The Sunday Eucharist readings, prayers and reflections are available below.
BIBLE SUNDAY 25 OCTOBER
Today's sermon is available as an audio recording here. Press play to start.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and forever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 24:30-35.
Lord our God
- keep the Church faithful in what you have made known in the Scriptures
- give grace to those in authority to use their power for the good of others
- bless us as we seek to spread the faith by teaching and example
- console and heal the sick and especially; Mary Maxwell and Bunty Smart
- grant to Clive Brooks and Janet Firbank recently dead refreshment, light and peace.
Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. According to our Collect prayer today, that’s what we’re supposed to do with the Bible. Yes, we’re told we should read our Bibles, but if we’re honest, I wonder how many of us would say it’s our first choice for everyday reading. After all, it’s not like other books, and what’s so special about it? But that’s the point. The Bible is not like other books. Indeed, it’s not a book at all, it’s a library. That’s something that we tend to overlook. Between the covers of our Bibles we have a collection of writings, all of them two or three thousand years old, none of them written originally in English, and very different in character. We have some legends, some history, some poetry (including one rather erotic poem), some descriptions of visions, some collections of letters, and so on.
This is a difficulty when we look at these writings, because as we move from one kind to another, we have to adjust the way we read them. It’s like we read a novel by Dickens in one way, and we read a biography in another way. So, we don’t read the prophecies in the Old Testament in the same way we read the Gospels. Another difficulty can be that these writings come from cultures very different from our own, and we sometimes have to make mental shifts when reading them. For example, St Paul’s letters reflect a society which accepted slavery and thought women should be kept firmly in their place. We can’t simply transplant him into our own situation without making some adjustments to our own ways of thinking. We have to read these writings on their own terms, and then see how they apply to our situation.
But at this point you might say, “Hang on. Isn’t the Bible meant to be special reading for us?” The answer is yes, and for a particular reason. The Bible exists because the Church, the Christian community, decided over quite a long period of time that these were to be the writings it wanted for its Scriptures. The Bible is a product of the Church. It can surprise us to learn that the contents of the Bible we have were not finally fixed until the 4 th Century.
Now, when we look inside our Bibles, we can see what a good choice was made – to the point that we can truly say that the Church was guided in its choice of scriptures by the Spirit of God. It’s worth making this point, because there are still conspiracy theorists around, claiming that the Church left out of the Bible documents which would have been dangerous to it. No, the Church chose those writings which had proved of lasting value and help to Christians everywhere.
We read the scriptures partly because they link us with the witness of the Church throughout the centuries. Whatever their difficulties, they tell us of the never-ending work of God in the world, and among His people. More than anything, they testify to the greatest of God’s works, His coming among us in Our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the past but even more in the here and now. The other important thing is that the scriptures invite us to enter into a dialogue with those who wrote them. It’s a mistake to imagine that the Bible is like a computer, where you put in your question and you get an answer. We’re meant to read these writings and say, “yes, that’s how the work of God looked to the people who wrote these. What do they say to us now? How would we describe that work today?” When we approach the scriptures like this, then they come alive, and the Spirit of God can work through them to inspire us, and sometimes to challenge us. As a result, we might say, when reading St Paul, for example, “no, I can’t think about this in the way St Paul did.” On the other hand, we might find ourselves thinking, “maybe St Paul is saying something I need to listen to, even if it doesn’t fit in with contemporary ideas.”
These are reasons why we need to read the scriptures in Church and at home; but how are we to do it for ourselves? First of all, we have to make some space for it; and we shouldn’t read in a hurry. Indeed, as our Collect reminds us, patience is essential when reflecting on the scriptures. Nor do we have to take them in large chunks. Here’s a suggestion. Why not take, say, the Gospel of Mark and read through it slowly, taking a small passage every day? And when you’ve read it, stop and reflect on it. Let it soak into your mind and spirit for twenty-four hours before you go to the next section. If a particular passage really strikes you, stay with it. Doing this, you may find that the Gospel speaks to you in ways you would never have expected, and the words and deeds of Jesus take on an even greater significance.
Also, make sure to use a good modern translation of the scriptures. Fr Paul, Fr William and I will be happy to suggest some. The scriptures are good to hear in Church, and also to meditate on by ourselves. God spoke His greatest Word to us in Our Lord Jesus Christ, and He speaks still through the words of those who followed Christ before us. One hymn puts the purpose of the scriptures very well:
We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:
The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His Word.
For modern Bible translations the following are good:
The New Revised Standard Version
The Revised English Bible
The Revised New Jerusalem Bible
The New Testament, translated by Nicholas King, is in a class of its own. It gives a vigorous English text, together with a running commentary. It cannot be recommended too highly – but buy the larger size version for clear print. (Published by Kevin Mayhew, 2004.)