Today is Yom Kippur. A high holy day in the Jewish calendar.
And I was thinking, as I tend to do. But today as I was thinking, I was also fasting. So my mind began to wander . . .
I wondered if Jesus ever observed Yom Kippur. Not in the “I need to ask for forgiveness from God”-type observation of the day, but it was after all a command from God to remember the day as holy. And then I began thinking of Jews all through history and what Yom Kippur looked like for them. (Well maybe not all the Jews. That would take a while.)
In captivity in Babylon, did the Israelites pray and fast for atonement, or were they too busy adjusting to life in a foreign land? What about those Sephardic Jews living in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition? I wonder if the first Jews to land in North American in 1654 remembered to fast and pray. According to legend, it was early autumn when they landed in New Amsterdam. . .
And then there are times like Eli Weisel describes in his memoir Night. The Day of Atonement rolls around and Weisel adamantly decides to not observe the day. By this point in his captivity he has lost faith in the Almighty God. He does not see the point of fasting from food he does not have or praying to an unseen God who has most obviously abandoned him and the other prisoners. Why would one add more afflictions to a life already afflicted with loss, pain and death?
I wonder if we are not sometimes like that. Convinced that God must have no idea what He is doing. Or at the very least thinking that He’s gone on vacation and left a deaf and blind arch angel in charge.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading Madeleine L’Engle’s The Rock that is Higher. It’s one of her older works--a reflection on what it means to write a story. (And a little like Donald Miller’s newest book about living your life story). There are long passages where she simply recaps her thoughts about a book she’s written or a life-shattering event. But then there are sections where she really dishes out truth. Truth about how we are to live our story in God’s story. Last night I read:
When I pray, in church or without, in my prayer corner at home, or on the street as I walk to and fro, I pray that God’s will may be done, and I pray it especially fervently during those many times when I am not able to discern God’s will. . . Often I do not know, and so I throw myself upon God’s will. (L'Engle, p.147)
Even when we don’t see His hand moving, or our need for redemption, or the fruit of our labors, God is the One who is faithful. Outside of time, yet like clockwork, we can depend on His nearness; His response; His mercy. I think that is why Judaism and older Christian practices are so routine, so repetitive. We fast and pray each autumn because that is the time God has set aside for His people to repent and remember. We are the ones who are unfaithful; in constant need a faithful God who will say to us,
This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or an alien living among you- because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. (Leviticus 16:29-31)