Yom Kippur

Last night marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is the “Easter” of the Jewish religious calendar. This is the day that concludes “the Ten Days of Awe” after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During the Ten Days of Awe, Jews confess to their family and neighbors all the ways they’ve wronged them over the past year, and forgive those that confess to them. On the Day of Atonement, Jews gather at the synagogue for a service of communal confession to God and to plead for “atonement” or reconciliation in preparation for the next year. The liturgical reading for Yom Kippur is the book of Jonah.


What does Jonah have to do with atonement? With communal confession and reconciliation? With hearing God’s merciful pardon? Everything, actually. But not the way we expect.

Jonah shows us that no one is beyond God’s reach.

Jonah, opposed to bringing God’s word to his nation’s enemies, the Ninevites, turns the opposite direction, boards a ship, and heads for Tarshish. In the ancient world, Tarshish is off the edge of the map. “Here there be monsters.” Even there, Jonah could not flee God’s presence, or God’s calling. Neither can we.

Jonah shows us that no one is beyond God’s mercy.

Jonah insists that Ninevah, the capital city of Israel’s greatest enemy, is a lost cause, a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Far from it. God’s word cuts through Ninevah’s pride and excess and prompts true repentance. Even the worst sinners are capable of true change. So are we.

I’m beginning to sense more and more that confession is a posture I am being called to. No one is naturally comfortable in this posture. This discomfort is liturgically emphasized in Yom Kippur by the grating texture of sackcloth and the restlessness of sitting on the floor. Growing up in a Protestant tradition, confession is not an assumed part of the Christian life as it is in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions, but it is no less important for my spiritual health.

Jonah will be good company as I enter into a season of reflecting on and participating in the discipline of confession.

5 thoughts on “Yom Kippur

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection on Yom Kippur. On a quick aesthetic note, I liked the use of links and the italics-right-justified formatting of certain sentences for thought provoking emphasis. Very sharp.

    I think you make a good point about how unnatural confession seems to be. Particularly we, as Protestants, find it difficult to see how our bodies have anything to do with worship. Posturing, donning sackcloth, or going to confession seems uncomfortable and vaguely ‘catholic.’ Yet, as you say, they are vital for our spiritual formation. Maybe it is the fact that they are uncomfortable that makes them that much more effective.

    I’m enjoying your reflections. Keep it up.

    • Thanks, Stephen. I am finding more and more that my body has a role in this Christian life, even if my Protestant, Reformed, Dutch, Mid-west American religious tradition has no understanding of how to engage it. The senses are becoming more and more a “means of grace” for me as I find ways of entering the Christ-life.

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