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Bible Sunday 2020
I imagine that many of us can recall instant details about some parts of the Bible. If I say ‘Our Father’ you know the words that follow. If I ask you – ‘tell me about the Good Samaritan’ – you will be able to summarise the story.
Today is Bible Sunday, a moment in the year when the Church celebrates the importance of Scripture. We all know some of what’s in it; and none of us knows everything that’s in it. If you like, we have a landscape that combines familiarity with hidden surprise.
The Bible is one of those core elements of the Christian faith which draws the Church together. The books we hold in common with other Christians enable us to feed our faith and deepen our understanding of God. Of course, those same words have been a point of disagreement between Christians. How we read the Bible matters at least as much as the words on the page in front of us.
Perhaps, sometimes, we become over-familiar with some of the passages in the Bible. As I said a moment ago, the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer elicits a response almost without thought. The words can be engrained in our lives and emerge before we know it. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. Having key words of Scripture to hand, without the need of a book, has helped Christians in difficult circumstances down the centuries.
However, we can all benefit from things which give us fresh insight. Things that disturb the familiarity of well-word texts.
Sometimes a different perspective can come from travel. Visiting Tanzania I saw familiar passages in new ways. Visiting a well to draw water wasn’t some remote event but a part of daily life. It was only in Africa that I appreciated quite how similar sheep and goats can appear – but I soon learned that the tell-tale difference was, in fact, the tail. Up for goats – down for sheep.
In a similar way, visiting the Holy Land, places with familiar names suddenly had a shape and a character. The position of Lake Galilee can invite stormy conditions that seem to come out of nowhere. At one moment placid waters can be stirred up when small boats can get into difficulty.
But it’s not only travel that can help us see the familiar with new insight. Thankfully the Church has always had good teachers who can help us see fresh ideas among familiar words. Many years ago ,I went to a conference and came across someone for the first time. Not someone I’d heard of before, but her presentation had the delegates enthralled. This was Paula Gooder, now recognised as one of the leading Biblical scholars of our generation.
I’m delighted to say that Paula will be one of four people sharing online reflections here at the Minster during Advent. In these sessions we’ll be looking at an aspect of Scripture which many people find challenging. Linked to sections of our Great East Window, the themes will reflect Advent and come with the title ‘Apocalypse Now (And then)’.
In the strange times we are in, these Advent reflections will connect our age to the time the window was created. The idea of Apocalypse occurs at many points in the Bible and today’s Gospel reading touches on the end times:
“he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call,
and they will gather his elect from the four winds”
Experience changes us and, as we change, we read the Bible with new insights. At a time when so much we took for granted is being brought into question, apocalyptic sayings and passages can be read in new ways. We may not be travelling to new places, but the places we know seem to have changed. As we live with new rules and restrictions the familiar has been made strange. How do we sing (or not sing) the Lord’s song in this new landscape?
I hope that our excellent collection of speakers will help us relate the words of the Bible to the realities we face today. Ultimately that’s the basic task of every Christian – to search the pages of Scripture to learn what God is saying to us today. How God is leading us to live ever more faithful lives.
Today we are invited to read, mark and digest the words given to us in the Bible. I hope that we each feel the desire to do that, and to continue a journey of discover which has rewarded Christians across the centuries.
Peter said to Jesus: ““Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
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