"How could I not look sad...?"
lies in ruins,
and its gates
have been eaten out by fire?"
Nehemiah’s lament in today’s first reading (Nehemiah 2:1-8) resonates with many whose cities and towns have been devastated by the terrifying power of wind and water.
In a different but no less real way, his lament should resonate with each one of us, for we are all exiles: exiles from the paradise of primordial innocence, making our way in a world that seems increasingly alien.
The familiar words of the Responsorial Psalm express this with deeply poignant poetry.
By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps.
Though there our captors asked of us
the lyrics of our songs,
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
“Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
This lament is echoed in the classic chant Salve Regina
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Evae.
Ad te suspiramus gementes et flentes,
in hac lacrimarum valle.
To thee do we cry, exiled children of Eve
To thee do we sigh, groaning and weeping
In this valley of tears
In today’s first reading, God inspires an earthly king to help Nehemiah go back and restore the earthly Zion.
Even more so does God pour forth his grace through the King of Kings to prepare for us a new and eternal Jerusalem, as we hear in the Book of Revelation (21:2-3):
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them
and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them.
The world in which we live is far from perfect and sometimes it seems to be getting worse. We are all out of place: we are exiles, refugees. We have reason to feel unhappy.
But even more powerful is the hope that we have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the King of Kings who prepares a dwelling place for his faithful people in his Father’s house.
And as our hope is powerful, so may our joy be powerful, even as we follow the way of the Lord in a darkening world, for we have the promise of Christ (John 14:3)
And when I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again
and will take you to myself,
that where I am
you may be also.
We may be exiles, but we have joy through hope – indeed, a confident assurance – for even as we faithfully struggle, our true home is being prepared.