Atonement days and anniversaries

Published 9:54 am Friday, September 13, 2013

 by Brandon Robbins

Two thousand years ago, at just about this time of year, Jesus would have celebrated a holiday called Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur is also known as the “Day of Atonement” in the Jewish faith.  It is a day of reflecting upon the past year and repenting for the ways in which you have hurt God and others.

For some reason, though, throughout history, as Christians began to distance themselves from the Jewish faith, this important holiday was lost in most of our churches.  I think this is sad.  For there is something powerful not only in a day of repentance, but also in a day of reflection.  Too often, we become so immersed in moving forward and pushing through from one day to the next, we fail to see the subtle changes (good or bad) that are happening in our lives.  But when we take a day to simply stop and inventory all that has happened and all that we have done over the course of a year, we are better able to set our compass in the direction God desires for us to be heading.

I find that anniversaries are a great time for this.  They serve as a clear and consistent checkpoint by which to measure our lives.  For instance, each year on our wedding anniversary, my wife and I sit down to reminisce over the last year of our marriage.  We look at pictures of the events of the past twelve months.  We talk about the high points and low points we’ve experienced.  It helps us to celebrate the things that went well and learn from any mistakes we made.

I find the same thing true each time I am appointed to come back to my church for another year.  As Methodist pastors, we do not choose the church we pastor; rather, we are appointed by our bishop.  So each time I am reappointed, I take that as an opportunity to evaluate the past year.  What did I do well?  What were my struggles?  How far has God brought me in a year?  And what do I anticipate for the next 12 months?

I believe that this is a practice that could benefit all of us from time to time.  How might your life be different if you took time to reflect upon and evaluate your parenting?  Your financial practices?  Your health?  And what if you were intentional about taking time each year to evaluate your relationship with God, asking yourself, “How am I really doing when it comes to spending time with God each day?  Truly following the teachings of Jesus?  Living into my membership vows?”

This year, Yom Kippur begins on the evening of Sept. 13 and concludes the evening of Sept. 14. For Jesus, I imagine this was a day spent reflecting upon his ministry and the impact he and his disciples had been able to have so far.  Perhaps, for you, it can be a similar

Experience – a day spent reflecting on the work God has done in you over the past year, the mistakes you’ve made that have prevented you from fulfilling God’s plans, and the opportunities through which you can grow in your relationship with God over the coming year.  Sometimes, we all just need to slow down and reflect.  May Yom Kippur be such an opportunity for you.

(N.B.  One thing I find helpful when trying to reflect upon the past year is a guide that reminds me of the areas in which I desire to grow.

To go along with our “Captive” series this month, we’ve created just that sort of tool.  It is a spiritual survey that helps you to rate how well you’re being faithful in various areas of your relationship with God.  Of course, our spiritual lives can never have a numerical value.  Even if you scored 100 on this survey, there is still room for you to grow. And there will always be areas that don’t make it onto the survey. This is simply a tool, a guide to help you focus on where you are strong in your relationship with Jesus, and where you can focus your attention over the year ahead.  You can find this survey on our website at