The Day of Atonement has deep theological significance in the New Testament. It points forward to Christ’s role as high priest.
The Jews have recently celebrated Yom Kippur on September 13th and 14th. It is also known as ‘The Day Of Atonement’ and is the holiest day of the year for the Jews. There are a lot of days to celebrate in September for the Jews. They include Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year and Sukkot – the Feast of the Tabernacles. September is a month of beginnings for us too. We celebrate the beginning of autumn and often the Harvest Festival falls at this time. The full moon in September is called the Harvest Moon because it allowed extra light for bringing in the harvest. We have the autumn equinox when the days and nights are of equal length. The days will now shorten until we reach the winter solstice in December. This used to be the beginning of the year too for farming communities and is reflected in the beginning of new school terms after the summer holidays.
The tradition of computing the start of a new year with autumn was common to the lands of the Bible and to all the lands around the Mediterranean. The summer harvest was at an end, the crops were stored, and people prepared for a new agricultural cycle. It was an appropriate time to begin a new year. It is still the start of the Church year in the Orthodox Church.
Michaelmas also falls at this time of year. The feast of Saint Michael the Archangel (also the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels) is a day in the Western Christian calendar which occurs on 29 September. Because it falls near the equinox, it is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman's year, George C. Homans observes: "at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year.
To come back to Yom Kippur, the general theme is one of atonement and repentance. Some say there is a link to kapporet, the “mercy seat” or covering of the Ark of the Covenant. Abraham Ibn Ezra states that the word indicates the task and not just the shape of the ark cover; since the blood of the Yom Kippur sacrifice was sprinkled in its direction, it was the symbol of propitiation. It is on the tenth day of the seventh month. In fact September used to be the seventh month before the calendars changed hence the name – Sep from ‘septem’ meaning seven. It was the seventh month of ten in the old Roman calendar. In 1752, the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar. In the British Empire that year, September 2 was immediately followed by September 14.
Apart from Michaelmas day the other principal ecclesiastical feasts falling within the month are: the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin on the 8th, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the 14th, St. Matthew the apostle on the 21st.
Globally now September is a time when we remember the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A time when we pray for peace especially in the Middle East.
According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person's fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to "seal" the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jewish person tries to amend his or her behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.
Leviticus 16:29 mandates establishment of this holy day on the 10th day of the 7th month as the Day of Atonement for sins. It calls it the Sabbath of Sabbaths and a day upon which one must afflict one's soul. Leviticus 23:27 decrees that Yom Kippur is a strict day of rest.
Five additional prohibitions are traditionally observed, as detailed in the Jewish oral tradition (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:1)
The number five is a set number, relating to:
1. In the Yom Kippur section of the Torah, the word soul appears five times.
2. Soul, in the Torah is known by five separate names: soul, wind, spirit, living one and unique one.
3. Unlike regular days, which have three prayer services, Yom Kippur has five- Maariv, Shacharis, Mussaf, Minchah and Neilah
4. The Kohen Gadol rinsed himself in the mikveh five times on Yom Kippur
In order to apologize to God, one must:
3. Give to charity
These are similar themes in our Christian life.
The Talmud states, "Yom Kippur atones for those who repent and does not atone for those who do not repent". Repentance in Judaism is done through a process called Teshuva, which in its most basic form consists of regretting having committed the sin, resolving not to commit that sin in the future and to confess that sin before God.
Sprinkling of blood is an essential part of the ‘atonement’. Christ, however, "went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Christ's redemptive work "as the antitypical fulfilment of the sacrificial ritual of the day of atonement. The New Testament refers to Day of Atonement in Acts 27:9. “Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them …”
God's own Word described the One who would come, die, bear the sins of humanity, and be rejected.
"What’s with the goats? Leviticus 16 v 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat. The wilderness goat died, leaving the iniquities in the wilderness. Yeshua (Jesus) took our iniquities to Sheol. Revelation 1:18. New International Version - I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Followers of Jesus the Messiah confidently look forward to eternal life, because our names are written in the Book of Life. When Jesus died, the veil of the Holy of Holies ripped in two, symbolically breaking a barrier between humans and the presence of God.
Unlike the Israelites' annual sacrifices on Yom Kippur, Jesus' one sacrifice continues to provide atonement to this day. Yom Kippur, for followers of Jesus, reminds us of the certainty of our redemption through the blood of our Messiah and High Priest, Jesus.
Yom Kippur also reminds us of the ultimate salvation of the Jewish people. The prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when the nation of Israel will recognize her Messiah and "they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son" (Zech. 12:10). When the Jewish people recognize Messiah, as Paul writes, "All Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26). The Day of Atonement thus reminds us of our own salvation and also looks forward to the salvation of Israel.