The scene that is described in the first reading, from Nehemiah 8 is certainly most extraordinary. Hearing that after almost a century since King Cyrus had allowed the people of God to return from Exile to the promised land, Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the civic official in the Persian court organise to return with the third wave of exiles to re-establish covenantal life in Jerusalem in the year 445 BCE. Nehemiah first sets out to rebuild the walls of the city, so that the people will feel protected and they might again have the sense of identity and purpose that walls provide. But Ezra knows that walls are never enough – you also need to have the purpose that the word of God provides. So he gathers the whole people – men and women and children old enough to understand – and proclaims the Word of God into their lives. He knows that the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – has the power to bring new life into a people who have lost everything. He has experienced the truth that in the Torah there are the black fire – the literal words of the scripture – written on white fire – the white space of the parchment and the white space of the lives of the people of God. So he proclaims the black fire (reading it in Hebrew, and offering a translation into Aramaic as well as commentary and instruction) in a powerful ceremony that lasted all morning – around six hours. The response of the people – shouting aloud “Amen, Amen”, raising their hands in worship, kneeling down and falling prostrate, weeping and crying out seems to be a different experience from our own. But perhaps we need to hear the black fire of the word of God and allow it to be written on the white fire of our own lives?
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (11’11”)
Sunday 03, Year C