What does this text we are studying for Sunday, March 6 – Ezra 1:1-8, 11, and Ezra 2:64-70 – tell us about “redemption”? This seems to me an enormous, multi-faceted question that arises from this text. Our published curriculum [the Present Word], and presumably the Uniform Series guide on which it’s based, has cast this as the first in a series of four lessons on the connections between liberation and Passover, in the even larger context of reflecting on the nature of God as redeemer. Part of that reflection is, surely, some thinking about the way the story of the first Passover, and the liberation of Israel from Egypt, is recapitulated in this story of the redemption of Israel from Babylonia. What are the common features? What are the similarities, and the differences, between the two stories? What do those features and similarities and differences lead us to notice, to think, to feel, to see about God and about people, including ourselves?
That’s one line of reflection. But I myself am fascinated by the complex reality of the situation depicted in Ezra 2:68:
As soon as they came to the house of Adonai in Jerusalem, some of the heads of families made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site.Ezra 2:68, NRSV
Here is a place of worship that is still, already, but seriously not yet a place of worship. These people’s redemption from Babylonia really has happened, but … seriously, not all the way, because this redeemed condition is a far cry from whatever vision of complete restoration an artist would have painted … I keep thinking about these people’s relationship to this place; this vision; the contrast between their concrete situation and that vision; the demands placed upon them in that situation of contrast …
So that’s where I am. But here are a couple more questions we might want to think about or discuss in class:
What are the themes we perceive in this text? Where do we see those, or what makes us think of them? Why?
What in the text stands out to us as noteworthy, or captures our imagination? Do we get a sense of human drama from this text? How? Why? [We might want to read Psalm 126 along about now, and compare the sense we get from these two different texts, about the same event. How does Psalm 126 make us feel? Why? How does that compare with the way the text of Ezra makes us feel? Why do we suppose that is?]
Where do we see the activity of God in the text? What does this tell us about the activity of God?
[More theological, but also more practical] Are there any implications of this understanding of the activity of God for our own time and place? What are those, do we think? Why?
Overall, it seems to me that this text of Ezra will, if we let it, clue us in to something real about our understanding of our faith: that big cosmic events with inspirational conceptual names take the form of messy human realities in real life; messy human realities that we, ourselves, are also part of. Just as those people, including the singers, experienced their role in “redemption” as walking miles across the desert, and then standing and looking at the burned out wreck of a building that some of them had heard about all their lives, but never seen. Redemption in their case was work. Which did not make it any less redemption.
Image: “La Discussion Politique,” Émile Friant, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons