This will be a permanent rule for you: On the tenth day of the appointed month in early autumn, you must deny yourselves. You must not do any work—neither the citizen nor the immigrant who lives among you. On that day reconciliation will be made for you in order to cleanse you. You will be clean before the Lord from all your sins.
A Word of Hope
We are in the midst of the holiest days in Judaism. Rosh Hashannah And since Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest of all Jewish holidays, took place last week, I want to examine the aspects of this important day, and how they might apply to us as followers of Christ.
The Christian tenet of atonement for sin can easily absolve us of a meaningful, intentional examination of our lives and commitment to live at a higher level.
Just as the word “sin” carries a connotation that differs from its meaning, Yom Kippur’s primary elements are often mistranslated and only hint at their original meaning. T’filah and T’shuvah (prayer and repentance) are more accurately translated as self-evaluation and return.
The most common word for “sin” is chait and means to “miss the mark.” More practically, it means an error or mistake. Inordinate guilt or fear of eternal damnation make no sense in this context.
So, a “Day of Atonement for our sins through repentance and prayer” is more accurately translated as a “Day of Atonement for our errors through self-evaluation and a return to the men and women we were created to be.”
T’filah, or self-evaluation:
Through honest introspection, we consider the times and situations where we’ve acted in ways contrary to God and the better angels of our nature. This self-examination is the essence of what takes place on Yom Kippur.
It involves assessing when, how, and why we veered away from the people were created to be, the image and likeness of God. We consider the patterns of triggers and stumbling blocks that often trip us up and consider how often we’ve ‘missed the mark’ by compromising our best selves amid the stresses and distractions of daily life.
I grew up with “forgive us for our sins” or “forgive us when we fail You” included in every prayer, though we spent little time considering exactly what sins or failures we were referencing. At Yom Kippur, emphasis is placed on looking at the very places where we harbor prejudices, display unkindness, fail to act on behalf of the oppressed, abide gossip, dismiss the needs or dignity of others, or seek retribution rather than peace.
T’shuvah, or return:
T’shuvah is about more than repentance. It includes an assessment of where and who we are versus how we could be. We ‘return’ to God by envisioning our lives lived with the degree the
love, compassion, mercy, integrity, nobility, and authenticity of which we are capable. It’s a bit like saying to ourselves, “You’re better than that.” For followers of Christ, we look at those areas where we’re doing well and the areas where we could be more Christ-like. And we agree to lay down our resistance to living differently in order to become more like Jesus.
Taking fearless inventories of ourselves, examining our intentions, and committing to become the people we have the potential to be is uncomfortable and difficult work. But, it is work we are asked to undertake. And no one else can make this journey for us.
By examining the elements of Yom Kippur and the true meaning of the actions associated with the day, I believe the conscious appraisal of our lives and our dedication to become better people contribute to our growth as followers of Jesus..
Most Loving God, we are grateful for the ways in which we live noble and authentic lives. May we appreciate those areas while remaining mindful of the areas where we miss the mark. We ask You to extend Your grace to us for those times we’ve erred. Remind us of the resources available to make us better, more Christ-like individuals so that we may do Your work in this world. And so it is. Amen.