July 12, 2011

Tuesday after the Third Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.89:1-9, Judges 5:19, Lk. 7:1-10
Evening - Ps. 90, Neh. 8:1-3, 5-6, 9-12, Acts 14:8-18

Commentary

Tonight's reading covers an event so significant in the life of the Jewish people it is worthy to be equated with Passover, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the Law at Sinai, and the moral/spiritual revival of Godliness in the time of Josiah the king. The event is the mass gathering of the Jewish people to hear the reading of the Law of God on one of the Old Testament feast days called the Feast of the Trumpets (Num. 29:1). The people have gathered in the street because the Temple can not hold them, and they have gathered to hear again the words of the grace of God, and the life to which they are called. To this point, the revival of the Covenant in Jerusalem has been sporadic, and based upon general knowledge and memory, rather than direct contact with the Scriptures. The people knew they were to offer sacrifices, so they did. They knew they were to rebuild the Temple, so they did. They knew they were to dwell in and possess the land, so they rebuilt the wall. All of these efforts were aimed at returning to God and being people of the Covenant again. They were good and necessary things, but apart from the Word of Scripture, they lacked unity of purpose and direction. The people worked from memory, not daily experience with the revelation of God. All of that changed when Ezra read the Bible to this great and solemn assembly in Jerusalem. This day is a return to Scripture.

The people had built a pulpit, a tower for this purpose. It was tall enough for Ezra to be seen by all the people, and all were silent as he ascended the steps. All of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were there. People of great age who had built the new Temple stood beside children. Young families with infants stood beside grand parents.. All were quiet. All were intent on the proceedings. All who were old enough to understand realised this was a momentous occasion.

When Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood, for they had been kneeling in the position of prayer. Verse 6 says Ezra blessed the Lord. This is the traditional, liturgical blessing said when the books of the Law, called the Torah, are opened in the Temple or synagogues, as it has been said for thousands of years. It is sung by the priest and followed by the amen of the people, also sung, in a manner very much like the amen at the end of a hymn today. The "amen" is the people's assent and commitment to the prayer. In it they affirm their assent to the meaning of the prayer, and beseech God to grant their request, or receive their thanksgiving and worship. It is as to say, "Let it be so, O Lord."

The gathering was so large it was impossible for Ezra to be heard by all. So, at strategic places throughout the area, other priests were stationed. Watching Ezra, they simultaneously mounted their pulpits, turned to the same passage of Scripture, read the same words, and gave the same prepared instruction on the meaning of the text. So, throughout the city the people heard the Word, prayed, and worshiped as one. When Ezra led the Jews in worship it had been nearly 150 years since these liturgies and readings had been publicly conducted by the Jewish people as a whole in Jerusalem, and it is a moving experience. It is another step deeper into the Covenant, another step back to God. And this time, it is the Scripture, not memory, which guides them.

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