Epiphany 3C Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
This is one of the few places where Scripture talks about Scripture, showing us what happens when a community comes together to hear the written word proclaimed and interpreted. So what happens?
Well, several things. People bless God and voice to their faith and trust in God. They lift up their hands and they stand while the text is read. Some fall to the ground in humility, knowing that God alone can lift them up. When they hear the written word read aloud and taught, much like we have in a Sunday worship service or even in Sunday school, the people also weep and mourn. They do this because they hear their own sins spoken out loud and they know they, just like all of us, are not as blameless in the world as we would like to think we are, but they and we are guilty of sin and of not being the people of God in the ways they could be. The people weep because they fear death and the justice of a God who does not flippantly pardon the guilty. The people weep because they do not know how to bridge the enormous gap that separates a broken humanity from the faithful God who made them. But as surely as the scriptures reveal to us all our shortcomings and failings, it also shows us the source of hope: our God who keeps his promises. It shows us the God who bridged that enormous gap by making a covenant with Abraham, who heard the cry of the people of God enslaved in Egypt and delivered them to the promised land, who forgives sins not because he has to or because we are worthy but because he loves us. Because he is God. The God who promised to come to us, has come to us and will continue to come to us to bridge that gap between us and him that we cannot bridge ourselves.
Then every person who leads and teaches this group of people, whether they are governor, priest, or scribe, tells the people not to weep. Do not mourn, they say, because this day when you hear these words of God is a holy day. A day for joy and celebration! It is the joy of the Lord, the God who is the strength of the people. God is not their undoing but their salvation. This call to rejoice is the big ’aha’ of this passage. The scripture isn’t being read in order to simply condemn and make people feel how unworthy they are or how distant they are from God. Quite the opposite!