Last year, my husband and I got rid of about 60% of our belongings, packed our belongings, sold our house and moved out of state. We left our home of 26 years, our church, jobs and friends to go back to the place we had started out over 30 years ago. I feel like I have a little (certainly not everything) in common with the people of Judah. I can be thankful that I didn’t face opposition, and they can be thankful that they didn’t have to learn how to maneuver a 26 ft Uhaul truck in tight spaces.
Ezra records the names of the heads of families who returned to Jerusalem. One of them is named Bakbuk which means “jar” and probably indicates that the man was portly with a paunch. I get the sense that the author saw the returning remnant as individuals, and that they were just as diverse as you and I. This stands in sharp contrast to the author noting that “the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem“ and that “despite their fear of the people around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both morning and evening.” Ezra 3:1…3. Unity seemed essential to overcoming fear to do the job at hand. Maybe that’s part of the reason why my husband and I were quick to start looking for a church to call home. We didn’t think about it too hard: we knew that we need others to go forward in establishing a life at our new home.
Fast forward to the Sunday morning after the Crucifixion. Still reeling from horror and grief at the death of Jesus, Mary Magdalene immediately seeks out Peter and John when she discovers the empty tomb. After the resurrected Jesus appears to Jesus she went to the disciples with the news. That evening, Jesus appears to the disciples who had gathered “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews…and said, ‘Peace be with you!‘ ” John 20:19. Following God is not only a scary thing, but it takes place in community.
Here in the United States, we live in a culture of the rugged and fearless individual: the Marlboro man, the Lone Ranger, the Self Made Man. The reality of faith though, is that sometimes following God and staying close to him is a scary thing. We need each other not only to be strengthened and squelch our fears, but to share in the good news that God is alive and at work. The temptation is to go at it alone. Churches can be painful places at time, but to withdraw is to leave oneself diminished and missing out on what God wants to do amongst us.