The Lion and the lectionary

Chapel on Friday mornings is an abbreviated version of the morning office–we pray, read scripture, recite the Apostle’s Creed and are silent together.  It’s a good time.

In the last couple of weeks, the scripture readings in particular have been quite jarring, but not in the way you might expect. A couple of weeks ago I read from Acts 19:21-41. The bulk of the text is about a riot at Ephesus and the material is largely political in nature.  I kept checking the readings for the day to make sure I wasn’t reading the wrong passage. What a bizarre passage to include as part of the lectionary readings, I thought to myself. What does this tell us about anything? I saw my homiletics professor afterwards and asked him how someone would preach a sermon on that passage.  What’s the big idea in that text?

The lesson, I suppose, is that even if the Bible is inspired and the word of God, it cannot be picked apart willy-nilly. There are some parts of scripture that are unpreachable outside of a wider context.  And even if such a passage functions within a wider context, the passage itself may not have anything to present to use other than information driving the story.

Today in chapel I read from Revelation 9:11-21. It’s a dark passage about plagues and the death of one-third of the earth’s inhabitants. Symbolism and metaphor or not, it was a difficult passage to read and then end with “The word of the Lord” to which the rest of the people replying, “Thanks be to God.”

This is the beauty of the lectionary: it takes us places in scripture we would otherwise not go. To run with C.S. Lewis’ imagery a bit, the lectionary teaches us that the Lion’s word is no tamer than the Lion himself.  Don’t think we know it all, that we have it in our grasp.  It can slip away from us easily, mystify us, frustrate us–maybe even offend us.

And perhaps that’s as it should be.

4 thoughts on “The Lion and the lectionary

  1. Toni

    I do find the recitation of “this is the gospel of God” or some similar incantation to be very jarring after the kind of passage you’ve just described is read. That is because it’s a numb response, rather than one to the actual words: “a third of the Earth’s population: that’s billions of lives…. wow?!”

    It makes me want to ask “did you actually listen to a single word you just read” and give someone a bit of a shake. If someone wants religious stories then fine, but often these passages are records of real events (sometimes maybe events to come) with associated pain, suffering and unhappiness – or maybe joy, excitement and overwhelming emotion. How can they be recited in a ‘spiritual’ voice, usually devoid of intonation, and then followed by a magical incantation, as though sating the correct religious phrase neatly boxes up and tidies away something of real life?

    Please don’t think I’m angry about this (that’s not what I’m trying to convey) but it seems to me that religion and faith should be rooted in reality, rather than removed from it. It is a human thing to separate the 2.

  2. Andrew

    Some readers in our church use “The Word of the Lord” (myself included) and I’ve never considered it a ‘magical incantation’ – it’s an affirmation that whatever the reading, somehow it points to the Word. A reminder to always look for Christ in the readings, which may be difficult in certain cases– but it’s the minister’s task nonetheless.

  3. Marc

    Toni: I confess I don’t really connect with what you are describing. That may be partially because most of those in attendance at these chapels are not from a high church background, and so are quite alert to the details of the liturgy, including the scripture reading. On the other hand, there are a number of Anglicans on the faculty here who, though having said these words for years, still mean them passionately.

    Interestingly, as I continue to think about this I realize that as the various scripture passages are read, I am anticipating the “The word of the Lord/Thanks be to God” that is coming, which then influences how I listen to what is being read. The words we speak communally at the end actually seem to make me more attentive to scripture.

    Like Andrew says, saying, “The word of the Lord” is simply a recognition and affirmation of what it is we have just heard. It *can* be jarring, and that’s precisely the point of what I’m saying here (and which you seem to be affirming as well): that scripture isn’t tame (which I think you are arguing for as well).

    I think, too, that the “Thanks be to God” is perhaps even more jarring than the “The word of the Lord”. I do recognize scripture as the word of God, but am I really thankful for those (apparently) meaningless or dark passages? That’s another question (and perhaps that’s what you’re driving at).

  4. Toni

    Marc – yes I think you do get it. Do you remember what your rellies in Hemel said when you wanted to go to an Anglican/traditional church? That may be a part of the difference between why we are coming from opposite directions to arrive at the same point on this.

    Don’t take me too seriously on the ‘magical incantation’ bit.

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