[Mel Lawrenz is Teaching Pastor at Elmbrook Church and the author of the upcoming A Chronicle of Grief: Finding Life After Traumatic Loss.]
We are living a new and unexpected lifestyle right now. We are dealing with an unwelcome and difficult exile from the normal functions of our lives because of the global health crisis. We know that things will not stay this way forever. That we will be able to return and rebuild. This is the time to size up what rebuilding looks like.
This has been done before.
In the great sweeping story of God’s people in Scripture, we find the great drama of what happened when God’s people returned to Jerusalem in order to rebuild.
It had been seventy years of exile. But then a new ruler told them they could return. Remarkable! Amazing! Yet this was a challenge. To many of the Jews who had grown up in Babylonia, the Promised Land was not home, but a foreign country. The brave ones returned, though, to the ruins of Jerusalem and began rebuilding. What a risky thing it was for them to build an altar first and burn their sacrifices on it, the smoke and fire drawing the attention of their enemies. Yet worship was the first priority. Homes could be built later, and a palace, and the temple. But first, worship of the one true God. They built an altar. They reinstated the rituals given to Moses. The offerings and the morning and evening sacrifices were visible to everyone around. And when they were ready to rebuild the foundations of the temple…
With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away”
It was a bittersweet day when they finished laying the foundation stones for the temple. Sweet for the visionaries who looked ahead, bitter for those old enough to remember the old temple and the hard hand of destruction that took it all away.
Here is the faith challenge for us today: none of us knows exactly how this global health crisis is going to develop. Some will believe in a best-case scenario, others will caution that there are great challenges ahead. In either scenario, we will have to figure out how to rebuild. What will the ministry of our churches look like? How about social life? How will we help our friends adjust to losses?
After the exile of God’s people, they were honest enough to grieve the difficult journey they had been on. They were realistic. Rebuilding the temple was wonderful news, but it would be a different temple. That is just reality. This is the way life has always been.
If we have anything to learn from Ezra and the rest of the rebuilders, it certainly is that our undivided devotion to and worship of God is foremost. God does not change. God’s glory and integrity and grace and truth will always be the real foundation beneath our feet.
So let’s keep worshipping now. Keep learning from God’s Word. Keep praying. No pandemic can shut all that down.
Any of us might weep for sorrow and for joy if we had to rebuild a house burned down. God helped the returned exiles look forward, however, and stone by stone, person by person, they rebuilt a nation.
God will help us rebuild, too.