Last month I had the opportunity to preach at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It is the home church for our branch in the Detroit area, and they have often invited me to preach in the autumn for the season of Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur.
Mary Lou Temple is our branch director there, and she and a group of volunteers put together small baskets with apples and honey in them, and the invitation to the congregation was to take those baskets to their Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives, with a greeting for Rosh HaShanah. It is a simple and easy way to connect, and some left the names of their friends for us to pray for.
The traditional greeting for Rosh HaShanah is “Shana Tova,” meaning for a good year, but that is just shorthand for the greeting of “May your name be inscribed for a good year.” That greeting is appropriate because the tradition of this season is that on Rosh HaShanah God opens three books with everyone’s name in them. By Yom Kippur (this year it is October 11), God chooses either life or death for you, so the hope of this greeting is that God will choose life for you. For those with a little more chutzpah, I encourage them to greet their friends with the greeting “May your name be inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life.” After all, that is the only way that God will choose life for us.
While the Jewish tradition of God opening these books is that, the books themselves are not just tradition. The Torah tells us that God keeps these books, and Moses pleads for the Israelites as he cries out to God “please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:32). This reference to blotting out is carried throughout the Scriptures. David cries out for his sins to be blotted out (Psalm 51) and for his enemies to be blotted out of the book of life (Psalm 69). Paul refers to the book of life in Philippians 4:3, and of course John in the Revelation, talks much about the Lamb’s book of life. Whatever it may be, from a human perpective, God is keeping a record, and “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21).
Another theme that came up during this year’s sermon in Michigan was the theme of seasonality. Just as there are seasons for planting and reaping the harvest, celebrated in the final days of these autumn festivals (Sukkoth), it seems that there are seasons for outreach too. In the Spring, with the spring festivals of Passover and Sh’vuot (Pentectost), it is a great time for planting seeds of faith. The long, hot and dry summer is a time to cultivate, water, and feed faith so that by the autumn the Holy Spirit can reap the faith that is grown. 48 names were given in Michigan. Please pray that many of them will be added to the Lamb’s book of life.
For more on the High Holidays, www.archives.kfuo.org/mp3/FAF/FAF_Sep_29b_2016.mp3