A Reflection on Nehemiah and Worship

The First Reading for May 29, 2016 is Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10.

Why do we stand up so much in worship? Part of that answer is in our first reading from Nehemiah today. The books Ezra and Nehemiah (which were originally one book before they were split in two) tell the story of Jerusalem after the return from Exile. Cyrus the Great, after destroying the Babylon empire, sends the Israelites back to Jerusalem. The returnees start to rebuild the temple but local politics and infighting stop the project fron continuing. The Temple is eventually rebuilt but Jerusalem is not allowed to become the kingdom it use to be. Nearly 65 years after the first wave of exiles return to Jerusalem, Ezra and another group arrive in Jerusalem. Ezra comes to reform the community, teach the law (the Torah – the first five books of the Bible), and develop the Jewish identity.

In our reading today, everyone – men and women – gather in Jerusalem. When Ezra opens the book of Moses (the Torah), all the people stand up. Ezra reads the book, from early in the morning through midday, while everyone stood and listened. As Ezra read, the leaders would stop to offer an interpretation of what was heard. This is similar to what we are doing today. We’ll read scripture, stand up when a story of Jesus is read, and listen as I (with prayers and help from the Holy Spirit) offer an interpretation of what is heard.

Ezra, at the end of our text, tells the people to not mourn or weep. At this point in the story, the people are weeping because they’ve discover how much they haven’t followed God’s law of love and mercy. But Ezra reminds the people that worship isn’t only about focusing on what we’ve failed to do but is an opportunity to celebrate God. God doesn’t let us travel through our life alone. Instead, God offers teachers, the Word, scripture, and even Jesus’ body and blood to help us do what God is already doing in the world. Worship is more than just hearing God’s stories. Worship is discovering that God is helping us to share God’s love out loud.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 5/29/2016.