Kingdom of God, working under Christ, will show their human brethren the way to peace and happiness. That hasn't happened yet, of course, but the Ruler of the Kingdom of God has ordained a "national week" to anticipate it. Every year loyal citizens of His Kingdom go obediently to the places chosen as Feast of Tabernacles sites. Most members can drive to comfortable, deluxe temporary dwellings. But even those who were called from the earth's less fortunate areas, who must for the time being live in poverty, also go. They will walk across deserts if necessary, canoe down jungle rivers if need be. The important thing is to get to the place where God has placed His name. They know that at the Feast they can look beyond this present evil world to the wonderful world tomorrow. On the Last Great Day of the Feast, just before we all return home, we look forward briefly to what will be the greatest national challenge of all. This day pictures the salvation of all mankind in the Great White Throne Judgment period. Salvation for mankind has a special significance to Church members. Only a minute percentage of all the human beings who ever lived were ever called by God. There are members today who are literally the only people in their countries to be called. The Last Great Day looks across the ages to the time when all humanity will live again and have their chance to know the truth. But for now, God's people from around the world gather annually to observe the Feast, in a great outpouring of loyalty and support for the Kingdom of God. Even though distance and economics may separate brethren physically, we are showing our God and soon-coming King that we are one. So whoever you are and wherever you are, think about the other 85 Feast sites and have a great worldwide Feast of Tabernacles.