Past Tension

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Ezra 3:1-13, 1 Corinthians 16:10-24, Matthew 12:22-32


After the Persians conquered Babylon, King Cyrus began to release the Jewish people from exile and captivity to return to their homes. The Book of Ezra tells the story of how they began to rebuild the home they had lost, including the temple. Cyrus had also returned many of the holy items from the original temple, so this second temple was a mix of the new and the old. This new temple elicited a mixed reaction from the people:

[T]he people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house […] so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.

Why did the older people weep? Some scholars believe it was because the new temple could never match the remembered glory of Solomon’s original temple. But perhaps it’s more complicated than that; the taste of nostalgia is bittersweet. These older people not only mourned what they had lost, but mourned what never was. The sight of a more humble foundation for the house of the Lord was a reminder of the unfaithfulness and corruption that made God willing to let them be taken into exile in the first place. The home they rebuilt needed to be one of substantially different character from the one they had left, no matter how fondly they remembered it.

How do we remember the past? Is it all “the good old days?” Or is it really just a longing for a time of innocence before we knew what we know now? Just as the widows and orphans who’d been cast off instead of cared for probably didn’t think of Jerusalem’s pre-exile days as especially good, many women, people of color, disabled people, and others may not be so enamored of a past which marginalized them. We are increasingly aware of violence, but violence in the U.S. and most of the world has been trending downward for years. People on the whole are healthier and live longer.

So what is it we hope to recapture?

Perhaps what we can do with feelings of nostalgia is try to recreate the world, or at least our tiny corner of it, with the beloved values we think we remember. Neighbors caring for one another – but with an expanded definition of “neighbor.” Feelings of safety – but with a better understanding of the violence that happens outside our particular social circle. A sense of family – but with the combination of joy and weeping it really is instead of the idealized version that never existed.

Every one of us in exile from the past. It’s how we rebuild the future that matters.

Comfort: Whatever your past, Christ ushers you into a better future.

Challenge: Talk with you family and friends to see if they remember your shared history the same way you do.

Prayer: Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. (Psalm 6:4)

Discussion: What are you nostalgic for? What are you glad is part of the past?

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