Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 (NRSV)
Chapter 8all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Verse 2Accordingly, 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. Verse 3He 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. Verse 5And 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. Verse 6Then 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. Verse 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
Verse 9And 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. Verse 10Then 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."
God's people are on their way home from exile in Babylon. It is around 445 BCE, and King Cyrus of Persia has given permission for them to return. Nehemiah is the Jewish governor and Ezra is their priest. But the truth is, it won't be easy once they get back. Rebuilding will take a long time. Some things will never be the same. It's difficult sometimes to bounce back, to pick up and put back together, to start all over again after everything seems to have fallen apart.
So God's people will go back to the basics. First things first. The Torah will remind them who they are and whose they are. They'll remember their roots. They'll repent, remember what unites them as a nation and a people, and rebuild their identity. They'll recall God's faithfulness and steadfast love. For further devotional reflection you might read ahead and join in praying the people's prayer in Nehemiah 9.
Almighty God, make us always remember your faithfulness, and bless us. In troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail. Make us, who came from many nations with many languages, a united people who delight in our many different gifts. Amen.