This year it began in the evening of October 11 and ended in the evening of October 12. “Evening and morning” equals one day. That is how the Creator reckoned time at Creation, and so still do the Jews and several million Christians as well. But this year’s October 11-12 is not just another ordinary day. It is the most awesome (or awe-full, if you prefer) day on the calendar during this year that we name 2016. It is the day that God named Yom Kippur, “the Day of Atonement.”

Leviticus 16 records the ritual of the annual Day of Atonement. Two truths scream for attention throughout this chapter. God is pure holiness. We are sinful mortals. We have become separated from God. That separation cries out for an “at-one-ment,” a reconcilation, a putting together again what has become separated. That will happen on the awesome day, the day called Yom Kippur.

This separation is built into the architecture–a tent inside a tent, with unauthorized entrance punishable by death. Placement of furniture proclaims this separation. The Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat are located inside the inner tent. They are seen only by the high priest, but only on one day each year. The ritual for that day emphasizes that God is beyond the people’s reach. Its drama points to substitution and divine forgiveness. Interestingly, there is no mention of punishment, no emphasis on suffering.

After centuries of tutoring for Israel, Jesus comes–on behalf of his people whose name he bears—bringing God the offering of his faithful and sinless life. Because God is perfectly pleased with this present, He takes Jesus “into the inner shrine behind the curtain” (Hebrews 6:19 RSV), to serve as priest for all his people (Psalm 110:4). There, based on Jesus’ high-priestly work, God now invites and urges all who belong to Jesus to march with confidence past the veil or curtain into God’s sacred presence (Heb. 4:14- 16; 6:19-20; 10:19-25).

The separation is ended. AtONEment has begun.