2 500 years ago there was an exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was a 1000km walk for the Hebrews who found themselves in a strange and foreign land.
Little made sense. All they were familiar was no longer familiar. The Temple had gone, had been destroyed and God's dwelling place no longer existed. Was God dead?
The familiar ritual of religion was gone. The priests could not carry out the annual festivals of atonement and passover as they used to do. Did God no longer hear now they were so far away from their homeland? Was God no longer able to forgive them because they could no longer complete the rituals and so what would their future be?
They had a choice, as Jack Spong says: they could either let God go, or let God grow.
They chose the latter.
But that meant reinterpreting their stories, finding new meaning in a very different context, finding God in new ways among them when the old and familiar were gone. What could still be taken for granted and what was now found out to be irrelevant and unnecessary? It meant rethinking what they believed about God and how they understood being God's chosen people. It was root and branch.
How could they worship God in this foreign land as the Psalmist cries? And cry they did. But they did find new words, new ways of speaking about their faith, new understanding and meaning in their stories, new ways to engage with God, speak to God, meet God among them. And it changed them forever.
The Bible we hold in our hands today is the evidence.
This was the result of that new thinking. These are the stories they found made sense to them, gave them new meaning, gave them purpose and calling once more.
Perhaps today we might understand something of that exile.
Will church ever be the same? How do we worship in this strange and foreign land of isolation, were we cannot meet corporately for worship, to share the peace, to break bread? How important has that been?
What are we learning during this experience that is essential, and what is no longer important to us? When we come back, and we will, will it feel the same, sitting together once more? How can we speak of faith today? What rituals are we missing and what new ones do we need? What words and stories of hope that are not glib and shallow but actually reshape the kind of community we now wish to be, what will those be?
The Babylon Files is a discussion group, through Zoom on a Wednesday evening at 7pm where we explore this strange and foreign land and wonder what kind of church we wish now to have, what are we learning about ourselves and about faith.
Will we let God go, or will we let God grow?