Online service for 27th September 2020: Yom Kippur

Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words


In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,

When most of us are unable to meet in person,

I invite you into this time of online worship.

For this short space of time,

Let us put our worldly cares aside,

Close our eyes and imagine ourselves

To be in our places of worship,

Surrounded by members of our beloved community,

And be together, if only virtually,

At this one time.


Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) (words by Cliff Reed)


As leaves flame yellow, red and gold,

then fall,

and flames and sweet aromas

rise from autumn bonfires,

so too we kindle our chalice-flame

in thanks for the season’s beauty

and the love that makes us one.


Opening Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love,

Be with us as we gather for worship,

Each in their own place.

Help us to feel a sense of community,

Even though we are physically apart.

Help us to care for each other,

In this difficult time,

Keeping in touch however we can,

And helping each other,

However we may.

We hold in our hearts all those

Whose lives have been touched,

In whatever way,

By painful events, in their lives,

And in the wider world,

Of which we are all a part. Amen


Reading from the Hebrew Testament, Leviticus 16: 29-34.

This shall be a statute to you forever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. It is a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves; it is a statute forever. The priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the linen vestments, the holy vestments. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. This shall be an atonement for the people of Israel once in the year for all their sins. And Moses did as the Lord had commanded for him.

Alternative Lord’s Prayer


Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,

May we be aware of your presence in our lives.

May our world be blessed.

May our daily needs be met,

And may our shortcomings be forgiven,

As we forgive those of others.

Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,

The inspiration and guidance to do right,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.

May we have compassion for all living beings,

And receive whatever life brings,

With courage and trust.



Reading from The Bible for Dummies

Yom Kippur is a Hebrew word meaning “Day of Atonement,” and refers to the one day each year (the tenth day of the month Tishri) when the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place (also known as the Holy of Holies) of the Jerusalem Temple and offer a sacrifice to atone for Israel’s sins. In an elaborate ritual, the High Priest would first make himself ritually pure through ceremonial washings, the putting on of special priestly garments, and the offering of a sacrifice for himself and his fellow priests. The High Priest then took two goats and, as the goats no doubt looked anxiously on, would cast lots to see which one would be sacrificed and which one would be released. After sacrificing the unlucky goat, the High Priest would place his hands on the head of the remaining goat and confess Israel’s sins, thus symbolically transferring the nation’s wrongdoings onto the animal. This scapegoat (as it is called) would then be released into the wilderness – in essence, taking away the sins of Israel. If the goat returned, this meant God hadn’t accepted the sacrifice, and Israel remained in its sins for another year. If the goat didn’t return, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief because God did accept the sacrifice, and Israel’s sins were forgiven.

Today, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, reflection, confession, asking for forgiveness from others, and extending forgiveness to others.

Prayer On Turning by Jack Riemer

Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red and orange. The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the South. The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for the coming winter. For leaves, birds, and animals turning comes instinctively.


But for us turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking with old habits. It means admitting that we have been wrong; and this is never easy. It means losing face; it means starting all over again; and this is always painful. It means saying: I am sorry. It means recognising that we have the ability to change. These things are hard to do. But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways.


God, help us to turn – from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith.


Turn us around, O God, and bring us back toward You. Revive our lives, as at the beginning. And turn us toward each other, God, for in isolation there is no life.

Reading: Thought for the Day 29th September 2006 by Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks (adapted)

This evening is the beginning of the holiest day in the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and it’s an extraordinary day. To begin with, it’s a 25 hour fast, unusual enough in a religion like Judaism where every other festival has its own kind of food. And it’s a kind of marathon of the soul. We spend the entire day in the synagogue, praying and confessing our sins. We go through the entire lexicon of offences against God and our fellow human beings, and we pray to God for forgiveness.


If you were to devise a day calculated to drive people away from the synagogue you’d come up with something like the Day of Atonement. Yet the strange thing is that almost everyone is there, even those who don’t go the rest of the year. What is it about this day that has engraved it so deeply on the Jewish heart?


It’s about accepting responsibility. It’s about saying, in dozens of different ways, “Dear God, I blame no one but myself. Forgive me for the wrong I’ve done and give me the strength to put it right.


I sometimes wonder whether in our culture as a whole we’ve lost that sense of responsibility. Too often when things go wrong we tend to blame everyone except ourselves: the government, politicians, the media, our schools, our selfish genes. It’s their fault, not ours. They’re guilty; we’re the victims.


A culture like that can’t generate citizenship, which is all about accepting responsibility. If we believe that our rights are someone else’s responsibility, we become passive not active; done-to not doers. We come to expect unearned entitlements, and when we don’t get what we think we should, we can become prisoners of frustration and anger, resentment and rage.


The Day of Atonement is about what it is to be a citizen of the universe under the sovereignty of God. God gives us responsibility. He invites us to become, in that great Jewish phrase, His partners in the work of creation. And yes, we fail time and again, but every failure is forgiven if we did our best and strive to do better next time. Responsibility matters not just because of what we achieve by it but also because of what we become through it: active citizens, co-creators of a better world.

Time of Stillness and Reflection For the Sunday near the Yom Kippur by Elizabeth Strong (adapted)

Let us join in a time of stillness and reflection …


We have returned again to the time of Atonement, the time to look back over our lives this past year and face the realities of when we have fallen short of the aims set forth in “Moments of high resolve.”


We have the opportunity, if we choose to take it, to hold ourselves to a standard that calls us to heed our faith’s principles in the life we live each day.


The Jewish New Year asks of us forgiveness and atonement: To be at-one with each other in times of broken promises, that we might mend relationships; To be at-one with each other in times of pain that we might bring comfort in our compassion for the intensity of that pain: To be at-one with each other in times of joy that we might enrich the shared laughter so necessary to our well-being.


Atonement is an attempt to be at one with the holy. For us it is also an attempt to create a wholeness of community among ourselves. Here is where the sacred and the holy enter, and the community we create brings a sense of at-one-ment not known elsewhere. Forgiveness, atonement, wholeness come together in this place as we become one gathered community of liberal religious seekers. Let us ponder these things in the silence …




Let us rejoice and be thankful that we are together again. Amen


Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address Yom Kippur


The Jewish New Year occurs in the Autumn. There is a festival called Rosh Hashanah, which literally means ‘head of the year’. It falls on the first day of the seventh Jewish month, Tishri. In 2020 it started in the evening of a week last Friday, 18th September. It is a day of rest and there are statutory religious services. In this festival three themes are interwoven: the anniversary of the world’s creation; the day of judgement; and the renewal of the bond between God and Israel.  As with our secular New Year celebration, there are many customs which involve renewal and starting again: many have a haircut just before, and wear their best clothes, often white, to symbolise purity. Home rituals include dipping an apple in honey and eating it to symbolise their hopes for a sweet year to come.


But Rosh Hashanah also has a more serious purpose. It is the start of a ten-day period of self-examination known as the Days of Return that culminate in the festival of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which will be celebrated from this evening until tomorrow evening. Angela Wood and Hugo Gryn explain in Festivals in World Religions: “The heightened spiritual awareness and self-examination which began on New Year’s Day should continue throughout the period as individuals and communities prepare for forgiveness and atonement.”


As we saw in my first reading, the observation of Yom Kippur by Jews was laid down by God in the time of Moses. The late Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks calls it “the holiest day in the Jewish Year.” It is the time when Jews repent for their sins of the past year and resolve to do better in the next year. The Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah – it also means returning. In other words, people have moved away from God because of their sins, but through teshuvah, they return to Him.


It is an obligation that many Jews take very seriously. It is recognised that neither teshuvah nor Yom Kippur can cancel out the hurt between one person and another until that hurt has been healed. So on the eve of Yom Kippur, it is customary within the Jewish community for people to ask forgiveness of each other for any wrongs they may have committed or any pain they may have caused. As Wood and Gryn explain, “They must mend and heal all that they can, but some suffering cannot be relieved so easily. It is then gracious of the one who has suffered to forgive the one that caused it. After that, all are at liberty to begin Yom Kippur – a day of atonement between people and God, a day given in the Torah for human benefit.”


An important part of the real repentance is confession: unlike Roman Catholics, Jews have no human being to confess to, no mediator and no intercessor, for they do not believe that anyone should come between a person and God, or that anyone can play the part of God. So their sins are confessed directly to God, as they believe that only God can forgive and take away guilt. An important part of the Yom Kippur services is a formal confession by the whole congregation. This has two purposes: it allows individuals to avoid personal embarrassment, and secondly, and more importantly, every Jew present is accepting responsibility for every other Jew’s actions by saying “We have sinned …”


The other major way that Jews mark Yom Kippur is by fasting for 25 hours, from sunset to sunset. This only applies to adults who are fit and healthy – saving life and being healthy are very important to Jews, and it is recognised that no-one should risk their health by fasting. So Jews who are sick or weak, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers are exempt from this obligation. Children are also not required to fast, although as they get older, they may do without food or drink for part of the day.


As well as fasting, Jews also refrain from washing, anointing, wearing leather and sexual intercourse. The reason for not wearing leather is that it is made from a dead animal, and to do so would not be right on a day of praying for God’s mercy, which is for all creatures. “Anointing” these days would include applying make-up, hair or skin products, or wearing perfume or jewellery.


Wood and Gryn give four main reasons for fasting on Yom Kippur: “it is, first, a way of showing sincerity, that the desire for forgiveness is genuine; that the Jew is willing to give something up and feels that punishment would be fair – even though God is not punishing him or her. Second, fasting requires self-discipline and this can lead to betterment in other aspects of the personality. Third, if the body is ignored for a day, then the person can concentrate on the spirit. Fourth, fasting can make a person more compassionate, more sensitive to the needs of others.” So it is quite a serious undertaking.


The day before Yom Kippur, Jews have to prepare themselves. They will use the mikveh, a special bath used for religious purposes to purify themselves. The meal before the fast begins is special. Festival candles are lit and so are yahrzeit or anniversary candles, because Yom Kippur is a day on which Jews recite Yizkhor – a memorial prayer of close ones who have died. Everyone dresses up in their best and serves good food. Then the 25-hour fast begins.


Throughout this special time, there are services at the synagogue. They begin in the evening, then start again in the morning and go on all day. There is an extra service just before sunset. In the synagogue, the coverings which go round the Torah (that is, Jewish scripture) scrolls and the curtains which go round the Ark of the Covenant are white, to symbolise purity. Many Jews also wear white clothes. When Yom Kippur is over, there is one long blast on the shofar, a special instrument made out of a ram’s horn, to signify that fasting can stop and that God’s forgiveness has come.


The nearest equivalent to Yom Kippur in the Christian religious year is Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent. In the past, people used up all the good things, such as butter and eggs, before they began the Lent fast. To be shriven is to be forgiven, so shrove means “being forgiven”. This is the time when many Christians confess their sins and ask God to forgive them. Some may go to a priest who gives them absolution. Then on the following day, Ash Wednesday, they show that they are sorry for the things they have done wrong. Some go to a special church service where the priest smears a cross of ash on their foreheads. Then they feel that they can prepare for Easter without the burden of sin. But for most Christians, it does not have the same huge significance that Yom Kippur has for Jews.


I think that the purpose of Yom Kippur is a very important one that all human beings could benefit from – the injunction, once a year, to look back on how we have done, what we have done well, what we could have done better, and to make resolutions for the year ahead. Many of us make New Year resolutions on 1st January, which might last until the end of the month. I prefer the approach recommended by Vishnu Subramaniam, of setting sacred intentions for the forthcoming year. At the end of 2015, I received an e-mail from MindBodyGreen, sharing his Sacred Intentions for 2016. It really spoke to my condition, as the sacred intentions are about living with awareness, with integrity, being true to oneself. Here they are:


  • I will take less and give more.
  • I will work less and live more.
  • I will do less and be more.
  • I will speak less and listen more.
  • I will buy less and simplify more.
  • I will have fewer distractions and more time for reflection.
  • I will be less realistic and dream more.
  • I will complain less and appreciate more.
  • I will worry less and surrender more.
  • I will judge less and understand more.
  • I will hate less and love more.
  • I will criticise less and praise more.
  • I will follow less and lead more.
  • I will fear less and act more.
  • I will think less and go with my gut more.
  • I will please less and stay true to myself more.
  • I will require less perfection from myself and accept where I am more.
  • I will hold fewer grudges and forgive more.


We could use these intentions at any time of year, so that we can choose, in the words of Elizabeth Strong, “to hold ourselves to a standard that calls us to heed our faith’s principles in the life we live each day.” May it be so…


Closing Words


Our time together is drawing to a close.

May we return to our everyday world refreshed,

May we appreciate the people around us,

May we share the love we feel,

May we look out for each other,

Sharing our joys and our sorrows,

And may we keep up our hearts,

Now and in the days to come,



Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill  by Elizabeth Harley