Who is a God like you, forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression; who has not maintained his wrath forever against the remnant of His own people, because he loves graciousness! He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities, you will hurl all their sins into the depths of the sea. You will keep faith with Jacob, loyalty to Abraham, as you promised on oath to our fathers in days gone by. (Micah 7:18-20)
How can there be one time in the year uniquely set aside not only for atonement, but for deep repentance? Every day our relationship with God leads us to ask forgiveness, to receive it in the very time when we call and turn towards Him. If a person’s sins for the past year are already in the depths of the sea, and God has given someone confidence that He takes them back in love, how can repentance and the fear of God in our times of imperfection be repeated in this time of atonement and deeply felt, truly meant? I asked a friend, whose answer was meaningful.
Repentance is forever. The deeper we realise God’s sovereignty in our lives, the more we find a place to repent and return to.
So the prayer of this time is real, not merely symbolic. God doesn’t need times in which to evaluate people, but just as He sets aside places, so He gives times when His presence is closely felt to focus with clearer emphasis on the repentance that is also lived out in the rest of the year. As a community is drawn together to yearn, to repent, to refocus, and to rejuvenate with strength for the coming year, there is hope that the spirit He pours out on this time will let the cycle draw closer, brighter, and deeper every year. In that sense, the repentance of this time is not a way of dwelling on the past that is already dealt with. It is a deep invitation to recognise the past, to atone for it in obedience, and press from there towards the future. With every year this meeting is played out, returning nearer and nearer to God’s sovereignty in our world and the goodness of choosing what He values.