Day of Atonement

For many adherents, the Day of Atonement is a significant observance, the holiest of all holy days. It’s a day of penance for the year’s mistakes and sins, traditionally a day of sacrifices, fasting and prayer. It’s also traditional to give alms, do good deeds for others, and spend time making amends and apologizing to those one has harmed.

My family has never observed this holy day, but I decided to study it this year in order to gain a more complete picture of the fall holy days and contemplate their significance. Christians don’t traditionally observe Yom Kippur because we are no longer required to make sacrifices once a year to atone for our sins. Jesus was the final sacrifice — his blood made us pure. We no longer need a high priest to pray for us or mediate between us and God. We now have access to the Father through the Holy Spirit, and when we are new in Christ we are permanently washed clean.

Still, Christians observe a practice of fasting and other spiritual disciplines, such as in the spring before Easter, a season we call Lent. Fasting is a way to quiet the heart, to set aside the carnal nature in order to seek God. For many, it’s a “spiritual reset,” and can be a powerful way to put faith in action, trusting God to sustain the body and nourish the soul.

There is also value in fasting as a group. We are more than individuals; we exist in community. Thinking of ourselves as primarily individuals is a relatively modern concept, and while knowing our identity is important, it must be understood in the context of our community. Ancient traditions are based on the shared story of the family. For Christians, we have a “completed” identity through Christ — and anyone may become a part of the family!

Now, though we are no longer in bondage to sin, we are on a journey to become more like Christ and to deepen our trust in God every day. We encounter so many opportunities for growth in the day to day. Fasting says to God, “I trust you to do this work in me.” It’s a powerful act of trust; opening ourselves up to God in childlike vulnerability.

At its core, isn’t sin always a lack of trust? From the very first sin, when a seed of doubt was planted in Eve’s mind, trust in God was eroded and faith in self grew stronger. This is truly the sin we wrestle with in the da-to-day. Do I trust myself, or do I trust God? I am finding in my own life that I lack trust so much more than I thought.

Some teach that Yom Kippur represents the second coming of Christ when he will return to judge the world. As believers, we thank God for the security we have in Christ and solemnly remember that we must remain awake and work out our salvation — this is not an opportunity to keep on sinning! Yom Kippur for us, then, can be a day of remembering to live our lives intentionally, keeping in mind the final day of judgment and being “wise bridesmaids” with plenty of oil in our lamps.

Tell us in the comments if you plan to observe this holy day with your family and community! Next week we’ll share ways you can acknowledge the day.