Today’s Old Testament Lesson (Nehemiah 7:73b-8:3, 5-18) is about surprises. The people of God gather together to hear and comprehend the Book of the Law, and, when they do, they are very afraid. “Oh no!” they say to themselves, “We had forgotten about all of this. What will God do to us now?” But Ezra and his fellow priests calmed the people and told them not to worry. “Do not weep or mourn. This is a holy day. Rejoice instead.” What a surprise!
Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly realized just how wrong you were? Usually, in those moments, I want to hide. And, if I’m feeling particularly noble, I feel the need to apologize and display an appropriate amount of public shame and regret so that the offended party will appreciate my remorse. But true forgiveness, like that modeled in this passage, is a restoration of the broken relationship by which any further moping about would be an insult to the act of forgiveness. This time, God didn’t wait Israel to wallow in misery. He wanted them to celebrate that their relationship had been renewed.
This moment in Israel’s history had more to do with the future than with the past. And Ezra and the priests were wise to help God’s people focus on moving forward. They had rediscovered the basis for their right relationship with God. They had been reminded of what it took to live as God’s chosen people. Sure, there were terrible implications for the past. And sometimes it’s good to stop and think about just how mistaken we were. But then we have to move on. If a relationship is worth saving, then it must move to that place where it is defined by its future potential and not by its past brokenness.
What relationships in your life are still defined by the past? Are you living your life with God as if something from yesterday will always be your defining moment? God is ready for you to move on. Be sorry, but then rejoice. The time for a new start is right now.