They were strangers living in a strange land – carried off into exile by a conquering nation. They watched their homes burned and their temple destroyed. They felt isolated, alone and rejected by God.
To add insult to injury, their captors asked that they entertain them with their famous songs of joy from their homeland – their “Psalms.” As they sat “by the rivers of Babylon,” the Jewish exiles wept – remembering the temple and the way things used to be.
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” they asked.(Psalm 137:4)
As we sit in our societally-imposed exile, we can relate. To be honest, our exile is exceedingly more luxurious than that of the Jewish people. We don’t sit by the rivers of Babylon. We sit in fully furnished homes with central heating and air conditioning, big screen TV’s and iPhones. Our biggest struggle is not having enough toilet paper.
Yet we do feel the same isolation and loneliness. We long for the way things used to be.
As Christians, we especially struggle with not being able to worship together. Last week, I, together with Christians around the world, lamented the fact that we couldn’t physically worship together in our churches on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Our hearts ached and yearned to sing the joyous songs of Easter together.
It’s just not the same watching it on a screen.
Like the Israelites of old, we ask: How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in exile?
We can sing for joy to the Lord, because his promises are still true. Even as they sat in exile, God promised to be with his people and bless them. He promised to bring them home one day. He promised their Savior from sin would still be born.
God kept every one of his promises to the nation of Israel and he will keep every promise he has made you. He will be with us (Matthew 28:20). He will make everything in our lives – even a pandemic – work out for our eternal good (Romans 8:28).
And most importantly, he will give to you and all who believe in Jesus the gifts of forgiveness and heaven Jesus won for us. You can be sure of that, because his tomb is empty. Death had no power over Jesus and therefore it has no power over those who follow him. With his death and resurrection, Jesus won the victory for us over sin, death and the devil.
Because he lives, we can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because he lives, we can sing our songs of joy to the Lord, even as we sit in exile – even as our churches sit empty.
Like the exiled Jews, we achingly long for the day when we can gather together again in God’s house to worship him. Meanwhile, though, don’t stop singing your songs of praise to your Savior God. Don’t stop worshiping him with joy.
Even though our churches sit empty, so does the tomb.