“Old men and old women, each with staff in hand because of old age, shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem. The city shall be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.” (Zec. 8:4-5)
Many years ago on a trip to Honduras I had the privilege of visiting the Mesa Grande refugee camp where more than 30,000 Salvadorans were encamped. Despite being in a virtual prison the people were filled with joy as they built a community of faith and solidarity. Their faith kept them together, and when they finally began to be repatriated marvelous stories emerged. Though in terrible danger as they prepared to flee Salvador, one community took their church bell from its tower and buried it, promising to ring it again only when they returned from exile. Imagine the joy of the people as they exited the buses that returned them to Salvador when they saw men from their village rush into the forest, dig up the bell, hoist it to the tower and ring it calling everyone to a homecoming Eucharist.
Today’s text from Zechariah reminds me of the stories I heard in Honduras. The elders of the Hebrew community who have been in exile for more than seventy years are finally home to sleep in their own beds and can ”sit in the streets” of Jerusalem, the promised land, the gift of God, the city of peace. Imagine the effort and creativity it took for the elders to keep alive the stories, rituals and life they knew in Jerusalem. Like the refugees of Honduras, they wrote songs of lament and plays for the children to act out in the hope that the little ones might experience something of the glory of God’s love for them. Most of all they had what we call an oral tradition that allowed the stories of God’s fidelity to be passed from generation to generation.
Today we are invited to pray with the 40 million refugees in the world, more than 10 million of whom are in great need. These wandering people have been cut off from their culture and language, their families and homes, and the foods and music that remind them of who they are. We are also challenged to be grateful for the great gift of the Eucharist, the bread of life, in which we find the Christ and remember that no matter where we wander, he will always be waiting to welcome us into his heart, our true home.