Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
– Nehemiah: 8:9-10
Going home can be an unusual experience, especially in times of disaster. Two years ago, two of our major islands in The Bahamas were devastated by a ferocious hurricane. Many people’s homes were destroyed and others severely damaged. Immediately after the passing of the hurricane, many of the people from those islands were temporarily relocated to New Providence and other islands. Upon returning to their homes, months later, they found devastation they had never seen in their lifetime. Consequently, they felt both helpless and hopeless.
When the Israelites returned from Babylon, they found Jerusalem in ruins. This was the effects of war. The city had been totally devastated. Upon seeing the ruins of the city, they wept.
A remnant of the Israelites, who were taken into captivity and sent into exile, was given permission to return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. This group was given permission to rebuild the walls and the temple of the city which was in ruins.
The group was under the leadership of Nehemiah, the governor, and Ezra, the priest. Their return home, at first sight, was not a joyous one. However, God’s grace kept them inspired.
According to the text, on the first day of the seventh month, after their return, the people persuaded Ezra, the priest, to read the book of the law to them. This was a feast day, the feast of trumpets, which was a Sabbath day. The Mosaic Law required that the people have a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blast.
Upon hearing God’s word, read from the book of the law, the people were cut to the heart. They realized that they had wandered far away from the commands of the God of their forefathers. Aware of their spiritual disposition, they wept bitterly.
Cutting to the heart is what the law does to us. It is like a mirror, which shows us that we are not a good sight in the eyes of God.
The law drives us to the cross. However, in addition to the law, God gave us the Gospel. Therefore, after hearing the law, we are not left hanging with the fear of destruction.
The governor of the people, Nehemiah, saw their grief and their despondency. Consequently, he was compassionate toward them. He told them that the day was not a time to feel sorry but to rejoice. Nehemiah was showering them with the Gospel, God’s grace.
The Gospel tells us what God in His mercy has done for us and what He continues to do for us. Despite our infractions, God is merciful to forgive us of our sin.
Nehemiah instructed the people to be joyful. It was not a time of weeping, but a time to rejoice. In their rejoicing, they were to go and enjoy choice foods and sweets.
Also, he instructed them to not only enjoy themselves, but to share what they had with their neighbor. That is what God’s grace is all about; in getting it, we are to share it with others.
We, who are in Christ, are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of us may have a little more than others, but we are no different. When it comes down to it, we are all just a bit of dust. At the end of the day, that is where we all end up and we leave the comforts of this life behind.
Yes, God’s word cuts us to the bone. Yet, they are words which bring peace and comfort. Amen.
• Reverend Samuel M. Boodle, pastor at the Lutheran Church of Nassau, 119 John F. Kennedy Dr can be reached at P.O. Box N 4794, Nassau, Bahamas; or telephone 426-9084; E-mail: email@example.com; website: www.nassaulutheranchurch.org.