Then all the people went away to eat and drink,
to send portions of food
and to celebrate with great joy,
because they now understood the words
that had been made known to them.
The context of this text is that the people of Israel had been released from captivity. They have just listened together to words from Scripture. They have listened to words inviting them into a relationship with God, inviting them to be God’s people and to let God be their God.
Because of the long years of captivity, they had not heard these words of good news for many years. They may have questioned or forgotten that they were loved by God. But now they heard these life giving words again. And they understood.
The people were so moved by what they heard that they wept. They may have been weeping in joy. Or weeping over the years during which they had been deprived of their freedom and of the good news of God’s love for them. Or weeping because it all seemed too good to be true.
But whatever their reasons were for weeping, their leaders wanted them to take in the good news of God’s love by celebrating. So their leaders told them: “Enjoy choice food and sweet drinks and send some to those who have nothing prepared…For the joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).
And, so the people responded to this direction and celebrated with joy. Sometimes prayer is like that–like celebration. Sometimes prayer is literally having a party.
We may not look like we are praying when we are celebrating, but it can be an act of prayer. It can be an act of receiving and acknowledging the gifts that God gives us. The eating of “choice foods” and the “drinking of sweet drinks” and the sharing of food and drink with others in grateful celebration can be a way of saying “Yes!” and “Thank you!” to God.
When we celebrate with choice foods at Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, or at any other time, it is not only the moments when we say grace that is our prayer. The sharing of the “choice foods and sweet drinks” is also our prayer.
This is also true on special occasions like holidays and birthdays. And it can be true on ordinary days as well. When we slice a piece of bread and make a cup of tea and share these things with others we are celebrating our life in God. When we are aware of these gifts, when we are mindful that every day is an opportunity to take in God’s blessing, we enter the prayer of celebration.
Celebration is an active expression of our joy in response to God who is love. This particular prayer strengthens us. For “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”
You want me to take in
your goodness and love
by having a party?
“Go make some choice food,” you say.
And “have some people over.”
“Celebrate,” you say.
You invite me to express the joy
that comes from knowing you
by enjoying good food with others.
I can do this.
I can pray like this.
I will celebrate.
Help me to let the joy I find in knowing you
be my strength today.
Plan a party. Prepare you favorite foods and invite some people over. Or simply prepare some tea or coffee and a snack to share. Let this celebration be your prayer of joy. Let this joy give you new strength.