Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Is it?

In some churches we say, 'This is the word of the Lord' after a reading. The people may, whilst thinking 'Get lost he never said that,' respond 'Thanks be to God.'

What is the word of the Lord? Those who wrote down the Bible, in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, often used expressions such as, 'The word of the Lord came to x (a prophet) and he said to the people...' So already the word of the Lord, what the prophet heard, is one degree separate for the people who had to hear what the prophet said he heard. Then someone, often the prophet but not always, wrote down these words which went through several processes of refinement, collation and editing before finding themselves in book form not unlike our contemporary Bibles. There was then a translation exercise to get them into English to become one of the many versions of the Bible we might choose. Phew.

John's Gospel tells us that the Word, logos, a philosophical idea which would have been understood to equate with ultimate reality, became flesh. This is John's way of saying who he thought Jesus was, and is. Never was the word of the Lord heard more clearly than when Jesus spoke. Sometimes the gospels disagree about precisely what he said at any given time though.

So maybe we ought to end readings by saying, 'This reading will lead us to the word of the Lord.' Or perhaps, 'May the word of the Lord speak to us through this reading.' Or maybe, 'Here ends the lesson.'

I'm still wrestling with Rowan Williams' 'The Bible is more a starting point than the correct answer to GCSE theology.' And although I can feel the hackles of some of my former evangelical colleagues rise, as they have done many times I'm sure, I'm with the Archbish.

6 comments:

Mike Peatman said...

Me too.

I also remember a reading from the Apocrypha being used at Cranmer chapel, and someone saying "this might be the word of the Lord" at the end!

Kathryn said...

I've long given up "This is the word of the Lord" when we pray the Daily Office - so often it seems incredibly unlikely...If I'm feeling formal I go with "IN THIS (implied - somewhere, if you dig deep enough) is the word of the Lord" - but then as a liberal catholic you'd not expect anything different from me!

Matthew McMurray said...

At Westcott we tend to keep a short silence after the readings in the offices. At Mass, we tend to use the "This is the word of the Lord". One formula that I am becoming increasingly fond of is "for the gift of his holy word" because it seems not to demand the same belief in "this what we have just read" being the exact words.

I think it was in Evening Prayer yesterday that we read about Saul having to destroy all of the Amelekites. I must confess to struggling with "this is the word of the Lord" with a reading like this.

My preference at the moment is on "This is the record of how God's people heard him speaking" but it is rather too clumsy for public use I fear.

Mike Peatman said...

I used to struggle with saying "this is..." when I saw it as an affirmation of all the views, sentiments, opinions and actions in the text.

However, I think I've moved on that, seeing it 1) as an affirmation that God may be heard, even in text which seem contrary to the God we know in Jesus Christ and 2) an affirmation that we are part of the ecclesial community which has come into being as a result of holding these texts as 'canon', and therefore there to challenge, shape and question us (and be questioned by us).

Caroline Too said...

Over the last few years I've found myself avoiding phrases like "the bible says..." and saying "I read in the bible..."

I don't think that I've changed many of my understandings about what I've read in the bible, but I tend to hold them more lightly than I did before...

I don't think that I've ever struggled with "this is the word of the Lord" any more than the eucharist "this is the body of Christ"...

Matthew McMurray said...

I always rather like that bit! ;)