Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It commemorates the day that the High Priest went beyond the veil with the blood of the sacrificed lamb. There he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy seat before the very presence of God. In times of old, one High Priest serving our one God in His one Temple on His one holiest day on behalf of His one people elicited God’s atonement for the entire world.
From those days to today, this date, known as the Day of Atonement, is annually observed as a commemoration of our special relationship with God. This is a day when we are called to connect the very essence of our being, our inmost spirit, with God’s presence drawn close to receive the repentance and prayer that we bring to His throne. We come, as the High Priest did, with the blood of the sacrificed Christ that will cover the sin that blights a tortured world.
And while it is the most solemn day of the year, we are also joyful — confident that God will forgive our sins and seal our verdict for a year of life, health, and happiness.
Tradition holds that today one person, with one turn of his or her personal page, doing one good deed, turning from one sin, standing in prayer for others – can also change the course of the entire world for the good. On Yom Kippur, you hold the keys to the world’s future. You have the power to tip the scales for all of humankind. Your good deed, your repentance, your prayer for the world – from the depths of your soul, will penetrate the open Gates of Heaven and will elicit a reciprocal response from our One God.
The Commanded Fast
For nearly twenty-six hours – from an hour before sunset on Tishrei 9 until after nightfall on Tishrei 10 – we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from spousal intimacy. We are likened to the angels, who have no physical needs. Instead of focusing on the physical, we spend our day in the Word of God, engaged in repentance and prayer.
On the day before Yom Kippur, the primary observance is to make wrongs right; give blessing; ask and give forgiveness; giving charity; helping others; and blessing our wives and children.
Before sunset, women and girls light holiday candles, and everyone makes their way to the community gathering for the Kol Nidrei services.
On Yom Kippur
During the fast in the course of Yom Kippur we have five prayer times: 1) Maariv, with its solemn Kol Nidrei service, on the eve of Yom Kippur; 2) Shacharit—the morning prayer; 3) Musaf, which includes a detailed account of the Yom Kippur Temple service; 4) Minchah, which includes the reading of the Book of Jonah.
Finally, in the waning hours of the day, we reach the climax of the holiday: the fifth prayer, the Neilah (“locking”) prayer. The gates of Heaven, which were open all day, will now be closed—with us taking refuge with our God on the inside. During this prayer we have the privilege to come “boldly before the throne of Grace…” in a powerful way. The Holy Ark remains open throughout. The closing Neilah service climaxes in the resounding cries of “Hear O Israel… God is one.” Then joy erupts in song and is followed by a single blast of the shofar, and the proclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
After the fast we partake of a festive after-fast meal, making the evening after Yom Kippur a Yom Tov (festival) in its own right. We immediately begin to lay plans for the next holiday, the Feast of Tabernacles, and its special mitzvah: the construction of the sukkah.
Yom Kippur is one of the festivals on God’s calendar that Jesus hasn’t personally fulfilled. Not yet! But those of us who know the New Testament know that Jesus has personally fulfilled three of the seven Feasts of the Lord, and on the very day of God’s calendar. This shows us that, with the Fall Feasts, we are celebrating a day in history that is past, but also a day in history that is still in the future. We are looking forward on this day to the day when Jesus will personally fulfill it – the day He will return in righteousness and judge his enemies. This is the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord! This is also Yom Kippur. We know that on that day we who have taken refuge in Him will stand with Him as He defeats His enemies, sets up His throne in the earth, and prepares to rule and reign for a thousand years. What an awesomely momentous day that will be!
So remember that it is important to draw near to God on this day. Remember that Yom Kippur is different from all other days. It is a day of commanded repentance, a day of commanded prayer; the one day God has commanded us to fast and pray for our sin and the sin of the world. On Yom Kippur we remember that one person can change the course of the entire world for the good. On Yom Kippur, one person can hold the keys to the world’s future. Like the High Priest of old: one person, coming before God in humility, bearing the blood of the sacrifice, bringing prayers and supplications, can make the crucial difference for the whole world. We know that High Priest is Jesus, standing in intercession before the throne of God. But on this day of all days we are invited to come and take part in His redemption, bringing our prayers and supplications for the world – and God will hear.
Yom Kippur is October 7 & 8, 2011.