When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God.
Ezra 3: 1-2 NRSV
The worship of God in Jerusalem resumes! The book of Ezra was written about the same time as the book of Nehemiah. In this particular passage, traditional worship was resuming in Jerusalem for the first time in more than 48 years. The Israelites had been allowed to return home after decades, perhaps as long as seventy years. Here, they begin traditional worship by building an altar in Jerusalem. While the Israelites had worshipped in some form while captives, it was not the same. While doing so, they would weep over the fact that they were not home. Psalm 137 includes the memorable line, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept as we remembered Zion.” They longed to worship in their own city, in their own nation.
While in Babylon, many exiles may have believed they would never return to Zion, to Jerusalem. Miraculously, God opened a door, and they were now back in Israel. After settling in, they worship the Lord in Jerusalem. Although it is not conveyed in the text, my guess is that many of those who were there could scarcely believe it was happening. Surely, they would have had tears in their eyes…
Sometimes, we assume that our present troubles have no precedent. However, a careful reading of history often proves otherwise. When Covid shut down in-person worship almost a year ago, it seemed to be a new hurdle. It felt like something that God’s people had never encountered before. We felt exiled from our church, our traditions, and our fellowship. I myself felt a little depressed, and even had tears in my eyes on many Sundays throughout this last year.
Now, we are beginning to emerge from this dark time in our own history. We still have many hurdles to overcome, but the sense of hope is beginning to be restored.
During this last year, we have been in our own “Babylonian captivity.” Yet we have still found ways to worship, and to give thanks. On-line worship, although not perfect, has kept us somewhat connected. Families have found creative ways to stay in touch. Some may have even done more communicating than pre-pandemic! However, we all desire to be together, to worship and fellowship together, and to pray with one another.
There have been other times throughout history when Christians could not worship openly. There were times in the early church when believers would meet in the catacombs and mark the stones where they would meet with the sign of an etched fish above the entryway. The prophet Daniel kneeling and praying in a foreign land is a great example of such individual worship. Tragically, Christian worship is still not allowed in some parts of our world, or it is tightly restricted.
Our own church is now planning on returning to in-person worship on Sunday, February 21st. Perhaps we will appreciate and celebrate our reuniting more than one would after returning from a simple vacation. We may look forward to resuming worship with the same passion as they Israelites did, even though our “exile” has been measured in months, not decades...
Not everyone will be ready to return to in-person worship. This is such an understandable decision, and it is a personal one. We will continue to offer on-line worship even after we open the doors to the church. Theologically, we know that God is everywhere, and worship of the Lord is not restricted to specific locations. The most important thing is choosing to worship the Lord, and carving out a specific time to do so.
With each step forward that our church, our community, our nation, and our world takes on the road to pandemic recovery, God gives us hope. May we continue to pray for our leaders, and to cover them in prayer. Our hope and joy in the Lord is pleasing to Him. May we give thanks to the Lord for His sustaining hand in our lives, through the ups and downs of life, and through times of challenge, as well as times of blessing.
Thank You, Lord, that you are with us through every moment of our lives, as You have been throughout history with all Your people. Forgive me when I have put trust in people, and not in You. Give me patience to wait for Your guidance. Help me to serve You in bold ways which testify to others about who You are.
With a hopeful heart, I pray this prayer in Jesus’ name, Amen