Nehemiah 8:1-3; 5-6; 8-10
The exiles, including the lay reader's nightmare list of names in the omitted verses, have returned from captivity to begin the slow process of rebuilding Jerusalem which includes reestablishing the rituals of faith community. Outside the gate the preachers preach and the people respond with liturgy, Amen, Amen, lifting hands and bowing down. But when the ritual reading is explained and the people understand they begin to weep and wail and mourn. They weep because they know who they are in the light of the law and how they have grieved the One who brought them out of exile. They weep because they are afraid that God knows what they know. But there is another lesson to learn and if they had seen it coming they would have laughed out loud and shouted alleluia. God is not grieved. God is not angry. God is not weeping. This is God’s day of rejoicing and it is because of them. Surprise! So dry your eyes and wash your face. Break out the bubbly and forget your diet for a day for you are the joy of the Lord and that is your strength. That is a good lesson for us as well. As long as we think of the joy of the Lord as an emotion we have or can get we will inevitably end up weakened and weeping. But since the joy of the Lord is about us it is constant and can never be diminished or depleted and therein lies our strength. In God’s joy we endure. In God’s joy we persevere. In God’s joy we hope. And yes, in God’s joy we rejoice. The only thing to do with that kind of strength is to share with those who have nothing prepared because, of course, that is what God has done for us.