Tag Archives: Yom Kippur

Empty Pockets…

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A few days ago I discovered an old overcoat and began to go through the pockets. It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate, or stash away. I pulled out some old tissues, a few bits of paper covered with some old scribbled messages, a used train ticket and a very smelly bobble hat which hadn’t been worn for years!

What do you keep (or lose!) in your pockets?

As we have just celebrated the Jewish new year, I wondered how much “excess baggage” I might be carrying into this new season? Annually, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the orthodox Jew would symbolically empty his pockets of his sins at a river or running stream, casting them into the water while reading the following verses from Micah 7:18-19.

 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?

 You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

 Make sure you go into the future with “empty pockets”.

The apostle Paul certainly knew the “lightness” and enthusiasm of the empty pocket journey when he wrote in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Press on to what is ahead. You may have many goals, but make the knowledge of the Holy a priority.

How easy is it to “forget what is behind?”

Depending on our circumstances we may have to come to terms with all sorts of tragedies and incoherences. Some events may seem to cast too profound a shadow into our future to be easily forgotten. Some theologians talk about the ultimate “attrition” of memory in heaven as a fulfillment of redemption.

Redemption will be complete only when the creation of “all things new” is coupled with the passage of “all things old” into the double “nihil” of non-existence and non remembrance.”  Miroslav Volf – “Exclusion & Embrace”

Our own human efforts and psychology will always ultimately fail at the challenge to forgive and forget. It is only the love of God, incarnated and dynamic, flowing out into the world through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that has the means to genuinely clean out the pockets of this world.

Our challenge is to embrace this love in humble faith and submit to its crucifying overflow into our own life experience. We too need to learn to love.

The famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13:5 makes an amazing statement about one of love’s qualities saying that:

“it keeps no record of wrongs.”

 Love doesn’t take an inventory. (logizomai in the original Greek). It wipes the slate clean. Obviously, for there to be “closure” on many events we need to consider issues of truth and justice, but, just as Christ was willing to reach out to us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8), so we can cultivate “a will to embrace” the other and see beyond the differences and the offence.

As we journey deeper into grace for our own lives so we can call our fellows (and enemies?) to travel with us.

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

 A new season is like a new birth. This “new birth” is named in many cultures where the year is given a name. What will you christen your year?

Miroslav Volk recounts the story of a Muslim woman who, during the war in Bosnia, suffered terrible abuse and affliction. When she became a mother she named her newborn son “Jihad”, seeing in him the means to enact revenge on her enemies.

Another birth is recounted in Genesis 41:51. This time Joseph, the dreamer, the one who knew such cruel rejection from his brothers, the one who suffered unjust accusation and prison, is welcoming his first-born son into the world. What does he name his child? Revenge…Bitterness? No!

“Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh (derived from the Hebrew “to forget”) and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

 Manasseh points us to a far greater firstborn son, Christ himself, who, as a suffering lamb, carried the sin of the world on his shoulders and bore away our troubles and community strife.

Why not christen your year “Manasseh?” At the beginning of each new season, leave behind your troubles. A “father’s household”, speaks of family, or church. Some of the deepest wounds can be inflicted in the “house of my friends.”  (Zechariah 13:6) Allow the Lord to ease you into a “generous amnesia” concerning such communal hostilities so that you may speak kindly to your brothers (Genesis 50:21), amazing yourself with grace and bringing healing words of redemption.

Happy…empty pocketed Manasseh…New Season…or, owning a special “Yom Kippur” blessing, we might say:

“Gmar Chatimah Tova” – May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good ! (Literally: A good final sealing.)

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Sacrificing the “old goat”…

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As this month begins, I also begin a year’s sabbatical. I was encouraged to see that this new beginning aligned with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.

The festival of Rosh Hashanah (“Head of the Year”) is observed for two days. For most Jews this time refers to the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman on the sixth day.

It also makes reference to Abraham’s journey up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. Many Jews pray on this day that they will step into the benefit of the good action of Abraham who received, on oath, a promise of great prosperity.

When we read about this passage in Genesis 22: 1-19 we are so often rightly focused on the prophetic pointing of Isaac’s sacrifice (and resurrection) to the person of Christ. However, in re-reading this passage I was struck with the person of Abraham himself. It was a major life transition for him.

He had been walking under the desert stars for many years, struggling to come to terms with the greatness of this God who had called him out. He had fought his battles, believed for fecundity in the face of sterility, and now was walking proudly with his “son of promise” Isaac – his only son, (it seems that Ishmael is not counted in here), the one he loved.

What an outrageous request God makes of him! Kierkegaard, in “Fear and Trembling”, even suggests that, in making such a request, God was undertaking a “teleological suspension of the ethical” – the final good outcome somehow allowed for a morally ambiguous request.

While you are working that one out, let’s get back to Abraham. He simply stepped out and obeyed in faith. He told his servants that we will come back to you.”

I think Abraham came back changed.

where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” asked Isaac.

Abraham answered, (no doubt holding back the emotion and gritting his teeth in faith, battling again to see beyond his present reality with teary eyes of faith), “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And the two of them went on together, two generations side by side. Was the older to really sacrifice the younger generation?

Our God doesn’t kill the new generation. He sacrifices the “old man” so that we may live in newness of life.

God, did not in fact provide a lamb (something young and fresh), he set aside an old ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Isaac was unbound and the knife was put to the old ram. It was almost as if Abraham was sacrificing his own troubled past in the ram – but also something of his powerful patristic presence.

The old was sacrificed so that the new generation could be released and empowered. It is interesting to see that Isaac went from the altar of sacrifice to the altar of marriage and future, prayer induced, fecundity.

Something in Abraham died on that day. Father’s need to learn to die! However, it was also a new beginning as this event marked a new season of fecundity for Abraham as well. From a man struggling to have one son he was able to go on and father many more children through a new wife, Keturah – (new partnerships and networks!) Genesis 25: 1-5.

He also released God’s passionate, oath backed promise to bless the nations – a promise which impacts our faith even today.

So don’t be afraid to put the knife to the old! Many family struggles would be resolved more easily if the “entrenched patriarchs” could make some space for the rising sons.

I’m asking that, in this “new” sabbatical year, my own “horns” can be disengaged from the thicket of ministry and reputation, and that my “absence” will release a new generation to fruitful life and ministry.

Rosh Hashanah is followed by ten days of repentance leading up to the Holy day of Yom Kippur. May these next days pour the healing blood of Christ into all our pasts, “…the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)