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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Yom Kippur

October 6, 2011

It feels like fall today, you guys. There’s a breeze, and leaves are swirling around, and most importantly, new episodes of my favorite shows are back on TV! I cried at Parenthood this week. Yeah, I cry at fictional characters interacting in fictional situations. Jealous?

Here is how God celebrates fall.

So, we’ve got another biblical holiday this week! Although, that exclamation point is probably a bit much because it’s the one somber holiday that God commanded. Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) starts this Friday at sundown. It is the holiest day of the whole year for the people of God. In Leviticus 23, God commanded the Israelites to abstain from work and to deny themselves (fast) for a whole day. People examine themselves and their sins, asking God for his forgiveness.

Yom Kippur is the day, each year, when the people of Israel must atone for their sins. There are very detailed instructions in Leviticus 16 — the high priest must sacrifice to atone for himself, and sacrifice to atone the altar and the Most Holy Place. God dwelt there, among sinful people, and it needed to be made holy. Then the priest would bring two goats — one to sacrifice as a sin offering for the people, and one to be a scapegoat. The priest would symbolically place all of the sins of the people for the past year on the scapegoat. A man would then lead the goat, heavy with the burden of Israel’s sin, into the desert and let it go — the scapegoat would carry away, upon its head, the wickedness of their hearts.

It’s a fascinating story. Please, please take a second to read Leviticus 16. I hadn’t read it in awhile, and it’s amazing to look at the process required to atone for our sins.

First Fruits of Zion wrote a newsletter about Yom Kippur, reminding us that Hebrews 9 parallels this process by showing us that Jesus, the Messiah, has become our high priest. He is the one who made  atonement for us, not through sacrificing a bull or a goat or a ram, but through sacrificing his body — broken, burdened, crushed under the weight of, not only the sins of Israel, but the sins of all humanity throughout all time.

The Bible is cool, you guys. There are so many parallels, so many stories that get retold and fulfilled and given new meaning. It’s like a much, much cooler Lost. Or maybe Lost is like a much less cooler Bible. Or maybe … OK, the analogy isn’t working. Let’s move on.

You are not supposed to work during Yom Kippur, and you are supposed to fast. I plan to do a fast, and I’ll talk about my reasoning more tomorrow, but I wanted to let you know so that if you want to consider doing it,  you could start praying about it today.

OK, I’ve gots to go, folks. Have a good day, friends, in grateful remembrance of Jesus who atoned for us.