URC Daily Devotion Monday, 5 June 2023

5 June 2023
 
Zechariah 7:1-7

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men, to entreat the favour of the Lord,  and to ask the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, ‘Should I mourn and practise abstinence in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’  Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me:  Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?  And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves?  Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, along with the towns around it, and when the Negeb and the Shephelah were inhabited?

Reflection

Two years have passed since Zechariah received his visions, according to the text.  A deputation from Bethel, in the former northern kingdom of Israel, where worship of God had continued despite all the political upheavals across two centuries, arrives in Jerusalem seeking advice from temple priests and prophets.  They ask whether fasting and lamenting, which has been their practice each year on the anniversaries of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem and subsequent destruction of the temple, should continue.

A sensible question, we might think, as many exiles were returning and the rebuilding of the temple was well under way; probably expecting the answer, ‘No; now is the time to stop’.  God’s initial response through Zechariah, however, is to ask the deputation, the people who had remained in Judah throughout exile and the priests, why they had followed these practices at all.  

Their motivation was being challenged.  Was this truly an act of worship?  Did it serve God in any way?  Or was it something that was for their own benefit, enabling them to express their sense of loss, hopelessness – perhaps even abandonment by God.  Similarly when they celebrate feasts (implied), was that to enjoy themselves, or to give sincere thanks to God?  They are reminded that the prophets called them to fast and lament – i.e. to repent and turn back to God – before the exile happened.  Back then, God’s word had been ignored!

It is often said: ‘Be careful what you ask’ – the answer may not be as you expect.  

How do we, how should we, commemorate significant events as Christians?  Are our anniversaries, festivals, remembrance services, ‘special’ Sundays all truly centred on God as occasions of praise, thanksgiving, corporate confession, commitment and service?

Should anything be deleted from our calendar, or given a new God-shaped focus?

Prayer

Holy God, thank you for the rhythm of life and the annual cycle that gives shape to society and church calendars.
Thank you for occasions when, as your people, we can look back and remember, or celebrate meaningful events together.

Help us to keep you at the centre of these, so that they enable us to grow in faith as we give glory and honour to you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

 

 

 

Today’s writer

The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge

 

Copyright

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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