The Covenant Proclaimed Anew

Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10

The Biblical text from the NRSV is always found in the first column.

The reflection by Fr. Dennis Chriszt, CPPS is always found in the second column.

Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose…. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Imagine what it must have been like that day. The people of Israel had lived in exile and were now returning home. They gathered before the ruins of the holy city, a city they had never seen and only dreamed of seeing while they were in exile. They had not heard the word of the Lord addressed to them throughout their time of exile. And now, they were there, home again, and hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. In exile, they had not known of the covenant God had mad with the people of Israel. But ow, home again, the promises of God were being proclaimed once again.

As they heard the words of the covenant proclaimed, they were overcome with emotion. Never had they known of the promises of God, of God’s great love and concern for them. Standing in the ruins of Jerusalem, the promise of God to be their God was almost too much to understand, too much to bear.

Today, we hear the Word of God every time we gather together. It is proclaimed so regularly that we may be tempted to take it for granted. But many of the people gather with Ezra and Nehemiah that day had never heard the story of their salvation, let alone to promises of God. As we listen to the Word of God, we are called to be grateful for the Word proclaimed.

The Sacred Constitution of the Divine Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council invites us to recognize the real presence of Christ in the Word proclaimed, as well as in the people gathered and the ministers ministering. We often recognize God in the bread and wine blessed, broken and shared, but we are also called to recognize the real presence in people gather, ministers ministering and Word proclaimed as the people who gathered with Ezra and Nehemiah did that day so long ago.

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