Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Apples & Honey & Trumpets, Oh My!

I'm a traditionalist - my favorite
Rosh Hashanah snack is apples and
honey! Especially when the honey comes
from dear friends in Nazareth!
Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of gathering downstairs in the synagogue, feasting on apples drenched in honey.  

We were celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, just as countless Jews will begin to do this Sunday evening as the sun sets around the globe. This apples & honey tradition, which follows the worship service, is meant to usher in a sweet year to come.

But honey is so much more than a metaphor for a sweet year. It is a recalling and reclaiming of God's promises. Fulfilled promises. From bondage to freedom. From hunger to manna. From wilderness scarcity to the flowing abundance of the Promised Land.  God not only rescues, not only sustains, but lavishes. And the ultimate lavishness is the abundance of His Presence in our lives.

And so, as the congregation partakes of this sweet snack on Rosh Hashanah, we gratefully celebrate God's deliverance and sustenance and abundance in our own lives - whatever forms that may take. And we look forward collectively to a new year that we hope will be marked by spiritual sweetness, praying together:

"May it be Thy will, O Lord our God and God of our Fathers, that you renew us for a good and sweet year."  

Just under the surface of this festive rejoicing, however, runs a current of building lament. Because, as the sun sets on Rosh Hashanah, all eyes and hearts begin looking toward Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - in just ten days. Which, in actuality, is the entire purpose of Rosh Hashanah.

You see, "Rosh Hashanah" isn't the original name for this feast. The original, biblical name is Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpet Blasts, a/k/a The Feast of Trumpets.
"On the first day of the seventh month hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.  It is a day for you to sound the trumpets."  Numbers 29:1 NIV
Over the course of Yom Teruah's sacred assembly - even today - the ram's horn is blown 100 timesThese trumpet blasts serve as a call to repentance as Yom Kippur draws near.  A plea to prepare for that most holy and sacred day of the year. That day when the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, under cover of thick incense, to offer atonement for the sins of the nation with the blood of a perfect lamb. That one day when everyone was - is - to fast and mourn and repent. To beat our chest as we confess a litany of sins out loud. We have betrayed...We have stolen...We have slandered...We have caused others to sin...We have mocked... 

The list goes on and on - and could go on forevermore if we each turned out the pockets of our swollen, skimpy hearts. We line them with so many layers of muck that we don't even notice anymore. And so, during the Feast of Trumpets, the shofar is blown. Over and over and over again. One hundred times. Get, thee, ready. Or, as is often my case - Wake, up fool.

As the ram's horn pierces the air that day, it proclaims three specific things, again and again, throughout the worship. These three proclamations are the three different words God used to describe the shofar blasts: Tekia, Shevarim and Teru'ah.
Tekia. It's a single, long blast.  The kind of trumpet sound made to announce the arrival of a king.  Which is exactly what the Feast of Trumpets' tekia does; the long blast announces the coming of the Heavenly King to pronounce judgment.
Shevarim. These three short blasts are an ancient, auditory depiction of crying. But not simply crying, but wailing. It calls us to recognize and mourn deeply our sin before Him. 
Teru'ah. This series of nine quick blasts served as an alarm. With tekia and shevarim in mind, this staccato alarm wakes and shakes us to make things right with God - and with the people around us.
From the holy hill of Jerusalem and throughout all the land - like the beacons igniting one after another along the mountaintops of Gondor - those ancient trumpet blasts called every person to look up, to recognize the personal and collective need for atonement, and to prepare their hearts to petition God's blood-bought forgiveness on Yom Kippur.  

It's such a powerful practice. And I love that God Himself established the Feast of Trumpets, because it's a demonstration that He desires to forgive. God doesn't just spring judgment upon us unsuspectingly. He created a feast with the entire purpose of helping His people get ready for the Day of Atonement. The day our sins would be dealt with. And not "getting ready" as in fixing ourselves up. But "getting ready" by recognizing our need - my need - and then turning to God to fill it.

Those blasts of the ram's horn on Rosh Hashanah/Yom Teruah jar us to attention. Not simply to our own failings, but to His mercy. Not only to our brokenness, but to His healing. Not merely to our guilt, but to His grace. 

Now- on this side of the Cross - in those three ancient proclamations of the shofar, I also recognize the prophetic proclamation of the coming fullness of His grace, the fullness of His healing, the fullness of all that He is. That fullness witnessed in the life, death and resurrection of God's promised Messiah:
Tekia!  All hail!  The Heavenly King, the Father, is coming!
Shevarim!  Mourn!  The Messiah, the Son, will take our place in death.
Teru'ah!  Wake up from your mourning!  The Holy Spirit has raised Christ from the grave!  And He remains even now to indwell us, to teach and to guide us until the day He raises us from our grave as well!
There's no sweeter news I can possibly think of than this redeeming proclamation of the ram's horn!  So grab some apples and honey (or make my grandma's honey cake recipe at the end of the newsletter!) and celebrate our King, our Savior and our ever-present Holy Spirit.

Taste and see that the Lord is good!