The joy of the Lord is my strength- Thursday, 26th year in ordinary time Nehemiah 8:1-4A, 5-6, 7B-12
The late Fr Leslie Ratus struck a chord in my heart when many years ago he suggested (and please read this in context to the reflection) that there would be a great reverence for the Eucharist if it was celebrated only once a year. A birthday celebration too, would hold much less excitement and joy if it were a monthly or daily affair. Somehow too much of a good thing is seen by some as not a good thing!
The Boney M song that we sang as children (now you know my age!) had the words, “By the rivers of Babylon where we sat down every day, and we remembered Zion. But how could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” The song is a reflection of the Jews in captivity. While they were in Babylon, the Jews were not able to practice their religion in its entirety, for they did not have access to the Law of God. For most of the captives, whatever they knew of their faith, came from memory or the memories of others. By the end of 70 years in captivity, they had forgotten far more than they remembered about the law of God.
Now that the wall around Jerusalem was rebuilt providing them security from their enemies, Ezra the priestly scribe and the people along with the elders, met at the water gate which was located outside the city. It was the seventh month; and the occasion was the feast of the Tabernacles. This was a special year, for Moses had prescribed in Deuteronomy 31:10-12 that, ‘at the end of every seven years, during the festival of Tabernacles, all debts must be cancelled’ and on this occasion, the law was to be read to the assembly.
Ezra and the people did exactly what was asked of them (read chapter eight) and he read the law from daybreak to noon, for about six hours. Consider this; these people excitedly gathered to hear the Word of God for that long because they were deprived of listening to the law, as long as they were in captivity. One never heard, ‘oh my God how long this Good Friday Service is!’ Five times in chapter eight we read the words ‘understood’. Why so? Because such was the hungering for the Word of God and its explanation, and when it was given to them, they hung on to every word, and they understood. This was one long six hour Bible study in the hot Palestinian sun.
Their understanding of God’s Word was reflected in their response. Physically they STOOD (they were not asked to) when Ezra opened the book. When Ezra blessed the Lord, their response was AMEN (which must have been full throated). They LIFTED UP THEIR HANDS, BOWED THEIR HEADS and WORSHIPED THE LORD WITH THEIR FACES TO THE GROUND. Consider this, there was no one to prompt, cajole, suggest or encourage them to do so. Consider how far we have come today from where God has wanted us to be!
When they heard the Word of God, they were profoundly grieved because they became aware of their sins. The more they heard, the more they realized just how much their fathers and they themselves, had strayed from the will of God. Their failure was evident, their guilt was obvious, they felt it deeply and they wept in sorrow and repented of their sins. But Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra who was the priest and scribe, told the people not to mourn and weep concluding with the words, “do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The last word of God, ever since He sent the great flood, has never been destruction. He gave us the rainbow as a permanent sign of His love for us and now continues to give us His Son as a permanent sign of His love forever.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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