A good friend of ours read scripture during the Sunday service a few weeks ago. I was affected by her very good reading——affected both cognitively and emotionally. She read well, and her voice of faith resonated with me in a sense of faithful solidarity.
This person was well-selected, mind you. She’s taught biblical languages for some time. She knows pronunciations and nuances about the text; she’s likely aware of the textual variances and weight of the particular text she’s reading. She knows the meaning of the text, and the larger context. I have great respect for one who knows deeply the original languages of our sacred text.
I also know she solidly believes the Word from which she read. Because I know her, and know of the sincerity of her faith, the depth of her wisdom, and some of the faith-shaking experiences of her life, I feel all the more her testimony behind the words she’s reading. She is making the Word real, or incarnate, by speaking these words of life with respect, love, and sincerity. This is what made the reading resonate so deeply with me; it impressed me to my soul.
It occurred to me that this sense of faithful solidarity is similar to what happens to me when I stand with the congregation in reciting one of the creeds. We believe this stuff. We also have arguments with these statements, and at times, need other people to believe these things for us, so that we can, together, live into the belief and the statements and the community that the creeds represent.
Mind you, it’s not just the community of the congregation I attend, or my denomination, or even the Christian church around the world at the moment. It’s the community of all times, of all people who have written these words, verified the importance of them, and said them. And yes, people have and do dispute the nuances and implications of statements of faith. It is the act of saying the creeds that helps build credibility and faith with each of us.
Our congregation has lined up “lay” readers for one of the lectionary scripture readings each Sunday for a number of years now. I’m surprised that it’s taken me so long to be aware of how I feel the impact of this Word. Perhaps I’m exaggerating the point. Of course, pastors who read scripture…and preach, and teach…also represent sincere faith and engagement of the Word. They, too, know the words behind the Word; they live faith in its challenges and joys as much as the rest of us—and see intimately how we struggle with life and faith.
Sometimes the reader is a very young person who struggles with reading; I see in them the effort to grow into the faith they’re grasping (like the rest of us, only we’ve likely been at this for a while). I hear a deacon reading, and know that for this moment, his faith is focused on the truth of the text, even as he carries many concerns of his family and of this community.
I catch myself by surprise sometimes when I’m the scripture reader; I’m one of the “professionals,” right? Yet the strong regard for worship, the Word, and the gathered community’s intensity sharpen my awareness of the significance of the living Word becoming realized in this place at this time. We breathe these words, and the Word becomes flesh in our hearing and living its truth. Not only are the words “the Word of the Lord,” but the reading and hearing and responding become the Spirit’s engagement of us.
May the words, and the Word coming from our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in God’s sight as we listen and live.