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Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

The Jewish festival of Yom Kippur on 11-12 October 2016

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To encourage us to consider ways to deal with feelings of guilt and regret (SEAL theme: Managing Feelings).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.

  • Have available the YouTube video ‘TV Theme This Is Your Life’ (available at: the means to show it during the assembly. It is 1.43 minutes long.


Leader: I wonder if any of you have heard of a TV show from many years ago called This Is Your Life?

Play the YouTube video ‘TV Theme This Is Your Life’.

This Is Your Life used to be one of the TV highlights of the week. Millions tuned in to see which celebrity would be surprised by the shock announcement from presenter Eamonn Andrews or Michael Aspel that he or she was to be that week’s subject. Central to the programme was a large, red, embossed book that listed all the details of the celebrity’s life. The book contained their life story.

Imagine if someone created a book about your life. Let’s say just for the last 12 months of it. How would you feel about that?

Hopefully, there are lots of happy memories in the book, pride at successes and accomplishments, maybe some sadness and a little regret. However, I suspect that, if we are truly honest, there will also be a measure of guilt, possibly even acute embarrassment, at some things we were responsible for. We probably wouldn’t want everyone to know about the whole of our life over the past year.

Reader 1: This week, members of the Jewish faith will celebrate Yom Kippur. Like many Jewish festivals, it begins in the evening. It starts on 11 October this year, and lasts until the evening of the following day, 12 October. It is seen as the last day before the book of a person’s life over the previous 12 months is closed. The good news is that, during Yom Kippur, it is possible to deal with those words, actions and thoughts that each person feels guilty and embarrassed about. It is a way, if you like, of editing the content of the book.

Reader 2: How do Jewish believers achieve this? They fast for a period of 25 hours. They deny themselves food and other activities that bring them pleasure. It’s a denial that shows they are serious about wanting to change the bad parts of their lives. During their fast, they seek to right the wrongs they have committed against others, particularly with regard to what they have said. If they’ve scoffed at, slandered or gossiped about someone, they meet with that person so that they can admit the wrong, apologize, ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation. Finally, having dealt with human relationships, they confess their sins, the wrongs that they have committed towards God, and ask for his forgiveness, too.

Leader: Yom Kippur is therefore the day for looking back and putting things right, for creating a new start.

Time for reflection

Leader: So what might be the effect within the communities that surround these Jewish believers? What happens when they put into practice the principles that lie behind the festival of Yom Kippur? A clue comes in the alternative name for the festival. Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement.

What does atonement mean? Its not a word that we tend to use in conversation. It helps if you divide up the word to become ‘at one ment. Atonement is the process of bringing those who have been enemies back together. It is the process of addressing everything that separates people from one another and creating a sense of being one.

What separates you from others?

Reader 1: Arguments cause rifts between friends. They probably result in words being said that are regretted later. We can be easily wounded by hurtful comments from those we thought we could trust and they can suffer by what we say.

Reader 2: Prejudice can drive us apart. It might be prejudice because of what we believe, because of our racial heritage, even because of where we live. We reject one another rather than broadening our experience. Prejudice can lead to loneliness, to a sense of worthlessness and sometimes to anger.

Reader 1: Jealousy can also drive us apart. We envy what others have and this sours our relationships. We put people down rather than sharing their good fortune.

Reader 2: And then there are our moods, when we have simply got out of bed on the wrong side. We retort and lash out for no logical reason. It still causes pain. It still separates.

Leader: Imagine how different it would be if we were to approach each person we know whom we have hurt. Simply talking to that person would be a first step in breaking down the barriers. The next step might be a little more difficult. It takes courage to say, ‘I am sorry, I was wrong’ or, ‘Will you please forgive me?’ However, our courage hopefully makes it easier for the other person to reciprocate and friendship can be created or restored.

Where does God fit into this? Putting things right with him is vitally important to Jewish believers. Their daily lives depend on this close relationship. For those of you who have an active faith, this will be true for you, too. You will feel that it is important to confess wrongdoing and to receive forgiveness. Yet even for those who have no faith, its useful now and again to consider the values by which we live. How might we build healthy relationships and learn to manage the way we talk to one another, particularly in times of stress and disagreement?

Yom Kippur isnt an easy time. Its a time of honesty and courage. Yet the benefits can be worth it. So is there someone whom you need to approach today?

Dear Lord,
Thank you for reminders like Yom Kippur.
May we use today to heal the mistakes of the past.
May tomorrow be a day of new and renewed friendships.


‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ by Elton John

Publication date: October 2016   (Vol.18 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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