The Old Testament reading today takes us back to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, “The priests of the restoration.” The people are portrayed in tears as they hear, for the first time since their exile, a reading of the Law of Moses. But Ezra instructs the people, “Do not be sad and do not weep”…”Do not be saddened this date, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!” These might be the words said to our Church in times of uncertainty—that we might turn our attention as the people of God to the restoration of the Church. Or, more personally, Ezra’s words might be an encouragement to people who have undergone tragic loss or trauma. In the midst of darkness and despair, we may perceive the light of an opportunity to restore, rebuild, and redeem.
Of course there is only one Redeemer for us—Jesus Christ the Lord. And his declaration in the Gospel today could not be more timely or more poignant:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, and freedom for the oppressed.
Would that it would be so! But is not the outpouring of the world today a sign that “our Redeemer lives,” as always, using our ears to hear the cries of the poor, our eyes to behold and to assess the needs of the oppressed, and our hands to liberate the captives of abuse, starvation, homelessness, and other human indignity?
So where do we find our rejoicing in the Lord that becomes our strength? We need go no further than St. Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians that in Jesus we have all been given “to drink of the one Spirit” and that we are “Christ’s body, and individually parts of it”—the empowering and strength- giving MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST. Last Sunday he spoke of all of our spiritual gifts and talents coming from the Father, in and through his Son, and in the same Holy Spirit. Practically understood, it may be perceived in a remark made to me recently by one of our parishioners: “Father, this ministry brought me back from the depressed state I was in after the loss of my dad.” That’s the formula: Live the Mystical Body of Christ and sadness will give way to rejoicing.
The time of Ezra and Nehemiah and of the Restoration take us back to at least 500 years before the coming of the Messiah. But then in another respect, God’s call to restoration is never too far from any generation, is it? The added blessing for any of us who would help to restore others is that we ourselves are redeemed and restored to the Lord in the process. It is within the mystery of Christ Himself that a sad time may become a time to rejoice, just as His death became a door to the Resurrection.
Amen to that!—Msgr. Richard