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Old Testament Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

1All the people [of Israel] gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.   9And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

In the worship notes for this lesson, this introduction is given: “The exiles have returned and rebuilt Jerusalem. Now Ezra, the priest, reads the law of Moses to them in the public square. When they hear it, they weep for their sins and for the long years in exile, but Ezra reminds them that “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Colleague and friend Phil Heinze writes these words on this passage:

The exiles have returned from captivity

to begin the slow process of rebuilding Jerusalem

which includes reestablishing the rituals of the 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.


So dry your eyes and wash your face.

Break out the bubbly and forget your diet

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 the Lord's joy over 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.

Let us pray: Almighty God, help us to hear again the good news of your great love for us. May your joy be made complete in our living our lives as you created us to be. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen

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