A thing lived and a thing told.

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    Amber Zachry

    In Ezra 3:10-13, there is a scene beautifully painted in this narrative. It is as if the picture is being created and presented right before our very eyes. In one stroke of the brush, the builders have laid the foundation of the temple; another brush stroke, and the priests come forward in their vestments, then there are the trumpets presented, and the Levites with their cymbals ready to begin alongside the people’s cacophonous praise. We are invited into this scene as if being present with our senses to experience for ourselves the charged atmosphere of earnest anticipation of what once was, is, and might be and then suddenly, deep roots of the past surface with the next brush stroke: “because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid” (Ezra 3:11).

    At once, here is a powerful mark of significance–there is both unresolved remembering and hopeful continuity here. There is reminder for the Israelites of their great forefathers who celebrated the Feast of Booths–the name recounting passed-down memories, stories of those “booths” that provided shelter for their ancestors delivered from Egypt by their Redeemer God. The renewal of the daily burnt offerings, adherence to the Law of Moses, freewill offerings of the people all serve as reminder of whose they are and who they are amidst broad brush strokes of rebuilding. In the month that included some of their most sacred festivals, all poignant with meaning, the people watched as memories flood in of things lived as it is the same month “of Ziv” in which Solomon began the temple in 1 Kings 6:1. Now, as this scene unfolds, it reminds me that a thing lived is altogether different from a thing told.

    I am reminded of how my grandmother would recount stories of her childhood during the Depression-era South of “what it was like back then” and as she would speak, her eyes would fill with tears of both joy and sorrow. And yet, while I could only picture the events as she told them–my not having lived it, experienced it, felt the same need or want, I had no glimpse of the reality, just a shared moment in expression-hers having been something lived, mine only a memory of hers to connect with my present. In this, she shared with me a part of who she was, a part of my shared past with her, a collective remembrance of a thing lived and a thing told. These are all brushstrokes given from the whole picture for just as my grandmother would pass down to me aspects of who she was, we too, are part of a covenant people in Christ. We are a remembering people–called to experience in simultaneous colors of joy and sorrow a thing lived and a thing told revealed to us in the beauty of the church that is now our foundation laid–by none other than Jesus Christ.

    And so the narrative in Ezra 3:12 guides us with the author’s perfect brushstroke to the people of Israel in renewed worship following the instructions given by David. There is unity in their song but within it, colors of praise and colors of weeping. Their collective memories sweep back broad and long bringing with their worship, a full range of emotions. For some of them, various colored strokes unite in loud shouts of joy–a brush stroke of answered prayer, or that of long-held desire welling up inside of them with nowhere to go but out in exultation. Others, however, draw on multi-faceted brushstrokes of unresolved grief and sorrow. In this moment, joy and sorrow went up together–a people with a shared past and a collective memory of a thing lived and a thing told–there, in that foundation was who they were, a remembrance of God’s faithfulness to them to connect with their present reality. It was then and still is–a thing lived and a thing told –a felt experience of all that was and is and shall be.

    Avatar photoJane Johnson

    What a great analogy of your grandmother’s recollection to an experience in light of the Ezra 3:12 words. I could spend a week digging into the nuances and implications of the collective weeping and rejoicing and weeping-rejoicing. I can only begin to imagine the heaviness of that moment, feeling both the presence and reverence of God so … crisply. And for those old enough to have lived through it all – their city ravaged, forced displacement, and the redemptive rebuilding of the original temple in which they worshiped. There is so much here. It’s so good!

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