It's Greek to Me
Come Hear the Shofar!
Terri Lynn Main
(Copyright 1996, Evangel Tabernacle Assembly of God, Fresno CA)
Therefore I will judge you O house of Israel, everyone according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Ezekiel 18.30
In spite of the title, we are not going to talk about Greek today. We are going to look at a Hebrew word. I was channel surfing on TV the other night and came across a program which featured an orthodox Jewish rabbi. He was talking about the High Holy Days and particularly Rosh Hashanna which marks the Jewish New Year.
He pointed out that the feast has a commandment which is to "Hear the call of the Shofar or ram's horn." The call of the shofar on this holiday is the call to repentance or T'shuva. It is a variation of this word found in the passage quoted above. According to the Rabbi, it means "to return, to come back where one belongs."
I like that definition of repentance. As Christians, we often think about repentance as feeling sorry for our sins or, in our most cynical moments, saying we are sorry for our sins whether we are or not. But T'shuva implies something more. It implies making changes. It implies turning around and going in the other direction. It has all the sense of one who has left the main road to take a detour backtracking to the place where he or she left the road and continuing in the right direction from there.
In the Jewish ceremony, the people gather in the synagogue and hear the cantor play a special call on the shofar. Being in this place and hearing the call is considered by many to suffice for answering the call to repentance. According to the rabbi, some even feel if they accidently hear the call that they have answered it. But, according to him, the rabbinical writings say that hearing the call must be done with kavanna which translates as "intention and enthusiasm."
I sometimes look around the Christian church and see people "repenting" but showing little intention of getting back on the road, and often there is little enthusiasm found in repentance.
Somehow, to the western mind, enthusiasm and repentance don't seem to go together. Repentance is often seen as this great painful exercise that one is dragged into by obligation, duty or fear. This is not so for the ancient Jewish people. The New Bible Dictionary points out that repentance and celebration were merged in the Jewish feasts. "The Biblical festival itself contained the element of mourning for this is involved in the sacrifice for sin. [but] there is no sharp line of demarcation between the sorrow for sin and the joy of the Lord."
Isn't that remarkable and incredibly true. Since the sorrow for our sins opens the door for God to remove them (The Day of Atonement is just 9 days following Rosh Hashanna), we find that our tears turn to laughter and our weeping to joy.
Have you heard the call of the shofar? It is being winded now, held in nail scarred hands.