So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. - Nehemiah 8:6
Our old testament reading this Sunday recounts the actions taken by “Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people” after the Israelites had finally returned home after a long and painful exile. They gathered all the people together to hear the Torah, which was something they had not been able to do as a group for so long. Ezra gave some interpretation - in effect - led a bible study. It seems they made sure to gather together both men and women. It is unusual for the bible to specifically state, in the original Hebrew, that both men and women were present instead of just having women’s inclusion assumed by the use of a universal male descriptor. It was obviously important to them to state that the entire body was gathered to hear and understand their sacred laws. The whole body of them.
They knew that wisdom is not an individual pursuit. In order to get the people back together and on the same page, they had to come together in one body to listen and learn from the Torah. You could study and learn on your own, but when you interact with other learners, your learning is much richer and more meaningful. In fact, life itself is richer and more meaningful when done with others. No one is an island. We are all members of each other, and without one another we perish. Wisdom, faith, church, community - these are not things any one of us owns. They are things that grow between us.
I pray that at St James, we can each continue to find rich and meaningful ways to connect with one another in order to know God, each other and ourselves better. That is the basic invitation of the church - to come and share in the one bread and the one cup as one body in Christ.