Mourning and Celebration1
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
- Nehemiah 8:9
Yesterday, we read how the Israelites gathered en masse to hear the “Book of the Law” read to them for the first time in generations. As the reading progresses, the people are deeply moved. There were promises that they had forgotten, rules that they hadn’t obeyed, and a God that they had not known. And so they begin to weep.
We realize that the holidays can be a sad time for many in our community. Death has taken away people who we loved and their absence is felt during our gatherings. Relationship tensions bubble to the surface in new ways. The lights of the past burn more brightly than those that now hang on our trees and homes. Maybe we have things we’ve done (or haven’t done) that we regret.
The holidays can be a sad time. And the Bible does tell us that there’s an appropriate time for mourning (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We don’t want to hurry or hustle people through those appropriate times. We value honesty and authenticity.
But just as it’s appropriate for us to mourn in times of mourning, it’s appropriate to take a break from mourning and to celebrate. There’s almost always a moment at every good funeral where someone smiles and laughs, remembering some past joy or precious quirk. As followers of Jesus, we always retain in our hearts a measure of joy, even in the midst of the hardest seasons.
In today’s passage, Nehemiah and Ezra compassionately push for a pause to the people’s mourning and weeping. We’ll explore this in more depth over the next few days. But today, we wanted to make you an invitation.
If you find yourself mourning during this holiday season, receive God’s blessing upon your mourning. May he comfort you and may your friends support you. And, as you mourn, may you receive the blessing from God of moments of joy – celebrated without guilt – to sustain you in the days, weeks and months to come.