The Narrative Lectionary points us to Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13 this week. The Gospel text is Luke 2:25-32. The NL is moving us along in the story of the bible to the rebuilding of the temple. The exile has come to an end and the Israelites are free to go back and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah). King Cyrus fulfills a prophecy made by Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1; Jeremiah 29:10, 25:11-14) and decrees that any of those who were exiled from Jerusalem may return. The religious life for the Israelites returns in chapter 3 as the altar is rebuilt and a renewal of observations of the offerings to the Lord.
Chapter 3 vs 10-13 gives a poignant picture of the emotional reaction to the rebuilding of the temple. There was a shouting and noise so loud that it was heard from far away, but it was composed of two elements. One was from the older priests and family leaders who wept loudly. The temple had none of the grandeur of the old temple, and they were old enough to remember. The other element was the praise and joy from others who were shouting out the praises of God.
This has so many connections, I think, to our contemporary expressions of faith and futility, joy and dejection. Is it generational? Do those who are older wistfully remember the victories of the past and weep over the way that time has left them behind? Do all young people express a jubilant spirit for steps of progress that propel the people of faith ahead? I don’t know that it can be as broad based as simple generations.
It could be that the contrast is experiential. Those who experienced worship at the first temple could not help but weep at the experience at the second temple. Those who came along later are looking forward to a new and fresh experience at the second temple. They have no restraints in memory nor experience to keep them from being exuberant as the time draws nigh.
However we view the response to this story, no doubt we can see within it some of the contemporary struggles of the church. To do so, we should be careful not to categorize people too much. Our older saints may not be ready for the change that inevitably come within faith families. Our younger saints may not all rejoice about developments as we exercise our faith.
I’m certain that this was God’s plan. People had varying responses to it. Even the enemies of God respond in the next chapter. But when the people of God align themselves with the plan of God, amazing things come together. Working in unity, fresh from exile, with the approval of the king, we can note some principles that made their work successful.
United in Provision. While there was cooperation and provision from King Cyrus, it was God at work that gave the inspiration and ability.
United in Purpose. To rebuild the temple was to go back to a time when Israel lived in God’s approval and power. It was a return of faith and commitment to His will and word. Even the work of the enemies of God couldn’t stop them.
United in Praise. There was such energy and passion that was on display as the people of God rejoiced in the return of the sacrifices and offerings that meant so much to their heritage and relationship with God.
United in Pain. It was true that this was a victorious moment. However, there were tears mixed in with the shouts. This had been a long time coming and I’m sure some had envisioned what that might look like. Is there any project or work for the Kingdom that doesn’t have both smiles and tears. There is success and disappointment in most endeavors. However even the tears were not a rejection of the great work that had been done.
Maybe all of us are waiting for a great work of God in our lives. Whatever that work is, perhaps we are uncertain of what it will look like in the end, but we know if it is His plan then all will be well.
Our Gospel text features a man who waits for God’s work as well. Simeon waited on God’s promise and ultimately he was blessed. What are we waiting for?
The preacher has some choices to make here. The text lends itself to a church planning and development theme, though I doubt Ezra could have envisioned such. Perhaps we could relate it to personal growth and goals. Or maybe we could even talk about God restoring that which had been lost in terms of people, not buildings.
You’re invited to join the discussion and resource sharing on this text at Narrative Lectionarians, my Facebook group on the Narrative Lectionary.