Reconciliation Lectionary: Nehemiah 9:1-20, A Psalm of Memory

mary-the-penitent.jpgWe pick up on the long passage in #110 of the Rite of Penance. In yesterday’s post, we looked at the role of memory in reconciliation. We also viewed an introduction of ritual and liturgy into the Israelites’ of return from Exile. This long section of verses (6-20) reminded me of Psalm 106, a hymn recounting the events of the Exodus, and God’s saving plan for his people.

Note the direct similarity between Psalm 106:48 and Nehemiah 9:5. Then we get to the text of remembrance; I can imagine it sung:

Then Ezra said:
“It is you, O LORD,
you are the only one;
You made the heavens,
the highest heavens and all their host,
The earth and all that is upon it,
the seas and all that is in them.
To all of them you give life,
and the heavenly hosts bow down before you.

“You, O LORD, are the God
who chose Abram,
Who brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees,
and named him Abraham.
When you found his heart faithful in your sight,
you made the covenant with him
To give to him and his posterity
the land of the Canaanites,
Hittites, Amorites,
Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites.
These promises of yours you fulfilled,
for you are just.

“You saw the affliction of our (ancestors) in Egypt,
you heard their cry by the Red Sea;
You worked signs and wonders against Pharaoh,
against all his servants and the people of his land,
Because you knew of their insolence toward them;
thus you made for yourself a name even to this day.
The sea you divided before them,
on dry ground they passed through the midst of the sea;
Their pursuers you hurled into the depths,
like a stone into the mighty waters.
With a column of cloud you led them by day,
and by night with a column of fire,
To light the way of their journey,
the way in which they must travel.
On Mount Sinai you came down,
you spoke with them from heaven;
You gave them just ordinances, true laws,
good statutes and commandments;
Your holy sabbath you made known to them,
commandments, statutes, and law you prescribed for them,
by the hand of Moses your servant.
Food from heaven you gave them in their hunger,
water from a rock you sent them in their thirst.
You told them to enter and occupy the land
which you had sworn to give them.

“But they, our (ancestors), proved to be insolent;
they held their necks stiff
and would not obey your commandments.
They refused to obey and no longer remembered
the wonders you had worked for them.
They stiffened their necks and turned their heads
to return to their slavery in Egypt.
But you are a God of pardons,
gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in mercy;
you did not forsake them.
Though they made for themselves a molten calf,
and proclaimed, ‘Here is your God who brought you up from Egypt,’
and were guilty of great effronteries,
Yet in your great mercy
you did not forsake them in the desert.
The column of cloud did not cease to lead them by day on their journey,
nor did the column of fire by night cease to light for them
the way by which they were to travel.

“Your good spirit you bestowed on them,
to give them understanding;
Your manna you did not withhold from their mouths,
and you gave them water in their thirst.”

This chapter, and this song of Ezra the Scribe, continues for seventeen more verses. These cover the essence of the experiences contained in the Jewish Torah. Everything that defines Israel is contained in the tale of the Patriarchs and their covenant, plus the experience of liberation from Egypt, including the Law.

It is good for a Christian to remember this. God made us. God entered into covenant with Abraham. God saved his descendants from slavery. God marked us as his own. Everything else in the Old Testament is derived from that essential identification as God’s people. Including our rebellion and subsequent contrition, confession, and restoration–and I would see that as personal as well as communal.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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