Hello, St. Paul’s.
One of my favorite Collects goes like this: “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life …” We hear it on the Sunday before Thanksgiving every year.
Hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest: the Church seems to be telling us that we should first HEAR the Scripture, and only then read and study it. In ancient times most people didn’t have access to written materials, if they could even read, and so they encountered the word of God by hearing it. In our literate age we tend to depend heavily on written texts, even to the extent, sometimes, of being critical of someone reading aloud when they deviate from the text by a single syllable.
While I don’t encourage anyone to offer extemporaneous translations of Scripture in church, I do think that we can keep in mind that these are not just translations but paraphrases of ancient material, and sometimes we can lose sight of the power of Scripture if we get too bound up with the script. When I used to serve regularly as deacon I sometimes enjoyed memorizing the Gospel and telling it as a story, with no book between me and my listeners. It was striking how many people started off following word for word in the bulletin but soon put down the paper and became fully engaged in the story.
Where am I going with all this? Well, I want to invite you, in our Zoom and streamed worship, to let go of the bulletin a little and allow Scripture to speak to you. We have a roster of excellent lectors, and with online worship everyone has a front seat, so you should have no trouble understanding the reader. You might try closing your eyes and imagining the scene the reader describes. At other parts of the 10:30 service, we will soon include a shot of Cherie Dean providing a simultaneous translation into American Sign Language. If you’ve ever noticed Cherie signing during a service you know how beautiful and graceful it looks.
To start with, Cherie will simply be signing some of the fixed parts of the service, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed: these can be pre-recorded and replayed every week so as not to abuse Cherie’s gift of time. Earlier in the summer Cherie offered a forum in which she started to teach us how to sign the Lord’s Prayer: she will continue with this on Sunday. Now we have a great opportunity to expand our reach to those whose first language is ASL, by both incorporating it into our services and by learning the basics ourselves. When we return to cautious, in-person worship, signing the Peace will be a helpful alternative to physical contact.
So, this Sunday, try hearing the Scripture before you read it: it may come alive for you in new ways. And thank you, Cherie, for sharing your gift with us.
See you on Sunday.