For thus says the Lord of hosts: Just as I purposed to bring disaster upon you, when your ancestors provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the Lord of hosts, so again I have purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; do not be afraid. These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgements that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord. The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.
These two oracles pick up themes from chapter seven but in a way that continues to proclaim hope. Everything in the past that led to exile is behind them; there’s no need to fear, for God is promising good towards them. There is an implicit condition attached to God’s promise, however. They need to respond positively towards God by keeping the covenant commandments – and here the text also alludes to the vision of the flying scroll in chapter 5. Truth, justice, peace are what please God, not evil or dishonest thoughts and behaviour, which God hates.
Then comes the answer to the question asked in 7:3 about lamenting and fasting. No more fasting is necessary, not in the fourth, fifth, seventh or tenth months; in fact not at all. The question was only about the fifth month but all the solemn assemblies that commemorated the invasions and disasters resulting in the downfall of Judah are to be turned into joyful festivals instead. They are not being told to forget what happened but to re-appraise their history.
The opportunities that now lie before Zechariah’s community have only come about because of the events of exile and return, through which they came to a deeper understanding of God and learned much about themselves as God’s people too. What they have been remembering as devastating destruction and divine punishment, needs to be celebrated as stepping stones to the wonderful new future, promised by God, that they are bringing into being as the work of restoration and rebuilding nears completion.
There’s a time for fasting and lamentation when disaster is imminent; but when God brings us safely through any crisis our response should be one of joy, prompting us to refocus, truthfully, on the new peaceful future that such events make possible.
Eternal God, help us to understand our own history in ways that keep us secure in the present and focused on the future into which you call us.
May we discover, and accept, the truth of past events and respond as faithful disciples of Christ.
May we learn from whatever causes pain or sorrow and trust your loving mercy to bring light out of darkness and renew our hope and joy. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.