The Bible teaches us that there are really four parts to the process of reconciliation: four doors, four exchanges between two people, to get from, “I really screwed up” to “now everything is all better.”
Where in the Bible? I'm sure you want to know. But, it's not really that simple... but, you should realize that before you even considered the question. Because, if you've ever been involved in the process of restoring a damaged relationship, it's anything but simple.
But, this is exactly the procedure that is laid out for us in the biblical Fall Festivals, or The Days of Awe, or The Days of Repentance. It is the formula handed down through generations of Jewish tradition on how to make things right with God. This shouldn't be any surprise if we really believe that we are created in God's image: that the same way we have been shown how to reconcile with the Creator must be the way we can make things right between each other.
There are two Holy Days in the Fall Festivals: the Day of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. They are 10 days apart from one other; but considered a single event of worship. The Days of Awe are not intended for the unbeliever. They are not an invitation for someone to enter into a relationship that he or she hasn't already experienced. Those are described in the Spring Holy Days, in the story of Passover and celebration of Pentecost. No, the Fall Festivals (the Days of Awe) are only meant for people who have experienced the love and redemption of the Heavenly Father, through the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, and have entered in the newness of life that comes from that spiritual rebirth.
But something happens to us, as children of God. Theologically speaking, we screw up. We make mistakes (really, really bad ones). We do things that we know are completely against God's instruction, we choose selfish defiance instead of humble obedience. This is what brings us to the Fall Festivals. This is why we all need the Days of Awe. But, it's not just about making things right with God. Because, really, we can't. The Bible plainly tells us that we can't walk in intimacy with the Father if we are living at odds with those around us (1st John 4:20). So, He gives us the Days of Awe: a practical guide to mending relationships (both with the Father and with all His kids).
The two Holy Days (the Festival of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement) are celebrated in four gatherings. For the Festival of Trumpets, we begin with the Blowing of Trumpets during the “erev” or the evening of the Festival (Hebraic days begin at sundown and continue to the following sundown). The next morning, or sometime during the day is a ceremony known as “Tashleek” representing the casting off of our sins or shortcomings. Then, at the end of ten days, we gather to worship in a service called “Kole Nidray”, the relinquishing of vows. On the last day, the Day of Atonement, we read the book of Jonah.
These four segments represent the essential steps of reconciliation. Each worshipful gathering represents a part of the process necessary to truly restore a broken or damaged relationship.
1. Sounding the Invitation
The Days of Awe begin with the Day of Trumpets (or, more accurately, the Day of the Trumpet Call: Yom Teruah). The sounding of the shofar (the ram's horn) is a call for gathering together. Specifically, it is described as the rally call that assembles men of war for battle, or sounds the return after victory has been one, or calls the elders and people to the Temple for worship. In our society, today, we want to place full responsibility on the person who has caused offense. After all, it's only fair. He made thew mess. He should have to clean it up. But, it doesn't really work that way. In times that we have truly caused an offense, the door is closed. It doesn't do any good for the offending party to go reach out. He's just going to be appealing to a closed door. In many cases, when people are involved, he has to really pay attention. The door might just open a tiny crack. If he doesn't respond to that opportunity full sincerity and enthusiasm, he might lose that opportunity for a very long time.
But, God is different. He is always willing to forgive. He is slow to anger and abounding in love. Yom Teruah reminds us that the door is always open. He is always standing watch, waiting for the opportunity to forgive. The trumpet blows loudly, clearly, and repeatedly to demonstrate His desire to restore the broken relationship.
The following day, we gather together for a service that is known as “Tashleek.” It means “casting” or “tossing away.” In this service, we take bread crumbs that represent the things in our lives that have created a barrier between us and God. We confess our errors and rebellion with every crumb of bread and we throw them into flowing water, watching it disappear forever.
2. Naming the Offense
The second door or reconciliation is the confession by the person who has committed wrong using the terms that the person they've hurt would use to describe it. Thus demonstrates that the offender has, at least, that much understanding of the kind of pain that they've caused. He doesn't defend himself. He doesn't justify. He acknowledges the facts and accepts responsibility for his words or actions.
God doesn't need us to confess our sins before Him. He is perfectly well aware of where we have tried to pull one over. And, the truth is, the person we've offended is rarely surprised at the information we have to offer, either. They're not the ones who need to hear it. We are. We tend to think that “opening up” and revealing the ugliness inside makes us vulnerable. But, really, keeping ourselves closed up in that way doesn't make us strong. It keeps us hollow. The goodness of love, grace, peace and forgiveness can't come into the empty space created by our pride and hypocrisy. That's what Tashleek is all about. That's what, inevitably, makes us the kind of person who is worth knowing: because, instead allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we've allowed ourselves to be filled with God's goodness.
The High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur span a ten day period. That's an important aspect of reconciliation all by itself. It isn't a push-a-button-pull-a-strick, let's-get-it-over-with kind of operation. It takes time. It should. If it doesn't, it probably isn't real.
People are complicated. And thus, relationships are complicated. More often than you could possibly imagine, when you've failed one person, you've likely offended a number of people. The same goes with God. When you ignore the Bible's commandments, you've likely hurt others along the way.
We take the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to allow God to bring those offenses to mind, then go to those people and do whatever we can to make things right. Keep in mind, the original offense is still in play. There are a lot of times when the person who has caused an offense has to deal with a lot of collateral damage.
Finally, the holiest day of the year arrives. Yom Kippur is, probably the least understood and most misrepresented biblical festival. It has nothing to do with self-deprivation. It is all about focus.
3. Asking for Forgiveness
Once we've confessed our offenses and done everything we can possibly do to make things right, we recognize that we still come up short. We can't just make hard feelings go away. We can't take words that we said. We can't role back the clock and undo selfish, thoughtless acts. Their done. And, no matter what we may say or how we may try, we can never make right what we've done wrong.
Kol Nidre means, “All vows.” It is a declaration of spiritual, emotional and relational bankruptcy. It is acknowledging before the one (the ONE) that we've offended, that we cannot make it right. The very best that we can hope for is forgiveness. This is the door at the person who has caused offense must open in order to obtain sincere reconciliation. Too many times, having gone through the steps of doing everything that can be done, the person who has caused an offense believes he or she has done enough. They feel vindicated in having gone “above and beyond.” But, it's not possible for one person to quantify the kind of pain experienced by another person. In fact, offenses linger largely because the offending party never realizes that it was ever really any big deal. The only way to restore a broken or damaged relationship is to ask that the person who has been offended to be willing to cancel the debt of offense.
4. Investing in the Relationship
Finally, the fourth door is opened together by both parties (the offender and the offended). This is Yom Kippur, (the Day of Atonement). Reconciliation is only complete when the offended person, and the one who has offended them, agree to spend intimate time together (however intimate can be described at the level of that particular relationship). Both people must demonstrate that they are willing to put aside all of the distractions of life, just for a little while, and rebuild the trust that was previously lost. Sometimes, this is just a lingering hug. Sometimes it is in sharing a cup of coffee. Traditionally, for Yom Kippur, it is putting aside all of the things that put “me” first (eating, entertainment, work) and focusing singularly upon our relationship with God.