Connections 01.23.2022: Homecoming and Holy Tears

Nehemiah 7:73–8:10

My 13-year-old son hates it when I cry. When he was little he would automatically fetch a box of Kleenex for me whenever we watched a movie with sad parts (looking at you, Moana and Coco). These days, he keeps a close eye on me when we’re in church, especially during the hymns.

I keep trying to explain to him that tears aren’t a bad thing, something to fear or to avoid. It’s sweet that he doesn’t like to see me upset; hopefully none of us like it when anyone is hurting. But sometimes tears aren’t really about being hurt. They’re simply telling us that something matters to us. Deeply. Beyond words.

After all this pandemic time, I doubt I’m the only one crying in church.

Our experience of these past two years may give us a glimpse into what the ancient Israelites were feeling when they finally came home again after many, many years—not years of pandemic, but years of exile. Around 70 years, long enough for many people to have died and many children to have been born. Long enough not to recognize once-familiar faces. Long enough that the sound of God’s word being proclaimed was a fading memory.

Is it any wonder that they wept?

We’ve returned to a different world than the one we left in the early days of 2020, facing health and safety concerns, staggering losses, and ongoing divisions in our nation and in our churches. The Israelites mourned the ways they’d sinned against God’s law; we, too, may rightfully mourn the ways we have failed to love God and each other in this challenging time.

Perhaps the Israelite priests were right to urge the people not to wallow in their grief, calling the congregation to move into their new life with joy.

But I can’t help but think the Israelites’ tears—and ours—are not only about sadness or regret or grief. They’re also a sign of what matters, deeply, beyond words. They are holy tears of relief, because when we come home we realize that belonging in community matters more than we knew. They are holy tears of surprise, because the words of the Lord are still there, echoing in and through us. They are holy tears of hope, because God continues to show us a way forward together.


  • The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccl 3:4). How have you experienced joy and tears mingled together? Do you only see them as opposites, or is it possible that they may be partners?
  • Reflect on your experiences of “coming home” after being distanced, separated, or isolated. What has surprised you about being back in community? How have you honored those who are no longer there, celebrated newcomers, and returned to traditions? How have you and your community coped with the changes that have come?
  • Nehemiah 8:10 says that the priests directed the people to “send portions [of food and wine] to those for whom nothing is prepared.” Are there people in your community who are still isolated, unable to “come home”? How can you include them by ensuring they are cared for?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the new editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has spent 20 years “coming home” to nine (at last count) different duty stations. For now, she and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington, D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She loves “working” with yarn—weaving clergy stoles and knitting almost anything—and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs sporadically about faith and making things at


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