“And you shall do no work during that entire day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God.”
The Day of Atonement, otherwise known as Yom Kippur, is one of the most holy days in the Jewish calendar. Some Rabbis even call it the Sabbath of Sabbaths. According to today’s text, the Day of Atonement is to be a day when no work is done. Denial, confession, and repentance define the day’s actions. Today in Christian circles, the word atonement refers to the way in which Jesus’ actions unify us with God. There are many theories of atonement, worthy of a lifetime of study. Largely, many people ascribe to the idea that God could not forgive the sins of the Hebrew people, so God sent Jesus to atone for the sins of the world. Unfortunately, that widely accepted idea, called sacrificial atonement, overlooks major narratives and traditions in the Hebrew Bible where God offers ways for atonement and forgiveness. Today’s reading is one among many of those places. We can learn from today’s text that true atonement requires action. It requires active repentance. We also can learn that the Hebrew people performed this special act of repentance once a year, showing us that their entire system of belief was not centered on repentance like many of ours have been. God didn’t begin forgiving sin with Jesus. Forgiveness has always been central to the character of God and for that we can be grateful.