Atonement

October 7, 2011

It is Friday. Yes, we can. I’m not sure what that means.

Here is what I’m doing today.

Studying in front of a fire sounds peaceful, but in reality, I have to take a quiz. A quiz that, in order to pass, I need to listen to four lectures and know the contents of a 200-page book that I have not read. So, the fire is not helping my peaceful mojo all that much.

So, Yom Kippur starts at sundown tonight and ends at sundown tomorrow. Like we talked about yesterday, it is a time of atonement — a time when Israel was to make sacrifices and send away a scapegoat who would carry the sins of the past year into the desert. This obviously doesn’t happen anymore because there is no temple in Israel. However, Jewish tradition now has three main components of Yom Kippur — repentance, prayer and fasting.

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, we pray, asking God to forgive our sins and reconciling with anyone we need forgiveness from or need to forgive. This need for reconciliation is something many of us still take into account before we take communion, the symbol of our atonement. I didn’t even know about this tradition, but it is quite fitting, because a friend and I had a talk this week and worked through some things that had separated us. We admitted and forgave, and it was a good preparation for Yom Kippur — the day we remember that God freely forgave us and provided a way for us to be reconciled to him.

The prayer part is done together. There is an evening Yom Kippur service on the night it starts, and then many people go to services for much of the next day. Often, people read the book of Jonah, which reminds us that we are quick to run from God’s plan in rebellion, but he is also quick to offer compassion. Part of the communal prayer time is to recognize that our sins affect others. All of our sin is against God, but the ramifications often spread to our family and friends. People pray, asking God to please forgive them and begging him to write their names in the Book of Life. As believers in Jesus, we know that we don’t need a yearly atonement any longer. Jesus paid the price fully and completely and victoriously through his death. Although it is a solemn holiday and people are asking God for forgiveness, there is also an undertone of joy. People wear white, as a reminder that God has promised to make our sins as white as snow. God is gracious and compassionate and always willing to forgive when we repent. It is his character — it is who he is.

The third part of Yom Kippur is fasting from sundown to sundown. Although many Jews and Christians fast, this is the one fast commanded by God in the Torah. Many people don’t eat or even drink water; they fast to demonstrate the seriousness of their sin, and the need for God to forgive.

Here is a confession: I do not fast. I like food. Not eating food makes me sad (and crabby). Every once in awhile I feel like I should do it — Jesus did say when you fast, and throughout Acts,  the Christians fast and pray often. But I don’t. Honestly, I’m scared to. It is uncomfortable, and I loves me some comforts. But I suppose that is the point. Atonement is uncomfortable; it requires a sacrifice, a penalty, someone willing to suffer. So, for Yom Kippur, I have decided to fast from food, not because I fear that God hasn’t forgiven me, but because I know many people who have not been reconciled to God. They have not recognized their need for Jesus’ atoning blood; their eyes are still blinded to the truth, and their hearts are still enslaved to sin. So, I will fast tomorrow so that I remember to pray for them, to lift up these people to the Lord, asking his Spirit to call them to him because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

So there we are — the Day of Atonement. Remember today and tomorrow that Jesus has atoned for us, that God is so willing to forgive when we turn around, when we repent. Remember it with joy, not fear, because our God is good to us! Consider fasting and praying for those in your life who need Jesus. I’ll be back next week, quiz done and well-fed.

Have a good weekend!

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2 Responses to “Atonement”

  1. Jessica Inman said

    Hey! So, fasting. It is so weird, no? In the Orthodox tradition, we (and by “we” I mean “other people”) fast two days a week. It’s not a very strict fast — it’s not all liquids or anything, it’s just abstaining from meat, dairy and olive oil, with some tweaks depending on interpretation. And then there are longer fasts throughout the year, Lent being the Big Deal.

    Anyway, I’ve always had a hard time understanding the purpose of fasting. My priest says it’s because our bodies need to participate in salvation, and because it helps us remember that we need God more than we need food, and because abstaining from food trains us to redirect the impulse to run after something that’s not God.

    And the story that always goes along with the Lenten fast is the prodigal son and how he came to realize that he had come from a better kingdom than the one he was living in. So when we fast, it’s like we’re saying we miss our real home and want to go back. It’s like a regular act of repentance.

    But a lot of this hasn’t made much sense to me or something, because I keep the Lenten fast with spotty consistency at best and I’ve never kept the weekly fast. Last week, though, I decided that I wanted to make some baby step toward trying it. And I’m not really into hearing things from God all the time, but I had this vague feeling that God as the prodigal son’s dad was saying something like, “Hey, you came back. This is good. I love you and I’m glad you’re back.”

    So anyway, all that to say, I know fasting is kind of weird and confusing, but I think there’s some value to going forward with it even if you don’t completely understand what it’s going to do. L’Shanah Tovah! (Did I get that right?)

  2. denisemorris said

    Hey, Jessica! Yeah, fasting is weird. I was surprised to discover that this Yom Kippur fast is the only one commanded by God. Fasting is talked about a lot in the Bible, but it is kind of a difficult thing to figure out. What’s the benefit — I’ve heard lots of people’s opinions on the benefits, but what does God say it is. Although, Lauren Winner wrote in Mudhouse Sabbath that sometimes maybe the benefit doesn’t matter. When God gave the Law, the people responded “we will do and we will hear.” The rabbis thought it was odd to say you would do something before you heard what it was. But maybe that’s the point. If God says it, you do it, even if you don’t get the reason for it, or even if you don’t see a huge benefit — whether it’s fasting or Sabbath or whatever. It would be interesting to look into — I honestly don’t know a ton about fasting or know a ton of people who do it regularly. Thanks for helping me think more deeply on this!

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