Opening the Book
Some years ago a young couple attended a service at St Giles' Chapel, Heightington, as they we planning to be married there. They seemed surprised and pleased that we were gathering together in a place of such beauty and heritage to reflect on a biblical passage and its meaning to our lives today. They were amazed at the bringing together of the old with the contemporary. I believe that the Bible is still really important in the 21st Century.
Yes it is true that many passages in the Bible are quite difficult to understand at first reading, and some have kept people pondering on them for centuries! Some parts of the Bible seem barbaric - especially parts of the Old Testament. The Bible deals with human nature, human history and the interaction between humanity and God. Barbarism is indeed in the Bible. I see it too on the news today, when I hear of what is going on in Syria. The Bible reflects human life and experience as well as the divine- and sadly some continue to treat others with extreme cruelty.
We sometimes need people to help us understand scripture more deeply. The American theologian Walter Brueggemann has helped people reflect on how Old Testament has so much to teach us today. Others, like Bishop Tom Wright who was recently speaking in Worcester, have helped us deepen our understanding of the New Testament. Books and booklets are written to help scholars or just ordinary people to interact more deeply with the old texts of the Bible.
This is going on in our local churches. Sunday by Sunday we are opening the book, hearing and reflecting upon passages of scripture. It is also going on during the week in our local schools. In Bayton School there is a team from the churches in Mamble and Bayton who do ‘Open the Book'. Every week the team go into the school and tell Bible stories by dramatising them, often with children taking part. There is a brief time of reflection after the story which gives the children a moment to think about the issues raised. Open the Book is a national movement and charity. By April this year there were 8,429 volunteers going into 1,473 schools. At Far Forest School, I sometimes share Bible stories in the assemblies that I take, and recently the children have been learning about the parables of Jesus using multimedia resources. The Bible is being opened up in our schools.
I believe that Far Forest Baptist Church has Bible studies and prayer on Tuesday evenings, and in the Anglican group of churches we have two settings where we ‘open the book' during the week. Once a month the ‘Tuesday Group' meets in someone's home. Most of the members of this group use the daily Bible study notes New Daylight and we meet to discuss a Bible passage and what we have learnt from the notes. Another group meets once a month on a Wednesday morning. The Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer group meet to reflect on just one verse of scripture using periods of silence to do this. I know that new people will always be welcome at these groups.
It is true that for many the Bible can appear boring, mysterious and irrelevant. However I must say that reading the Bible changed my life many years ago. The texts that had seemed so boring in the past suddenly began to come alive in an amazing way. I believe that we can encounter the living God in Christ as we read scripture, especially if we do it prayerfully.
I've mentioned about local ways we ‘open the book'. Nationally and internationally there are many projects to help people engage with scripture. The Bible Society has a project called lyfe. It is about hearing God, through the Bible, in the company of others with an emphasis on connecting God and everyday life. We can engage with the Bible not just through reading we can listen to an audio version, or watch a DVD. Many of us were very moved by the BBC programme The Nativity. At the moment there is much talk about the American miniseries The Bible which has had around 12 - 13 million people watching it on the History channel.
I try and read the Bible nearly every day. Sometimes I fall asleep, my mind wanders, or I cannot fathom it. More often I am reminded of something very important or strangely strengthened for the day ahead. It is good that we continue the discipline of ‘opening the book' in our Benefice.