Taste and See: Life in the Word

madrid-december-2003-083-books

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

I waited, I waited for the Lord
and he stooped down to me;
he heard my cry.
He put a new song into my mouth,
praise of our God.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
Instead, here am I.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

In the scroll of the book it stands written
that I should do your will.
My God, I delight in your law
in the depth of my heart.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

Your justice I have proclaimed
in the great assembly.
My lips I have not sealed;
you know it, O Lord.

Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.

Psalm 39:2,4,7-10

The Psalm on Sunday, the 2nd of Ordinary Time, contains the poignant words:

‘In the scroll of the book it stands written
that I should do your will.’

The phrase is not that ‘we’ should do your will’ (though we should!) but that ‘I should. In the reading of the scroll, the psalmist hears God speaking directly to him; as we the present readers of scripture will hear God speak to us, individually.

Pause and wonder. That in the scroll, in all the scriptures, , God talks to us, and of us, as individuals, you, me. He speaks of ‘us’ because he speaks to each of us, individually, even when speaking to the collective. There is nothing anonymous about our presence before the scriptures and the one who speaks there. God speaks, because he wants to speak to you, me, us…

The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the Word of God alive and active. The Church singles out Christ’s real, actual, personal presence to us in the word proclaimed.

There is something very important here and often neglected. There is a danger that academic study of the text – both our own experience of this in schools and colleges, and the effect of ‘scientific’ scholarly discourse engaged with more broadly in our culture – reduces ‘The Bible’ to just another cultural artefact, just another book.

madrid-december-2003-030-booksGood teachers, catechists and pastors, grounded in faith, will always work to show that scholarship makes its proper contribution to our understanding of the Bible, and our reading of it, but that our relationship with scripture is about more than just reading a book. Scripture is fundamentally how the Word uses words to draw us into a personal communion. It begins with an encounter with the Word (with Jesus Christ) in the word proclaimed, or in words read on a page.  As we ponder those words, something more is opened up to us, something richer, more personal: something that is more about now, (rather than ‘then’), and about us (more than just ‘them’).

We learn how communion with God is offered to us, and we learn how to enter into that. We learn the will of God, and how what God wills draws us to the fullness of life.

The Book is the start, not the end…

Art installation. Madrid. (c) 2003, Allen Morris

Taste and See

christ-in-glory-lichfieldYou must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

The second reading at Mass yesterday, the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, reminds us of the power of Scripture, sacrament of Christ’s presence.

That sacramental presence has a particular quality in the celebration of Mass where, the Church says, Christ speaks whenever the readings are proclaimed. But the presence is surely there also when we pray privately with the Bible, the written account of God’s revelation of himself, and again and again found to be a favoured instrument of his speaking to us now.

‘The word of God is alive and active’, testifies the writer of Hebrews, ‘it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can clip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts…’

Being cut by a double-edged sword does not seem an attractive proposition – and sometimes the challenge that Christ in the word presents to us is fearsome and daunting. And yet he speaks only to heal. Sometimes to condemn sin in us, but always to heal. The word calls us to life, eternal life. May we ever have ears that hear and hearts and respond…

  • In prayer thank God for the saving dialogue he invites you to and enables for you…

Christ in Glory. Lichfield Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: That we might hear, and hear again, and learn

bibleYou must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Our learning may begin with scripture, or learning begun elsewhere may be honed by scripture – by the sacramental encounter with the living Lord who is present to us in the words, and stories, and guidance and books of scripture.

What we learn we are to share – not as our knowledge, our understanding, but as work in progress enabled by the living Lord. And as we share we are to receive, fresh perspectives on what we know learnt from the experiences of others; on what we misunderstand from the experiences of others.

What we live by and what we are constantly to learn is to be with Christ and to be as Christ.

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

A Prayer of St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

St Andrew’s Church, Wroxeter, Shropshire. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: Newness promised

Kensal Green memorialThe second reading at Mass yesterday, Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Easter, reminds us of the glory and goodness that lies ahead for us.

I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, ‘You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.’

Then the One sitting on the throne spoke: ‘Now I am making the whole of creation new.’

Apocalypse 21:1-5

In this present age we will have death to grapple with, and mourning, sadness and tears..

But the word of God, and the sacraments, accompany us and sustain us on the journey to the new Jerusalem.

In heaven these gifts of God cease, there we will see and hear the Word direct, face to face, without need for the mediation of scripture and sacrament. And we will be new. God promises.

 

Grave memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery. (c) 2009, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Living Word

MezuzahThe Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of the Year assures us of where we find truth, certainty, goodness. It is in the law of the Lord, his rule and command.

 

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock!

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

Psalm 18:8-10,15

Christians, Jews, Muslims each in their way find the spirit and life in the words of Scripture. Christians  are distinctive though in not being a ‘people of the Book’ but a people who find the fulfilment of the words in the Word, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

The words of Scripture, Old and New Testament, are alive and active but most so when heard in him and from him.

  • What ways of engaging with Scripture do you find most helpful?
  • What least?
  • What opportunities might you take up to deepen your knowledge of the Lord in and through scripture: and scripture in and through the Lord?

 

Mezuzah, Kazmierz, Carcow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Scripture’s meaning…

Abraham, RavennaOne of the things that is not always apparent with our Sunday readings is what they mean.

Another thing that is not always apparent is ‘how’ they mean.

We very often read other text for information – for facts.  We read non-fiction for facts about the world; we read fiction for facts about the story we are reading, which may or may not be related to the world as it is.

Scripture offers facts but they are not the most important things scripture offers. Scripture tells us about what has been – about Jesus born of Mary; who preached and lived the nearness of the kingdom of God; was crucified, died and was buried and who rose again on the third day. Facts. Even very important facts,

But the scripture is read by us most importantly not so we might know the facts but so that our lives might be lived in response to those facts.

Scripture has us look back only to help us to live forwards. The meaning and purpose of scripture is us.

But how does Scripture ‘mean’? How does Scripture engage us with the more than the facts. These are perhaps oddly phrased questions, but stay with me!

Scripture ‘means’ in its totality.

Fundamentalists look to the letter – if the bible says it, it must be true, as true as H20 is water. They are people of the book.

Catholic Christians are people of the Word – the living Word that is Jesus Christ. And when we look to scripture that is what we look for, for it is the Word that Scripture means.

Sometimes the Word, the Son of God seems very evident – the story is about Jesus, the words are spoken by Jesus or are directly about Jesus.

But much of the Bible is not so evidently about him. The Old Testament, for example. Which is quite a big ‘for example’, as it forms the most part of the Bible.

So how does the Bible speak of Christ, of the Word? How do the readings ‘mean’.

They ‘mean’ often by allusion, one thing in the Old relates, we might say predicts or at least foreshadows, in some way anticipates, what is revealed in the New.

And it in this relationship of the Old and New Testaments something of the meaning of the Word, the Christ is revealed. Not as past event only, but as something alive and meaningful now, helping us to move faithfully to our future.

The key to the power of the Scripture is getting beneath the surface. In a particular book it is seeing not only the little passage, but the bigger picture and letting it connect with us and our world. In the Bible more broadly it is seeing the connections between the parts.

When reading a particular passage Ignatian meditation helps – using our experience of the world, and using our senses to get into the scene, into the passage.

Lectio divina is another help: a slow pondering, an attentive waiting for the word to disclose its deeper meaning for us.

But we need to find those connections between passages and books across the Canon of Scripture too. Of course we are not the first to have to do this: we have the help of those who’ve gone before. Especially we have the help of the fathers of the Church, especially – bishops and monks of the early Centuries – Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Leo, and many more.

On Sundays at Mass, the choices that have been made in putting together the sequences of readings we hear on Sunday are greatly influenced by how the Fathers read Scripture. Those sequences of readings might seem random, but they’re not. There’s a pattern.

We might have to work a little to spot the pattern. In our preparation for Mass; in how we listen and think during Mass. But that work is no bad thing. Careful faithful listening is probably a lot easier than careful faithful living – but the one helps the other.

Take the readings today. Very different, but lots in common. Let’s focus mostly on the First reading and the Gospel – which are always the most closely linked on Sundays. The testing of Abraham and the Transfiguration. Differences? One is the most shocking bleak story, for the most part, of a father told by God to sacrifice his son. The other a rather wonderful amazing story of the revelation of the glory of God in Jesus.

But they are both set on mountain tops. Peak experiences: (Ouch!) They are both stories of a father and his son; Abraham and Isaac; God the Father and God the Son. They are both stories about sacrifice – the one the father tested to see if for faith he would sacrifice his son; the other the Son in love for his Father and love for us (for us! all is for us!) ready to make sacrifice of his own life. The one ends with the son spared; the other with the son going to the Cross and there suffering for us. (For us!)

And what does it mean? Well, it means love. Love given, for us. The shocking and dark story of Abraham and Isaac (where God refuses the sacrifice) leads us to the story where God in Jesus is himself ready to suffer and die for us.

And the gospel passage ends with a question. A question found on the lips of Peter and the others. They wonder what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. Looking back its obvious, (sort of!). It means the resurrection of Jesus. That his self-offering has a glorious outcome for him and extended to us in love.

But that question needs to come to our lips too. As we look forward what does ‘rising from the dead’ mean for us? What brings us to dying? In the context of our readings, where is faith tested in us? Where might love of God lead us? And what might the newness and the glory of the resurrection look like in our lives? The question needs to be on our lips and in our heart.

The scriptures give us answers, sure, but most of all, they set new possibilities in front of us.

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.

Mark 9:2-10

Photograph is of mosaics of ‘Types’ or precursors of Christ’s self-offering in the Eucharist – the hospitality of Abraham, Abraham and Isaac – from the basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna. (c) 2004, Allen Morris