These days the phrase “the return” appears to be cropping up all over the place.
The return to face to face learning. The return to department store shopping. The return to regular social gatherings. The return to normal.
I’m actually starting to get a little sick of it.
So I was a little amused when I flicked open the book of Ezra this week.
Having finally made it all the way to the end of Genesis, I spent a week reading Titus, because we were reading it at Church. Then I decided to spend almost a week reading Philemon. Who knew that was possible with just a page? Yet, I got a lot more out of it than ever before, I’m sure.
Then I had no clue what to read next so just flicked my Bible open. I landed in the Old Testament, in the book of Ezra. The heading stated clearly: “The Return to Jerusalem”.
It seems returning is ‘so hot right now’. Even my Bible flicking endeavours can’t buck the trend.
However, I then realised that returning is rather Biblical. The Jews returned to Jerusalem after spending time in Babylon and Persia. But wait, there’s more…
While the Israelites are in exile (or about to be) God sends them this message:
‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever.’
The idea of returning, coming back: coming back to God. But why would you? Because of his character:
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
But wait, there’s more…
When we encounter God (or return to him) we find ourselves in a sacred space. Sometimes this can mean we have actually physically travelled away from our usual place and activities and have had some “time out” with God. We’ve come away in order to complete an internal return.
Yet, God never wants us to just stay there. There’s a physical return which can lead to an external return (still following?). It’s best demonstrated by those who went out of their way to seek the baby, Jesus:
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The shepherds. They went to a scared space when they saw the baby in the manger. That was internal.
Then they returned physically to their usual place (a hillside).
As they did so they glorified and praised God in that space. Their return was made external.
Sometimes, we return and share the spiritual treasures that what we’ve found whilst in our sacred space with those that have also experienced a return to God. It’s a communal return.
Other times our external sharing means we dialogue with those who don’t agree with us, or don’t yet know what we know. That’s called evangelism.
I’m not sure how I’m feeling about all the “return to normal” after spending over 100 days in lockdown by myself. However, I think I’ll genuinely find it helpful to remember that returning is a necessary aspect of life and also, a very Biblical activity.
Yours in a very internal return,