IMG_3065
Workers restoring windows in a church.

I’ve been watching a TV show in which the heroine is a tortured private investigator with unusual abilities, who, it’s been clear from the beginning, has a painful history of loss and displacement. In a recently watched episode an evil villain who believes himself in love with her (and who also has unusual abilities) managed to purchase the home in which the P. I. grew up, furnishing it in identical fashion to the home she knew as a teenager, down to the Nirvana and Green Day posters on her bedroom walls. The viewer watches as the heroine re-enters this space, a place associated with excruciating memories of people long dead. The evil villain expects that she’ll be delighted. Instead, she is traumatized.

This week’s Narrative Lectionary passage (text and commentary by Michael Chan can be found here), is, in one sense, about the restoration/ rebuilding of the Temple, an institution associated with both God’s promises and commandments. But it is also fraught with the notion of homecoming, in all its painful and joyful complexity. In chapter 1 King Cyrus of Persia acts as an agent of God’s desire that the the Temple be rebuilt to give God a “home” in Jerusalem, including financing and materials for the enterprise. In chapter 3, the high priests build the altar, both allowing the practice of sacrifices to resume and hedging their bets against the danger presented by neighbors (which, Chan reminds us in the commentary, includes the poor/  peasants, who were never taken into exile, but who were left behind). The foundation is laid, and there is both rejoicing at this auspicious event and weeping by those who remember the former Temple in all its glory. It is an uneasy homecoming.

Chan’s commentaries for both this week and last are extremely helpful in locating this passage in the arc of the overall story. Last week’s reference to 2 Kings 24-25 was one of the most helpful things for me: read it to understand the harrowing decade-long siege of Jerusalem that ended with the destruction of the Temple, and the accompanying massacres. Read it to understand the trauma behind, beneath, and in a sense, always haunting this new/ old enterprise. Read it to understand the stakes of this homecoming.

Sermon seeds:

  1. On a small scale, the story connects with a contemporary culture of Christmas season: Can you go home again? Is it ever the same home we knew as children? What truly makes a “home”? The Temple is the Temple only because it is the dwelling place of God on earth. A home is a home… why?
  2. On a large scale, the current narrative of geopolitics is all about the plight of refugees, particularly those fleeing persecution and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods in Syria. One half the entire population of that country has been displaced, and the idea of homecoming for them appears untenable for the foreseeable future. Again, what does “home” mean when your reality is exile?
  3. On another scale entirely, the presence of God among mortals is the crux of the incarnation. Perhaps the story of the Temple, and God’s people longing for the reassurance of God’s presence, is the antecedent for the coming of Christ.
  4. Returning to some of the Narrative Lectionary fundamentals, the story also reminds us of God’s tendency to accomplish God’s purposes through highly unlikely persons.

What are your thoughts? How does this story of rebuilding and homecoming speak to you? I look forward to our conversation in the comments. Blessings on the writing and the preaching of this text.

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4 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Uneasy Homecoming Edition (Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13)

  1. My mental Hebrew Bible timeline is admittedly lacking, but I seem to recall being taught in seminary that the returnees would not have remembered the old Temple. Is there a thread here about craving the things we have been *told* were true?

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    1. I dusted off my Interpreter’s Bible, and it says that the temple had been destroyed 66 years earlier. So it was possible that the older folks in the crowd would remember. It also says that in the Hebrew (which I did not translate; not great at it) it could have been a fragment meaning the old men “despised” the new temple.

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  2. Here’s where I think I’m going:
    1. Christmas traditions are sacred…
    2. Til they’re not (because of death, divorce, decay, etc)
    3. New traditions come along whether we like it or not
    4. Jesus’ birth was a “new tradition” that changed everything but also fulfilled the old traditions
    5. How can we grieve the old traditions while celebrating the newness that God is giving us right now?

    That’s it for now…..

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  3. I’m not quite sure where I am headed–something about homecoming–it can be like a Norman Rockwell painting or not so much–and refugees, who are “coming home” to a place they have never seen. I really want to look more at the verse about not being able to distinguish the noise of sorrow from the noise of joy. Homecoming also ties into Christmas and the “homecoming” of Jesus, as we celebrate his birth.

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