1 all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.
2 So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. 3 He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law.
5 Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people. When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.
6 Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.” For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
This is the Third Sunday following the Epiphany. We are in a season that emphasizes the mission of Jesus. The passage above comes from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. This narrative comes after Nehemiah has led the people in rebuilding the walls Jerusalem. The people come to gather to hear the reading of the Law. The books of the law are the first five books of the Old Testament — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are also known as the Torah. They include the laws that the people of Israel were to follow. Unfortunately from the time of Judges on forward the people of Israel were caught in a vicious circle of following God, then slipping into sin and worshiping the surrounding nations idols, then being oppressed by those nations, then crying out to God for help and repenting and then following God again. Over and over throughout the Old Testament this happens. From what is recorded here, it sounds like the people were being convicted of their past sins. In that they were weeping and wailing over their past sins and shortcomings. Nehemiah tells them it is not a day for mourning and weeping, but a day for celebration because now the people were following God once again. It was a sacred day — it was a day set apart. I’m sure Nehemiah would have told them, make sure that you continue on this path — continue to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, and strength. If you do, the joy of the Lord will be your strength. Perhaps you have gone through a time of restoration like the people of Israel did in the time of Nehemiah. I encourage you to love God with all that you have — God has restored you and he wants to see you do your best. In this way, we can be faithful to the mission of Jesus to go and make disciples to all the world. Blessings….