- Forms | Resources
- About Us
- Give / Donate
March 10, 2021
Midweek Lenten Worship
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Kol Nidre worship service at a synagogue for the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the Jewish faith tradition. At one point in the service, several members of the congregation were invited forward to hold the Torah scrolls while a long prayer was sung.
I did better in Greek than in Hebrew in seminary, so I didn’t understand a lot of the words, but it was a very reverent moment in the service. The scrolls and the words on them represented a connection to Adonai, the creator of the universe, the God who made promises to Noah and to Abraham; the God of Israel, the God who came to dwell with us in and as Jesus.
The prayer includes a petition for all wrongs committed between the previous year’s Day of Atonement and that night, which is followed by forgiveness for those wrongs. And it concludes with a benediction that blesses God for keeping the people and bringing them to this season.
As I listened to that prayer and to the rest of the worship service, I thought about how the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, are often thought of as something that followers of Christ don’t really need to pay attention to. And nothing could be further from the truth.
As a whole, they’re a record of God’s commitment to us and God’s love for us. The covenants that God has made began with Noah and Abraham and the people of Israel, but through Christ they came to include all people, including us. They’re a reminder of the life that God has given to us and has promised to sustain and nurture.
Even the 10 Commandments, which are often reduced to a list that sounds like a section of a civil code, are an expression of God’s deep and abiding love for us. To experience them as anything other than that is a limited experience.
The arguments about whether they should be posted in courthouses and classrooms miss the whole point, because abiding by the commandments doesn’t create people who will be good and somehow worthy of having a relationship with God because that isn’t why God gave them.
They’re actually a covenant within a covenant, and their true value lies in the fact that they reflect a relationship that God had already established with the people of Israel after freeing them from slavery.
This is good news for everyone – God loved the people so much that God told each one of them to not kill or steal or commit adultery, and so on. In other words, God said, “This isn’t only about you as individuals and what you can or can’t do. This is also about everybody else, so love your neighbor.”
This expression of God’s love is a picture of what a free life looks like because it gave them an idea of what to expect from God and from the people in their community. It protected their relationship with God and with each other.
But this expression of God’s love didn’t start and end with the Israelites. This is also what lives freed in Christ look like. We love and honor God’s law as a response to our freedom from the power of sin by Christ’s death and resurrection.
In our culture, freedom is often thought of as unrestricted access to any choice, and as unlimited choice, and as always keeping one’s options open for whatever. But as followers of Christ, a free life looks a little different for us.
And when we remember that this free life we live is rooted in God’s covenant with us in Christ – which began with the covenant with Noah – it shapes our entire way of living.
For us, a free life is one in which we commit to use our words or actions not to hurt one another, but rather to protect and nurture all life – people, plants, animals, insects – all of it. A free life is one in which we commit to not exploit each other, and instead to respect the property of others and do our best to help them maintain it and hold onto it. A free life is one that turns one neighbor toward another in love – regardless of skin color, nationality, faith tradition, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
And it isn’t only us making this commitment to other people, it’s other people making this commitment to us. And the commitment isn’t limited to the people who worship with us.
The expression of God’s love that we call the 10 Commandments protects our relationship with God and with one another wherever we happen to be. Abiding by it reflects a relationship in which our actions mirror those of the God who loves us, and the commitment God made to us long, long ago. Thanks be to God. Amen.