Reflecting on Nehemiah 8: 2-4a, 5
There’s a bit of an elephant in the room as Ezra reads that foundational scripture to the men, women, and children old enough to understand. What none of them is admitting is that, after returning to the land from the Babylonian Exile, things haven’t worked out as well as they had hoped.
Their new Temple is puny compared to the majestic Temple that Solomon built (and Nebuchadnezzar burned). The returnees are dwelling in a desolate, undefended city, tilling a few ravaged fields, easy prey for marauding bandits.
When Ezra reads this document (now called the Torah), their response is to hang their heads and weep. And what does Governor Nehemiah do? He interrupts to declare a holiday, and to exhort them to eat and drink and rejoice. Why? Because he knows what they have forgotten: the joy of the Lord is their strength. Nothing less will ever be enough.
In today’s synagogue services there is a stirring moment. After the sacred readings, the homily, and the singing of the psalms, a spotlight is shone on the tabernacle. Those with the priestly last name of Cohen (or Kohen) come forward. This group, with the rabbi, takes the five dazzling Torah scrolls and begins to dance with them.
And then all heaven breaks out. The children leap up to dance with their parents. Joyous groups jump out of their pew to greet the Torah as it passes by. For a raucous few minutes the sedate assembly exults in the joy of Torah. Another week of hard work looms for all, but on the Sabbath they draw deeply from their greatest strength, which is the joy that only comes from intimacy with God.
In what ways is the joy of the Lord your greatest strength?
Kathy McGovern ©2019