This reading speaks forcefully and clearly to us, even with all of its historical and liturgical trappings, for we too are in the midst of rebuilding.
Because of this world’s many hurts and imperfections, we are all in the midst of rebuilding.
Because each of us has sinned, we are in the midst of rebuilding.
Because none of us are yet fully as God would have us be, we are in the midst of rebuilding.
We are being built and rebuilt in and by God.
Now therefore ye are no more
strangers and foreigners,
but fellow citizens with the saints,
and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself
being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together
groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together
for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
* * * * *
What then does this passage say to us?
The chapter begins with a decree from a foreign king, directing resources for rebuilding the house of God.
In the first year of Cyrus the king
the same Cyrus the king made a decree
concerning the house of God at Jerusalem,
Let the house be builded,
the place where they offered sacrifices,
and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid;
the height thereof threescore cubits,
and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;
With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber:
and let the expences be given out of the king's house
So too we – as individuals and as the Body of Christ - may find that God helps us in unexpected ways and through unexpected people: literal godsends (yet we must always remember that our help comes ultimately from God).
* * * * *
The chapter goes on to describe the fate of those who oppose the king’s decree (a verse sometimes passed over by Lectionaries):
Also I have made a decree,
that whosoever shall alter this word,
let timber be pulled down from his house,
and being set up, let him be hanged thereon;
and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
On the one hand, since this is all part of an effort to rebuild the house of God, this verse serves as a warning for us not to get in God’s way. On the other hand, it can also serve as a warning about the dangerous intensity of those who may now be friendly to us, but whose intensity may someday be turned against us.
* * * * *
The chapter goes on to reinforce doubly God’s primary role in the rebuilding through his commandments and through his prophets – over and above the involvement of earthly kings.
And the elders of the Jews builded,
and they prospered
through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet
and Zechariah the son of Iddo.
And they builded, and finished it,
according to the commandment of the God of Israel,
and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius,
and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
So too we in our rebuilding – as individuals and as the Body of Christ – must make sure that we never stray from the truth God has given us – no matter what “godsends” may come our way.
* * * * *
The last part of the chapter refers repeatedly to the “purification” of the priests and the people. Traditional translations are particularly vivid.
And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat, and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy
It is important that we not interpret this purification in an earthly way, lest we focus on washing “the outside of the cup and of the platter” or worse things.
First and last, purification is focusing on God. Being built and rebuilt in God thus ultimately requires focusing on God as our source, focusing on God as our guide, and focusing on God as our goal.
* * * * *
The worship of God.
That, very simply, is the end result of all of this building and rebuilding.
That is the purpose of rebuilding the house of God in today’s first reading and that is the ultimate purpose of building and rebuilding in our own lives, as individuals and as the Body of Christ.
We are being built and rebuilt in God.
Come, let us worship.