You may have noticed the trend. American Jews are generally not attending synagogue services as faithfully as earlier generations. Many explanations have been offered. The high cost of synagogue dues and High Holy Day tickets is one. The effects of the general secularization of our culture is another. But what about Messianic Jews’ observance of the High Holidays?
No scientifically-verifiable data exists regarding Messianic Jewish observance of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. But my observations during the 38 years of my tenure as a pulpit rabbi points in the same direction.
One of the main reasons may be very specifically theological. Let’s focus on Yom Kippur.
Many Messianic Jews likely wonder, “If I am forgiven for my sins because of my faith in Yeshua, why do I need to seek forgiveness on Yom Kippur? I’ve already got forgiveness every day.”
This is reasonable question. Asking it is not inherently a cop-out.
I believe that Jewish followers of the Risen One should observe the High Holy Days. The reasons for doing so must include connection with our Jewish past—but going deeper, too. I believe there is real forgiveness offered on Yom Kippur. Why? Because forgiveness of sins has a dynamic, contingent quality which at some level requires our ongoing involvement.
Writing primarily to non-Jewish followers of the Risen One, the Apostle Paul wrote the following: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” (Phil. 2:12)
Of course, Messiah’s magnificent atonement was a living reality for the Apostle. But, the application, the actualization, the “making-real” of that atonement obviously depended in part on his hearers’ active participation. Yom Kippur works this way for Messianic Jews. Let’s look deeper at this powerful reality.
Israel’s happy future depends on her turning to the true Messiah – the One “who has been hidden from our people in plain sight.” We Messianic Jews are obligated by God to join together on Yom Kippur to help bring from distant reality to present experience Israel’s national participation in the fullness of Messiah Yeshua’s work. So, we pray the Al Chet prayer. We pray Avinu Malkeinu. We confess and intercede for Kol Yisrael (all Israel). We participate with all our people’s needs in mind.
But we pray on Yom Kippur for ourselves as well. We work out our participation in the life of God by experiencing a measure of “…fear and trembling.” Such is the spirit of the day. We really repent. We really come clean before our attentive Creator. We come to grips with the fact that salvation is no “slam dunk.” Even a profound personal spiritual experience cannot bear such weight. The ineffable inner conviction so many of us share that we have of been totally accepted by God by our faith in Yeshua is restored, reinforced, revitalized… by each of us participating in the yearly drama of Yom Kippur. This is God’s way with Israel.
Christian traditions have their own unique ways of corporately living out Paul’s exhortation. For us Jews – including Messianic Jews – it is Torah and this includes Yom Kippur. Our emerging liturgical tradition surely must be infused with profound truths about the Risen One. But Yom Kippur remains for us The Day of Atonement.
If more Messianic Jews understood that our participation in such essential moments of the Jewish experience is truly important, our collective momentum during the High Holy Days would beat out any dubious motivations to play hooky. Going to work? Apple picking? “Forget about it! We’re fasting and going to those long services!”
Yom Kippur 2019 (the Jewish year 5780) is about to begin. Observe it as you’re able with faith and humility.
Yom Kippur 2020 (the Jewish year 5781) begins on the evening of September 27. Put it in your Google calendar today!
This post was written by MJTI President Dr. Rich Nichol.