“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Not acceptable to me,
not acceptable to us,
not acceptable to others.
Acceptable to you, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer.
Because the words may very well, if faithful, make us weep in remembrance of who we have been and who we really are. Because they may at first be sweet as honey, but later bitter to the point of making us want to try to pitch Christ off the nearest cliff.
We have such rich texts to host this week in anticipation of Sunday’s liturgy. In the middle of Nehemiah, which can sometimes read like a campaign for re-election, sits this gem, chapter 8. There has been a great build up, literally, to this point. Nehemiah, made governor of Judah by King Artaxerxes of Persia, has heard of the vulnerability and trouble of those Israelites left behind when the elite and learned of Judah were all carted off to Babylon. Nehemiah’s heart is powerfully moved. He roots out corruption and unites the people in the rebuilding of the wall that surrounds Jerusalem. The culmination of this comes when all the people gather together into the square before the Water Gate. They tell Ezra, priest and scribe, to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. Now, anticipation builds. The book sits above the people, when it is opened the people stand, the LORD is blessed and worshipped. The book is read from for the entire morning. The words read in Hebrew and interpreted into Aramaic, so the people might understand – something not done in Jerusalem since the exile to Babylon. The people weep. Bittersweet tears? For what they have endured; for the reminder of who they are:
You are a people who mark and celebrate the holy days of Yahweh.
You are a people who provide for others.
You are a people whose strength is in the joy of the LORD.
I am reminded of a clip from James Moll’s documentary, “The Last Days.” A woman, who survived Auschwitz as a child, returns to the ground of her captivity and remembers a time when she and a fellow girl realized that day was the Shabbat. They begin to sing the traditional song to welcome the Sabbath and, like a magnet, the song draws many of the other children who also join the song. A holy moment in time, amidst horror, reminds them of who they really are.
I am reminded of the Eucharist performed outside places of torture in Pinochet’s Chile, as described in William Cavanaugh’s Torture and the Eucharist. A holy moment performed to speak of the true reality of God’s intentions.
I am reminded of the pictures this week from Haiti of Christians gathered, amid such devastation, singing their prayers of hope for new life.
Word read and ritual performed until our bones can sing as to who we are and what God, in Christ, is up to.
In Luke, the Word incarnate reads the word. He is handed the Isaiah scroll in his hometown synagogue. He does not choose the scroll to read from (would it have mattered to the one who was and is The Word?) but he chooses the text. It is a revelation of what kind of mission Jesus, named The Beloved Son in his water baptism, is initiating. There is a great sense here of held breath, of anticipation as the word read becomes the Word of the Lord, for the sake of the whole of Creation: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In the Water Gate of our baptism, we join the company of the church, the Body of Christ, on this continuing mission of our God. Christ calls his church out of its present day captivity, in all its myriad forms, to remember who we are, as Paul so well reminds us.
You are a people who have need of one another.
You are a people that share the joy and suffering of one another and the world.
You are a people gifted individually and arranged together by God for God’s purposes.
We remember this together as we read the word, as we mark and celebrate holy days, as we provide care for others – in Haiti, in the Sudan, in our own families – bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed.
And it is Jesus, the Christ, the Word incarnate, setting out on his Spirit-led mission, who is for us the joy of the LORD, our strength. Sweet. Sweeter than honey.