In the days of one united Prayer Book and lectionary, Anglican circles called this Sunday, the Second of Advent, “Bible Sunday” because of the Collect:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The epistle reading is similarly Bible-focussed: Romans 15:4-13.
We would do well to pray this collect over and over again, for, like many of Cranmer’s little masterpieces,* it is a sermon unto itself. We learn first (regarding the Bible; no doubt an entire homily could be preached on “Blessed Lord”):
- God caused all holy Scriptures to be written
This alone is to give us pause when we recall some of the things we hear, such as that the NT writers were choosy in their selection and not everything in them is historically true. Like the Virgin Birth. Or the Resurrection. Or the very idea of Jesus being God-in-flesh. If God caused all holy Scriptures to be written, then we should take these passages and doctrines very seriously before moving on to:
The purpose of this writing of Scripture was our learning. The Bible is there to teach us. We are to learn from it. How? Cranmer shows us next:
- hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them
The Word of God is to be proclaimed and read aloud. I believe this applies even to today when most of the population is literate. The spoken word, as an action, has force and power different from the printed word.** We are also to read it ourselves, though. Sunday morning is not enough; our involvement with the Scriptures is to be personal. As we read the words of life, we are also called to mark them, learn them, and inwardly digest them.
That last phrase, “inwardly digest them,” is among my favourite Prayer-Book phrases. As we study the Scriptures, we aren’t just supposed to observe them critically as we would the Aeneid or the Tome of Leo. We are to digest them. They are to enter into our very being and become part of us. This is a very dynamic, very physical image. And what is the result of our intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures?
- by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life
The Scriptures give us patience — endurance through suffering — and comfort — strength. Through this endurance and this strength, we come to a place where we are able to embrace — again, a very personal verb — and hold fast — imagine someone holding onto a rope so as not to fall into a chasm — the blessed hope of everlasting life.
The Christian hope is not simply the hope of a better world, the hope of temporal joy, the hope of moral improvement but the hope of eternity for those who put their trust in Jesus, in God, Whose character is displayed to us on the pages of the Bible.
And whence does our hope come?
The Christocentrism of Reformational thought (I acknowledge that there was/is much Christocentrism in Catholic thought; I am not speaking of Catholics, though) comes forth. Our hope of eternity comes from Jesus. Cling to him whom we have found in the pages of the Scriptures and we cling to our hope, we cling to eternity and escape from death. This is a good thing.
So we should all read our Bibles, and read them carefully, so that we can come to know better the God who saves us through Jesus Christ and be transformed and cling to the hope of everlasting life.
*I hereby acknowledge Archbp. Thomas Cranmer’s debt to the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. Part of his genius was in selection and translation, part in adaptation of the tradition, part in original composition.
**My own adaptation of Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy.