“. . . all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:1-3)
The RCL omits verses 4 and 7 which are explanation verses of who was there, that is the names of the Levites who were there to help the people. It is a nice acknowledgement, but for the modern reader does not add much to the verses or the story. The “people”, whether at this point you call them Hebrews or Israelites, were learning again what the scripture said, and what God required of them.
The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and again God’s called people had a place to call their own. In the ebb and flow of God’s called people they had fallen away and come back. A nice reassurance that God welcomes back the Lord’s people, especially in this lectionary year when confession, penance, and forgiveness are our themes.
“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (Verses 5-6)
This is penance – worshiping God from a physical stance of submission; not wanting to be bold and brazen enough to face the words of God being presented to them. But humbly accepting instruction and correction.
“So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Verses 8-10)
What is our response, beloved reader, when we are presented with what the Lord requires of us, and we have to acknowledge how we have failed to fulfill the requirements of the Lord? Do we look straight ahead and refuse to humble ourselves? Are we confused and need someone to explain it to us? Or do we know full well what we have done . . . and have not done?
Most of the time correction happens apart from other people – either physically or within our own thoughts. Others do not need to know what and how the Spirit has convicted us. It is between just ourselves and our Lord God – unless we draw in others. Even during corporate worship, worship leaders or the minister read the words and our responses are scripted and choreographed.
I encourage you, beloved reader, to bring yourself before God – how ever it seems best to you. And may the Divine greet you there with love and compassion. Selah!