Yom Kippur, Elie Wiesel & Martin Luther


Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Today is Yom Kippur, the final day of the Jewish High Holidays, which began last Wednesday with Rosh Hashanah.  Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in Judaism, the day when Jews are closest to God and to the heart of their own being.  It is a day spent in prayer, fasting and repentance, a day to seek and receive forgiveness, a day of looking backward in humility, but also looking forward in hope.

Today is also the birthday of Elie Wiesel, the man who, according to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac podcast this morning, broke the silence about the Holocaust and opened the eyes and hearts of millions—a generation really—to the horrors of the death camps, and to the experience of God-forsakenness.  What the world owes him for his memory and his eloquence is beyond price.

Today is also the day we stand on the cusp of October 2017, the month in which we commemorate 500 years of the Reformation.

What do these things all have to do with each other?

In a discussion of Judaism yesterday, a student in my seminary class asked me how we as Lutherans are supposed to deal with Luther’s atrocious writings on the Jewish people.  How can we call ourselves Lutheran, when the one whose name we bear wrote such unspeakable things about those whom today we consider dear cousins, whose enduring faith is the root of our own?

To make a long answer short (as if a theologian could ever give a short answer), basically, I said that it is incumbent upon us to know Luther’s writings well, to be the first to admit them and repent of them, and the first to move forward with hands outstretched to help build a different future together.  It’s a three-fold process:  remembering, repenting and renewing.

Those ideas also seem to me to be a big part of not only Yom Kippur, but also Wiesel’s writing.  First, remembering is critical, not only for the sake of the past itself, but for the sake of the future. We can never just walk away from the past; it always comes with us. The challenge is to transform it so that it becomes something more than simply a burden, and maybe even a gift.  We do this through repentance—through acknowledging where, how and against whom we have sinned, and asking for forgiveness.  But we also do this through renewal—through seeing ourselves differently, relationships differently, and the future differently:  seeing new possibilities and a new way forward.

Finally, all this together brings restoration:  new life and new beginnings—not only for ourselves, but for the whole community, and even for the world.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year, and may you carry the past gently, looking forward to the future.

3 thoughts on “Yom Kippur, Elie Wiesel & Martin Luther

  1. I like the idea of carrying the past gently with us. I think the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Grateful for the traditions that cause us not only to but against each other but also to intersect with each other.


  2. Luther’s enormous dark side seems largely ignored in this anniversary year. Thanks for doing so. Has the time come to rethink the implications and public witness of a church bearing his name?


    1. That’s interesting; I think there was an attempt to bring this to the surface, at least in Germany, and I think in discrete places here there has been an emphasis on this, but there definitely could be more done–especially in our current climate!


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