Many of us grew up thinking that certain things would always be the same. Summertime baseball, Grandmother’s homemade biscuits, going away to college, attending church every Sunday, and the nightly news brought to you by a serious anchorman in a suit were all things that we thought would last forever. Pretty much all of that has changed. Baseball lasts until November, biscuits are easier to pick up from a drive-thru, college can be done entirely online, the “news” … well, what serves as “news” today is all over the place. And then there was that terrible thing called a global pandemic shut everything down, including Sunday worship.
Do you remember how it felt to be away from your sanctuary for months? As a pastor, I felt as though I was in a really bad Twilight Zone episode. Nothing in life or in seminary prepared me for leading a church in a global pandemic. The disruption that shutting down in-person events brought has left many of us with some post-trauma stress. Let’s not even talk about schools being closed for months.
But then there came that wonderful Sunday when we could regather in our buildings and worship together. What joy filled our hearts, even with masks and social distancing! To be gathered in our familiar church was a tremendous relief and blessing. Some of us wept over the changes, but we were home.
As we read Ezra today, we can truly relate to the Israelites’ joy and sorrow as they laid the foundation of the new temple. Some had worshipped in the old temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians many years before. As the rebuilding began in earnest, the older generation wept with the memories of Solomon’s grandiose glory days when an elaborate temple existed. But the new generation, having no burden of memory or expectation, shouted with joy to see the return of a permanent place of worship after such a long absence.
Some looked forward while others looked back.
Ezra 3:8-13 (Common English Bible)
8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at God’s house in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and Jeshua, Jozadak’s son, and the rest of their kin—the priests and the Levites and all who had come from the captivity to Jerusalem—made a beginning. They appointed Levites 20 years old and above to oversee the work on the Lord’s house. 9 Then Jeshua with his sons and his kin, Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and his sons, the sons of Judah, along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, and their sons and kin, collaborated to supervise the workers in God’s house.
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests clothed in their vests and carrying their trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, arose to praise the Lord according to the directions of Israel’s King David. 11 They praised and gave thanks to the Lord, singing responsively, “He is good, his graciousness for Israel lasts forever.”
All of the people shouted with praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house, although many others shouted loudly with joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.
We are invited to look forward. In those moments of remembering the good ole days it is good to remember that not everything was so good. Nostalgia can haze our thoughts, but God has promised us a future with hope that is a guarantee of joy that helps us look forward. (see Jeremiah 29:11)
One thing we learned in the pandemic is that worship cannot be restricted to a building. We worshipped at a baseball field, the beach, the front lawn of the church, and even a graveyard on Easter. Ephesians 2:20 reminds us that we are built on a foundation of the patriarchs with Christ himself as our cornerstone. Our foundation is set and stable.
May we shout for joy!
Looking Ahead by Michelle Robertson