After many decades in Babylon as exiles and prisoners of war, in 539 BCE King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Ever since Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonian Army in the year 597 BCE, they had been a displaced people. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians, that circumstance finally changed.
I don’t know about you, but in all of my decades of living I have not been able to relate much to their experience… until now. Thanks to this public health pandemic you and I are apart from our sanctuary. We gather for worship not in the Jerusalem Temple but by the rivers of Babylon. That is to say, we gather not with church friends in our favorite pews but in our homes and on our vacations either alone or with our immediate family. It’s okay… but not the same! We remember 180 Academy Street with fondness and tears. We long to sit in the pews, pass the peace, sing our hymns and present our offerings in person. We miss hallway conversations before and after the service. We remember fondly the breakfasts and receptions around the table in fellowship hall.
The exiled Jews of ancient times spent some six decades “out of the land” and away from their Temple (which the Babylonians had destroyed.) For six decades they remembered, lamented and cried out “how long will we be away from our spiritual home?” Surely our time away from the sanctuary will not last for decades! We hope and pray it will be over and we will be back in far less than a year! Though, somehow we are already five months into a closed building with online services, bible studies and meetings.
God willing, this time away will strengthen our faith and our commitment to the church family. It has long been said “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” May it be so for us! We do not yet know when the pandemic will slow down, when their will be an effective treatment or vaccine. We do not yet know when many of our favorite public events (like public worship or sports or schools) will be able to safely re-open and resume. Until then, live in solidarity with those ancient Babylonian exiles… remembering who and whose you are, where and what you long for. Keep the faith, stay hopeful, lament and cry, hope and wait. That’s what exiles do until God brings them home.