Tuesday, May 05 2020
The political conversation focuses on the re-opening of our nation. Personal conversations center on the return to some kind of “normal.” As a church, we turn our thoughts to the re-opening of the Church for worship and fellowship. The rebuilding of the Temple recorded in the book of Ezra (3:10-13) and Zechariah (4:10) teaches some important lessons for us in this process.
In 539 BC, Zerubbabel, the appointed governor, led the Judean Exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon. Cyrus, the Persian King, granted him authority to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed in 586BC. The priests mark the completion of the foundation – the first step in the process – with a worship service. The singers praised the Lord, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” Priests sang this same refrain hundreds of years before when David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city and when Solomon finished the Temple. The Psalmists use it on 5 different occasions. Jeremiah refers to it when he promises restoration to Judah after their coming exile. This is prophecy fulfilled right in the pages of Scripture!
The people respond in two very different ways. One group “shouted with a great shout” – an expression of excitement like a battle cry or a victory chant at the conclusion of this first step. Others, mostly priests and elders with some memory of the original Temple, “wept with a loud voice.” Does their emotion reveal disappointment over the reduced size or gratitude for seeing this new day or a little of both? The shouts and cries were so loud “one could not distinguish the sound of joy from the sound of weeping.” Zechariah responds to these weepers with a promise and a challenge. He assures them Zerubbabel will finish this Temple. He also confronts them for “despising the day of small beginnings.” Zechariah’s promise would be fulfilled – but it would take another 20 years. Construction would be stopped by local opposition and a new Persian king. But the message is clear – do not judge the finished product by the steps along the way.
We are not rebuilding a Temple but we are preparing to re-open our Church. Ezra and Zechariah teach us some important lessons. First, changes – known and unknown - are happening all around us. Things will be different! Our return to corporate worship may not look like we think it will or feel like we think it should. This may cause sorrow and frustration for some of us. Second, celebrating steps along the way is not the same thing as being finished. But celebrating steps is important. Third, we can defeat discouragement in the process by worshiping along the way. Joy comes through reminding ourselves, as the Judeans did, of God’s goodness and love.
Dave Gunderson, in a timely article about change, gives us four important attitudes and actions to cultivate as we re-open our Church. First, operate in gratitude rather than nostalgia. Give thanks for the past rather than comparing it to the present. Second, anticipation replaces uncertainty. We look for the things God wants to teach and do in this time rather than living out of fear and anxiety. Thirdly, communication minimizes confusion and the tendency to withdraw or attack in irritation or frustration. The antidote is working hard to understand one another and to help others understand us. And finally, active participation moves us beyond mere excitement. Spectators turn into players.
Our session has established a team of people to help guide us through the process of reopening. This team will work closely with our staff to determine the wisest, most efficient, and healthiest ways of returning to our corporate gatherings. We are asking each of you to fill out this survey ASAP to help us in our prayerful planning. We encourage multiple responses from each household (i.e. spouses and children).