Mourning at the Temple
Perhaps the hot topic at your house, like mine, is the re-opening of our church building for worship services. I'd be willing to bet (if I gambled), that you have some strong opinions on this matter. And I believe--because that's what love does; it believes all things and hopes all things--that you are trying to align your thoughts and responses with the Holy Spirit's prompting in you. The Christian blog community is full of commentary on how to love each other with grace and humility through all this, and while I too have much to say on that front, this post is a somewhat different track.
I got to participate in last Sunday's "practice run" service, and while there were blessings in being a part of live music and preaching, everything felt strange, and I found myself more sad than excited. Pastor's wife Melissa Edgington, author of Your Mom has a Blog, gave me the perfect expression for my feelings in the picture of the elderly men of Israel in Ezra, chapter 3.
There, on what should have been--and actually was for many-- a day of rejoicing and praise as the foundation for the new temple was laid, "many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice.... Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping...."
Like those old men, I was mourning the loss of something bigger. I mourned a large congregation of people of all ages being together and the unmuffled sound of our joyous singing; I mourned the unrestrained fellowship, the affection of touching my brothers and sisters young and old; I mourned the sense of family in standing in the foyer talking and laughing and crying with children moving all around us. I mourned the loss of the faces of my brothers and sisters now hidden behind masks.
What did the old men of Israel remember when they looked at the foundation of the new temple? Certainly the days before the glory of the Lord departed from the previous one. Perhaps their heart was filled with the pain of exile and separation as a result of God's judgement on the people's sin and idolatry. Even at this point of grace and restoration, the grief of what sin had caused was before them in that smaller foundation.
There is room inside us, both corporately and individually, for a variety of emotion as we return to worship together. The shouting for joy will mingle with the noise of weeping internally and externally. May that weeping be the groaning of being a part of a creation unwillingly subjected to the futility of disease. May the weaker state of our congregation cause us to see more clearly the horridness of sin and to hate it more than we did before. Then we can rejoice even more in the gift of grace, Jesus our Redeemer.
"There is no more for heaven now to give.
He is our joy, our righteousness, and freedom
Our steadfast love, our deep and boundless peace.
To this we hold, our hope is only Jesus
For our life is wholly bound to His
Oh, how strange and divine, I can sing: all is mine
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.
To this we hold, our sin has been defeated
Jesus now and ever is our plea
Oh, the chains are released, I can sing: I am free
Yet not I, but through Christ in me."