Tonight, at sunset, we begin the holiest of all Jewish holidays — Yom Kippur. This ancient Day of Atonement is based on Leviticus 16:29-30: “In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD.”
Truth be told, this is the most difficult day of the year for any faithful Jewish sister or brother, because it is a day dedicated to the personal and direct “Affliction of the Soul” — a day to reflect upon and reckon honestly with all the sins we have committed anytime during the past year. One of my dearest Jewish colleagues says (with a sparkle in his eye and his tongue stuck in his cheek) that this is what honest Jews call their “come to Jesus” moment. Well, truth be told, there is really no comparable day in Christianity, unless we Christians were to take Ash Wednesday seriously to heart, which most of us do not do.
On Yom Kippur, it is understood by faithful Jews that God’s judgment of them in entered into the Book of Life and sealed that day. Yom Kippur is your last appeal, your last chance to change God’s eternal judgment of you; your last day to sincerely show your repentance and make eternal amends.
As a Christian university chaplain for the past 43 years, I take Yom Kippur very seriously. In large part this is because I painfully experience the intense spiritual dynamics of Yom Kippur on a more or less daily basis. Rarely a day goes by in my ministry that I am not confronted by someone who confronts me with my own manifold sins and wickedness. (This, for the uninitiated, is a really bad blend of Yom Kippur liturgy with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but it sure feels fitting for my daily dose of stuff).
I recently shared in a public post my concern that we all are traversing an unchartered course of national discourse these days. Anything any one of us proffers in public thought is fraught with fragile fear of rejection, repudiation, and condemnation from even our closest and most honored colleagues and friends. Given this state of affairs for us all, I humbly and gratefully thank God for this year’s Yom Kippur, this Day of Atonement. I pray on this Yom Kippur that, as a distant child of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, and as a Christian cousin and neighbor to all my Jewish sisters and brothers, I might take these 24 hours beginning at sunset tonight to sincerely confess and confront my manifold sins and wickedness, and seek to be my better self in the New Year before us. Blessed be.
Rev. Jon Powers is University Chaplain of Ohio Wesleyan University.