Sunset tonight begins ום הכיפורים, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement (see THIS BLOG for how Rosh Hoshana relates to Yom Kippur). It is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar year. It is a day of fasting and prayer, with a focus on repentance and atonement. It’s such a big deal, such an important holiday, that for many non-practicing Jews, this may be the only Jewish holiday they celebrate.
In Hebrew, “yom” means “day”, and “kippur” means “to cover”. It is connected to the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament tabernacle. On the Day of Atonement, the sins of the people were symbolically put on a “scapegoat” that was then sent out of the tribal camp, never to return. Then a blood sacrifice was offered, and sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, on this mercy seat. Getting the sins away from the people, and covering them with His righteousness was the story of what we all needed. You can also read more in Hebrews 9. Here is a description from lds.org:
The Holy of Holies contained only one piece of furniture: the Ark of the Covenant, or the Ark of the Testimony (Ex. 25:22). It was an oblong box of acacia wood, 2½ cubits long and 1½ cubits wide and high, overlaid within and without with gold, and with a rim or edging of gold round its top. It had rings and staves by which to carry it, and the staves were never to be removed from the rings (Ex. 25:15). The ark had within it “The Testimony,” i.e., the two tables of stone (Ex. 25:21; 31:18)… Upon the ark and forming the lid was the mercy seat. It served, with the ark beneath, as an altar on which the highest atonement known to the Jewish law was effected. On it was sprinkled the blood of the sin offering of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:14–15). The mercy seat was the place of the manifestation of God’s glory (Ex. 25:22). It was God’s throne in Israel. Cf. the phrase “The Lord God of Israel, which sitteth upon (or dwelleth between) the cherubim” (1 Sam. 4:4). At the ends were placed two cherubim of gold of beaten work, spreading out their wings so as to cover the mercy seat and looking toward it.
Jews believe that God writes the story of each person a year ahead, based on the choices and behaviors and interactions the person has demonstrated over the last year, and that this story is sealed (consequences chosen and decided) on the Day of Atonement. Because of this, practicing Jews spend the days prior to the Day of Atonement trying to change their behavior and make amends, seeking forgiveness for sins against God, bein adam leMakom, and sins against others, bein adam lechavero. Yom Kippur is then spent confessing guilt and petitioning forgiveness, so that by the end of Yom Kippur, the Jew believes they are absolved by God of all their sins.
There are public confessions, and public requests for forgiveness. As the people let go of grudges and bitterness and ugliness and the trauma-dramas of life, they are softened and brought peace and become a people at-one. Together they know they do not deserve the love of God, yet He gives it to them anyway. One of the prayers they pray is this:
May all the people of Israel be forgiven,
including all the strangers who live in their midst,
for all the people are in fault.
No one is exempt. No contention is blamed on another. No relationship argument is because of only one person. No one can judge another without themselves being guilty. No one is innocent.
We all need His forgiveness, and we must all forgive each other.
That is the only way to peace.
For those Jews who have converted to Christianity, the Yom Kippur is often celebrated by deep prayers of intercession for their loved ones and those needing peace. Forgiveness is understood to be given through the great atoning sacrifice of Christ, and forgiveness is offered to all.
Forgiveness is what brings peace.
It was a Sunday, and the following Friday I got to go to the Temple for the first time.
Then Saturday and Sunday was my first brand-new-dripping-wet General Conference.
It was an amazing year, as intense as that first week.
Then, two years ago on this day, this was my view of the sunrise:
I was there in Oklahoma City for my endowment.
It was a week of fasting and prayer and incredible experiences that did instruct and empower and prepare me for the very hard – but good – year that followed. Turns out the “turning of hearts” and the “gathering” of family is really hard work, and the more I learned about repentance the more repentance work I had to do!
But the blessings came as promised, the year unfolding one chapter at a time.
A few weeks before my endowment, my brother was baptized:
Three weeks after that, the Priesthood was restored to OUR family! I cried and cried!
Then, a year later, I got to go to his ward and watch him give his first talk in Sacrament meeting.
He got to do the prayer part of his stepson receiving the Aaronic Priesthood a month later.
He has been called as the ward missionary, and in this he has found a way to serve a kind of convert-mission in the same way I did (he is on the LDS tech team for his church service mission). It’s very Moses-and-Elias-on-Mount-of-Transfiguration (Luke 9), with him on a mission to the living (Moses holds those keys) and me on a mission to the spirit world (Elias holds those keys).
And then the thing that made me cry more than anything, my brother got his Temple recommend. My brother received his own endowment, and then was sealed (married) in the St. Louis Temple a month after that.
We have come a long way, truly. Our simple and meager efforts at obedience has brought blessings more than we deserve and more than we can repay. Our horrific failures have been confronted by the Spirit, through loved ones, and by caring priesthood leaders that so patiently teach and guide us. But the Savior does continue to rescue us, transform us, and restore us. He can do what we cannot.
Alma tells the story of it, my own story in chapter 36:
13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
That is the Day of Atonement.
That was what I learned three years ago.
And because of learning this, two weeks from now I will be going to the Oklahoma City temple to be sealed for time and all eternity to Nathan, whom I love very much, and who does love me.
This is the atonement: to love and be loved.
And I am celebrating by flying to New York City this weekend, to visit Nathan and soak in this miracle of miracles. It will be fun and play and happiness, but also sacred. We will honor it by going to the Manhattan temple, and I will thank my Heavenly Father for loving me, rescuing me, providing for me, and protecting me.
I will thank Him for the Savior, who is my Redeemer and Advocate.
I will thank Him for the Spirit, who does correct, instruct, and guide.
I will thank Him for restoring the priesthood and ordinances of the temple, that we may have access to His power and capacity to accomplish the work of salvation He has planned for ourselves and others.
I will thank Him for prophets, who have always led His people and who lead us today.
I will thank Him for families, especially for mine.
2 Nephi 4:20(ff) – My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love… Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains…
O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! …. O Lord, I have trustedin thee, and I will trustin thee forever… Yea, I know that God will give liberallyto him that asketh… therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rockof my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.