Yom Kippur, A Solemn Fast for a Sweeter World
This year Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and one of the two highest holy days in the Jewish calendar, begins on the
day that I will privately celebrate the twenty-fourth anniversary of my ordination into the ministry of word and sacrament in the Lutheran church.
I have an enduring affinity to and affection for Yom Kippur. It is that holiday during which observant and even not-so-observant Jews fast and pray, with the awareness that along with the acknowledgement of failing to keep the mitzvot—the commandments—of Hebrew scriptures also comes the opportunity to perform greater chassadim, acts to promote human kindness.
Maybe it’s odd for a Lutheran pastor to feel so drawn to the day, particularly since I haven’t fasted during it since my college room-mate and I did--thinking we could kill two birds with one stone: be holy and get thin in one fell swoop. (Neither worked, by the way.)
Nor do I attend prayer services on Yom Kippur—the shiksa in the clerical collar—nor have I even heard the words of the Kol Nidre, the traditional opening prayer, except on Utube. But I’m always Yom Kippur. I’m aware of it as a day set apart, a day to take seriously our fallen world, our part in its brokenness and the opportunities we also have to be part of the healing of it—in other words, our own call to tikkun olam—which only means that we are to try to heal the world.
Perhaps I like it so much because it reminds me so much of Maundy Thursday--“Maundy” being the unwieldy word that, as a child I thought was “Monday,” signaling to me early on that a religious world is one of contradictions since how in hell could Monday also be Thursday?
Maundy Thursday, too, is a day we are called to remember what we must do to heal the world. Because the word “Maundy” derives from the old French, mande, and means “mandate,” which is just another word for commandment. Yes, that’s right, like mitzvot. Apart from being full of contradictions, religions are full of etymological alphabet soup.
But at that mythic Last Supper that Maundy Thursday commemorates, whoever wrote the gospel of John reported that Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”
He may not have actually said it. We don’t know. The room wasn’t bugged. But somebody who thought he said it wrote it down. So the point that both Yom Kippur and Maundy Thursday make for us is that we’ve got our work cut out for us.
You can learn a lot about love from both Yom Kippur and Maundy Thursday. And I am so happy that this year Yom Kippur and my ordination anniversary will both—and simultaneously—remind that we can love our neighbors better. And it’s a long shot, but not a bad idea: try to heal the world—and so we look to make the world a sweeter place in the year ahead. Shanah tovah!