Make a Joyful Noise!

I have always loved the story of Ezra and Nehemiah. These two Old Testament history books were once one volume. Ezra was a priest; Nehemiah was cupbearer to Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the mighty Babylonian Empire. The story takes place during the time of the Israelites' captivity, when many were forced to live away from Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar took a liking to Nehemiah. One day he senses Nehemiah is upset; asking what is the matter, he learns his favored servant is grieving the loss of Jerusalem. Nehemiah asks for permission to rebuild the walls surrounding the city. To his astonishment, the emperor agrees.

Later, a remnant of Israel is allowed to return to the holy city. Upon their arrival, Ezra calls the entire congregation to the place where the mighty Temple of the Lord once stood. Before the Babylonian invasion, the Temple was a glorious symbol of both God's presence and King Solomon's vanity. Eighty years later, all that was left was the foundation. Ezra led the people in a worship, re-instituted Mosaic law, and announced plans to build a second Temple. The new place would not be as large or elaborate; construction would be funded by offerings, not taxes.

Here's my favorite part of the Ezra/Nehemiah story: when the new Temple foundation was laid, Ezra again called the entire congregation together. They worshiped together, sang and prayed, declared God's faithfulness, and...


Yes, they cried. There were two groups of people, one older and one younger. The older group were fewer in number. They grew up in Jerusalem and remembered the splendor of the first Temple. This new one looked similar, but it wasn't the same; so they cried out of their grief, their stolen memories and culture. The younger group cried as well, but for different reasons: this group was born in captivity in Babylon. They heard stories of, but never knew themselves, the former Temple. Now they had a beautiful place to worship in their holy city. Their tears were of joy and freedom and celebration. Here's how the narrator summed up what happened:

"No one could distinguish the sound of the people's weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance" (Ezra 3:13).

The sound of the grief and the joy merged together to form a sound of celebration, heard by those far away. Everyone had their own individual or group feelings about what had happened, but what was heard by the larger community was the sound of unity. Grace Church is embarking in a building campaign as well! Of course our context is different; we are not fleeing oppression or establishing a place of worship for the first time. But we'll all have differing views about the project. All of those voices are important. Here is my prayer as we move forward: that the community, the neighborhood, the parish, the city will hear from us a combined joyful noise. Our building project celebrates the goodness of God, working through Jesus Christ to bring the message of salvation to everyone our church touches.