You might have noticed on your calendar that today is Yom Kippur. Many of us will see that only as a holiday that someone else celebrates. And that’s too bad.
Yom Kippur is the contemporary celebration of the Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus 16. Most of these Jewish holidays/festivals are lost to those of us in Christianity, but they shouldn’t be. They are significant to our Judeo-Christian heritage. One of my favorite teaching series we did while I was at Pathways was a look at each of the Jewish festivals. And I’ve often felt that I want to somehow celebrate each of these holidays as they come and go, but those feelings fall to the level of good intentions. At least I’m managing these reflections this time around!
The day of Atonement was the most sacred of days in ancient Judaism. On this day, the high priest was to enter the inner room of the temple, known as Most Holy Place. This was where the 10 Commandments were stored in the Ark of the Covenant. It was a room that symbolized the presence of God. No one was allowed to enter this room except once a year on this day.
This entrance was part of a greater ceremony where the high priest was to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the sins of all the people. Thus, the day of atonement — it was to atone for, to makes amends for, to compensate, for all the sins of the people.
Now of course, I see this day much differently. I look back through Jesus and see that this sacrifice is no longer needed. Jesus’ death on the cross was the final sacrifice that made those temple sacrifices obsolete.
As Jesus breathed his last, there was something else that happened that makes all the difference to how Christians should view this day, and every day:
And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. — Mark 15:38
This is the very curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple. God was no longer separate, no longer “contained” — as if God ever was. Every day, God is present in this world, at work all around us. The sacrifice continues, though now it is by me, and maybe you, trying our best to join the working of the God all around who loves enough to act on our behalf.