(remains of a quarry that very likely supplied stones for the Second Temple of Jerusalem, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, October 25, 2019:
The story of the rebuilding of the temple in our reading from Ezra today is one that captures the rawness of “coming home” in a way few stories can. We can feel the rawness by the description of simultaneous shouts of joy and poignant weeping, so admixed and intertwined, it sounds like a single noise that can be heard for quite a distance.
Keep in mind that this story takes place as the culmination of roughly fifty years of exile, in a time when the average person on the street had a lifespan of a little less than 50 years. It felt like a lifetime, because it WAS a lifetime. Most of the Israelites in this story have lived their entire lives in exile Only the very oldest members of the community remember life before Babylonian captivity. Chances are, those who do remember had most likely resigned themselves to dying on a foreign soil under the rule of their oppressor. But for most, Jerusalem was simply a place, and a not very real one at that–more like the North Pole–a place we are pretty sure that it exists, but impossible to wrap one’s head around.
It would be easy–but a mistake–to assume the shouts of joy were from all the young people, and the loud sobbing from the old people. Whether one is going home for the first time, or returning home, one thing is certain for everyone involved–life will never be the same again, and what future glory that possibly lies ahead, won’t be a carbon copy of the old glory. For those too young to remember, the joy of rebuilding the temple is tempered with the memories of those who told the story and are no longer alive. For those old enough to remember, they will experience it with different people and in new ways. There’s plenty of room for equal portions of excitement AND grief.
I am reminded that this is the same kind of rebuilding we are hoping to accomplish as the church moves forward deeper into the 21st century, in a world where we are already on the steep decline of churchgoing Americans. To wish for the return of the church of 1950-1970, with its shiny, well-dressed families and compartmentalized, regimented Sunday School classes, is every bit the fool’s errand as wishing for the exact return of the first incarnation of the temple in Jerusalem…and really, do we honestly want to return exactly to that spot? If we did, we would also have to return to a place where there are no women behind the altar, and the women in the pews would be barred from other forms of church leadership. We’d have to revisit the place where monoculture was accepted and expected, a place where no one could be an open member of the LGBT community, and a place where it simply wasn’t acceptable to taint the civil milieu with folks with special needs–they would be all neatly packed away and out of sight. What we temptingly long for is too often a collection of selective memories of a stubborn nostalgia that has a tendency to gloss over the better things of life in the present moment. The best memories for one person can be the worst ones of another.
What if, instead, we embrace the possibility that we are already in a place where we have an opportunity to rebuild the temple? If we do, it will certainly come with its own joy–as well as its own equal portion of weeping, and if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we might discover there is room enough for both.
What might inviting the future glory of a rebuilt temple look like in our Eucharistic communities today?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.