A Cup of Rejoicing

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10

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.”

The people of Israel had just returned from exile where they had not heard the word of the Lord for many years, nor had they stood before the gates of the holy city. On this day, before they entered the Holy City, many of them for the first time in their lives, the word of the Lord was proclaimed to them. Their parents and grandparents may have told them about it, but until that that day, they had never heard it for themselves. Until that day, they had not known how close their God truly was to them. Until that day, they did not know what it really meant to be the Chosen People. Once they heard the word of the Lord, they were overcome with emotion. When he had finished proclaiming the word of the Lord, Ezra instructed the people to celebrate, to “eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks.”

When we have finished hearing the Word of the Lord proclaimed, we are invited to “eat rich food and drink sweet drinks,” too. We are invited to eat the Body and drink the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.

Since we hear the Word of the Lord every time we gather around the table of the Lord, we often fail to be in awe that our God is willing to speak to us, that our God has chosen us to be a people peculiarly God’s own. Since we feast on the Body and Blood of the Lord so regularly, we often forget what a great privilege it is to do so. Nevertheless this is the Word of God we hear, this is the Body and Blood of Christ on which we feast, and we are richly blessed!

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