There is nothing like studying scripture. I love getting into the nitty gritty places of cultural context, particular use of language, and trying to mine the recess of the author’s intent. Yet I’ve come to love the experience of scripture, putting the knowledge-based purposes aside, for the encounter, the feel of being in the scripture and identifying with the emotions of the place and people.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]But, perhaps, they are simply grieving the losses up to this place in time.[/pullquote]Recently I read Nehemiah 8. If you remember about this book, the Israelites had started to return to Jerusalem after many years of being exiled in Babylon. Under Nehemiah’s expert managing skills they were rebuilding the Temple and beginning the process of restoration to the city. At this point in time, Ezra the priest, was going to open the book of the Law and preach, something that had not been done for a great number of years. After all, the Israelites had not been able to worship as they desired within the Temple, or as an entire community within the City of God during that time of exile. When Ezra read the Law, the people’s reaction was immediate and acute. They began to grieve and broke into weeping. Nehemiah had to say to the people:
This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep. (v.9)
He adds in verse 10:
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.
I realize that the people’s reaction may have partly been a result of the guilt they felt for the disobedience of their forefathers which caused the Babylonian exile, and/or their lack of following the Law will in exile.
But, perhaps, they are simply grieving the losses up to this place in time.
When I read this, I immediately understood the emotion of hearing God’s word, and reacting to it in such a way that I believe they all sensed God saying, “This is your home. These are your people.”
After my husband and I left the church we had attended for a number of years, we began the process of “church shopping.” Horrid term, but I guess it is appropriate. After a few church experiences, we became quickly discouraged, and decided to park in separate churches. He didn’t care much for the one I wanted to attend, and I didn’t like his choice. And so it was for about a year.
Somewhere along the way I decided it was time to start getting involved. If I attend a church, I believe I need to give to the church by way of my time. Subsequently, I discovered that my training and gifts were not needed or desired.
The next Sunday, I asked my husband if he would attend a nearby church with me. We had visited it years ago, but a friend had become a member there and was quite happy with it.
We entered into the auditorium, and sat in the back. Then the music began. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary: older praise songs we were familiar with, mixed with some of the newer songs on Christian radio. Out of nowhere, the tears began to flow. I was grateful we were in the back, as I’m not an overly emotional person. But the tears would not stop.
Then the pastor began to preach. More tears.
I was overcome with a mixture of emotions: joy, relief, someone speaking my language, grief at not having this experience of worship for some time, simply mourning the losses up to this place in time.
I had this overwhelming sense that God was saying to me, “This is your home. These are your people.”
I wasn’t alone in this. My husband was having a similar experience.
And so we have stayed.
The thing is, Nehemiah 8 is now a part of me. I treasure the experience of these people, because I can empathize with their emotional reaction. Nehemiah 8 will stay with me forever.
Studying scripture is a meaningful and necessary practice, but those moments when the scripture comes alive for you are precious. You will never be the same.
Have you had a similar emotional response to a certain part of scripture?