Last Sunday the passage from the eighth chapter of Nehemiah was read with little context or introduction. The prior week we heard from Isaiah, and the following we will hear from Jeremiah (who actually preceded Nehemiah chronologically). But the Nehemiah passage is a powerful one in terms of the history of the Hebrew Bible, for it chronicles the return of the Jewish people out of the Babylonian exile and back to Jerusalem after being away for the better part of a century. Once returned, they hear from the scriptures and the law, a rediscovery of their historical, ethnic, and religious roots, and a reaffirmation that they are not a conquered people, but God’s people. This realization is so emotionally overwhelming that many in the crowd begin to grieve. The reasons are not explicitly clear, but it is easy to imagine people lamenting the lost time away from Jerusalem. But it is also easy to imagine people grieving the time they wasted believing a lie—that they were worthless, forgotten, and abandoned by God.
The experience of grace from God is not easy. Being told that, regardless of what you may have done, or experienced, or believed, that God completely and profoundly loves you can crash into years and years of doubt, self-depreciation, and guilt. But regardless of how much resistance it may face, the grace and love of God will persevere.
After this (and after what is recounted in the lectionary passage) the Jewish people re-institute an ancient holiday focused on remembrance, confession, and thankfulness: the Festival of Booths. We celebrate our own holiday of remembrance, confession, and thankfulness in the upcoming season of Lent. As we approach this holy season, may we move from regret and grief to thankfulness and gratitude in our lives as well.
Yours in Christ…Rob