I find it fascinating to read about the Jewish holidays as set out in Leviticus, particularly, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32). This is considered by Israel even today as the High Holy Day of the year. How the Jews celebrate this day of fasting and prayer is significant in my own understanding of repentance.
Repentance from the Greek word metanioia is a compound for meta meaning ‘after’ suggesting change and nous meaning ‘mind.’ The word also implies remorse for each sin, a desire to turn away from one’s sin, and a hope to God for salvation. On the Day of Atonement, it is necessary to afflict the soul to encourage repentance, and this is done by making the body uncomfortable through fasting. The Jew is also prohibited from wearing leather shoes, washing and bathing, using perfumes and lotions, and having marital relations. It seems to me that the effect would be similar to that of being a homeless person.
I once experienced a missionary challenge to find out what homelessness might be like – not knowing how to find transportation to a destination, not knowing anyone to ask, having only $2 in my pocket to feed me and another person, and having no cell phone to call for help. The purpose of the experience was to feel pain to understand how others feel when they are in pain. How better to prepare oneself to focus on giving charity and asking others for forgiveness?
Repentance is also privately and publically confessing sin. At the beginning of Yom Kippur, the congregation repeats three times, “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.” If sin can be kept secret, confessed only to God in silent prayer, then why would we make amends? Confessing one to another, as is commanded in Scripture, (James 5:16) holds us accountable to those whom we offend with our sins (and don’t we offend others, no matter what our sin?), and God knows I need accountability.
Yet beyond confession and making amends, in the Book of Mark, Jesus Christ calls all to “ believe in the gospel”(Mark 1:15). Another interesting tradition on Yom Kippur is that the congregation actually sings words describing sin to a tune, representing the joy of being cleansed from one’s sins. This is foreign to me because I find myself mournful and despicable as I recite my sins to God. Yet being joyful should be the result of believing in the gospel.
The gospel is the good news of “peace (restoration of relationship with God – Ephesians 6:15), of hope (the hope of heaven and everlasting life – Colossians 1:23 ), of truth (God’s word is true and reliable – Colossians 1:5), of promise (he rewards those who seek him – Ephesians 3:6)), of immortality (God gives everlasting life – 2 Timothy 1:10), and the good news of salvation (liberty from sin and freedom to live as sons and daughters of God – Ephesians 1:13).” [Excerpt from “The Gospel of Mark: a commentary & meditation,” by Don Schwager, 2010].”
So for me, every day is the Day of Atonement, and it should always end with the gospel of Jesus Christ.