Today's Lectionary Text
Ezra 3:10-13When the builders laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests clothed in their vests and carrying their trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, arose to praise the Lord according to the directions of Israel’s King David. They praised and gave thanks to the Lord, singing responsively, “He is good, his graciousness for Israel lasts forever.”
All of the people shouted with praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house, although many others shouted loudly with joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.
One whole year. That’s how long it’s been since our world shut down. My wife and I were driving back from our son’s spring break baseball games in Florida when our phones started “blowing up” with notifications and text messages from people back in Lawrence about restrictions being put in place in hopes of stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In some ways, it seems like that was just yesterday. In other ways, it sure seems like it’s been longer than just one trip around the sun. Overnight, we no longer could gather in restaurants or in others’ homes. Masks became a necessary part of our everyday apparel. Hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes and toilet paper were nowhere to be found.
It seemed like a small virus had torn down the walls of normalcy of life.
The people in Jerusalem had their normalcy ripped from them as well. Their nemesis was not a virus, but rather generations upon generations of sin. This separation from God led them down a path to their own destruction. Much like a person in the 21st century choosing not to wear a mask during the pandemic and putting the health of others in jeopardy, the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem allowed their decisions to impact not only themselves but everyone around them.
As a result, the people of Judah were led into exile in Babylon. About 70 years later, they were allowed to return, and builders decided to reconstruct the temple in Jerusalem. They wanted to restore some normalcy.
This passage contains a lot of celebration, much like we will celebrate when we can go safely to the store without wearing a mask or when we can gather for concerts, sporting events or any of the myriad other things that were “normal” before the onset of COVID-19. But verse 12 provides a sobering reminder. It says, “But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house … .” They aren’t weeping for joy. They are lamenting that the new temple was smaller in size and didn’t measure up to the worshipful structure built by King Solomon.
In other words, instead of celebrating that there was going to be a new opportunity, a new temple — a new normal —they lamented what they had lost.
I understand that. We’ve all lost things to the pandemic. Some have been mere inconveniences. Others have been far greater. For example, my mother died from complications related to COVID-19 just before Christmas. Others have lost multiple people. And given the emphasis on the temple at this time in history, I understand the people who had once seen Solomon’s temple lamenting the much more understated structure.
We don’t know if these people ever found they could celebrate the idea of having a temple again — even if it didn’t measure up to the first structure. But they provide a lesson for all of us as we anticipate vaccinations, as we eagerly anticipate the ability to gather again without the need for masks.
The people who returned from Babylon had to figure out their “new normal,” and we will have to do the same. Life simply will not be the same after the pandemic is finally over. We may recognize bits and pieces — like the people then saw a new, smaller temple — but life probably won’t be quite like it was before this week in March 2020.
I pray that we will be more like the people who shout with praise and joy in Ezra 3. We will have overcome our own exile of sorts, that of being separated from other people and from the activities we once enjoyed. We can choose to lament what was lost, or we can celebrate that we have an opportunity to create our “new normal.”
— Todd Seifert, director of communications
Prayer for Reflection
Gracious God, we thank you for the advancements you have provided in medicine over the many years of this earth. We thank you for never leaving us amid such a tumultuous time. And we thank you for providing us an opportunity to craft a new normal that allows for praise of you and a chance to reconnect with others. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
This Week's Lectionary
This Week's Liturgical Color