Today, 7th September, is the middle day of the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, which literally translated means ‘head of the year’ – or New Year. It is customarily a feast of three days with the usual festival practices, common to all faiths, of worship, family gatherings and special food.
Although it is less familiar to non-Jews than festivals like Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) or Passover, which is near our Easter time, Rosh Hashanah is one of the High Holy Days in the Jewish Calendar. The Rabbis mark it as an annual coronation of God as the ultimate sovereign of the Jewish people – and of the entire cosmos – and worship services are characterized by pageantry like the royal celebrations in ancient kingdoms. As part of the synagogue ritual, the Shofar, or ram’s horn is sounded, as described in Leviticus 23.24.
On a personal level, Jews are supposed to begin a solemn process of self-examination and repentance for past sins in preparation for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, which is ten days after the start of Rosh Hashanah. Unlike most festivals, Yom Kippur is marked by fasting – and a collective and individual request for God’s forgiveness of sins.
I think we have a lot to learn from the festivals of other faiths – and I think it is particularly moving to remember that Jesus was a Jew. We know from the Bible that he marked the Jewish festivals as he was supposed to do – indeed many Christian churches these days have a Seder, Passover, meal on Maundy Thursday, as Jesus did with his disciples.
Maybe this year we could mark Rosh Hashanah too, by making a serious examination of where we have fallen short of God’s standards in our lives and, whilst asking for our own sins to be forgiven, offering genuine forgiveness in our hearts to any who may have offended us.
We could also try eating an apple dipped in honey, which is one of the Jewish symbols of the New Year, to mark a new pattern in our lives of love and forgiveness for all our neighbours.