A. The Gospel and Bible Sunday.
1. In the gospel, Jesus describes his coming in judgment using the image of the Son of Man coming on the clouds—an image taken from Daniel 7:13-14. Jesus tells his hearers, “This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” This suggests that he is referring to the judgment on Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70, within a generation of Jesus’ death. Indeed, during his trial, Jesus had told those who condemned him, “You will see the Son of Man…coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
2. Jesus said this after Palm Sunday and just before his crucifixion. That is, just as he was about to be condemned and executed, he prophesied that the false judgment the world would not stand. He would be vindicated in the Resurrection and God’s righteous judgment would be executed on those who wrongly put him to death.
3. Today is called Bible Sunday because the lessons focus on how God’s word gives us a sure and certain hope in the midst of the false promises and judgments of the world. As Jesus said in the gospel, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” That is, everything we see, and touch has an expiration date; but everything God wills and speaks will come to pass and endure into eternity.
B. The discipline of Bible reading
1. Jesus is THE Word of God. The Bible is the primary way Jesus is revealed to us. The written word reveals to us the eternal and Incarnate Word. Thus, if we want to know Jesus, we must read and listen to the Bible.
2. Bible reading is a spiritual discipline. It will not shape and form our attitudes and behavior unless we do practice it as a habit. Many people read the Bible in times of spiritual excitement or crisis; but once the excitement of conversion or renewal passes, or once the crisis is solved, they stop. Thus, the Bible becomes a periodic source of inspiration or comfort, but not a formative influence.
3. No spiritual discipline will cause us to think and act more like Christ over the course of time unless we learn to practice it even when we don’t feel like it. We don’t practice an art or skill, and we don’t exercise and eat a good diet, because we always feel like it; we do these things because we know such habits are essential to competence and health. When our practice of spiritual disciplines is governed by how we feel, we necessarily settle for a lesser state of spiritual competence and health—for eventually we will not feel like doing what is spiritually necessary and beneficial.
4. When our life of prayer (which includes regular Bible reading) is governed by our will rather than by our emotions, we build our lives upon the solid foundation of things that are eternal (cf. Mathew 7:24-27). Conversely, when we allow our behavior to be perpetually driven by what excites us in the moment, we consign ourselves to a life focused on transitory things; for so much of what perpetually grabs our attention in our consumer and marketing culture is of little lasting value.
C. Our inheritance
1. As Anglicans, we are heirs of a tradition that places great emphasis on Bible reading. The English Reformation was a reform of the church through the lens and filter of the Bible. There is an ongoing need for such reform. Churches and individuals fall into religious patterns of behavior that take on a non-biblical life of their own over time. If you ask, why are you doing that? The answer is, this is the way we (or I) have always done it. If you ask, how does the thing that’s always been done promote conversion of the heart or spiritual growth, there is no answer. Many people fight, they exercise a lack of the biblical virtue of charity or love, to maintain religious habits that are no longer rooted in God’s word.
2. This does not mean we should abandon the ancient tradition of the church. For an equal and opposite error occurs when spiritual energy is not channeled into the form of the authentic tradition. Unbridled spiritual energy can generate much non productive activity. It is like a person who runs without form or direction. He runs, now left and now right; he flails with a variety of strides and arms motions. There is much activity but no efficient progress because there is no form or direction to guide it.
3. Thus, if the church becomes dead in its liturgical worship; if the people go through the outward forms but do not experience inner renewal, the answer is not to abandon the liturgy. The answer is to return to Bible; to hear the Word of God again, to be inwardly converted again so that the liturgy once again becomes the outward expression of our inner faith.
D. The Prayer Book framework for Bible reading
1. This continual reform, and the practice of Bible reading as a discipline, is really rather simple for us as Anglicans. It just means taking the Prayer Book seriously as our Rule of prayer. The Prayer Book provides Bible lessons for each Sunday that reflect the theme of the season. We are called to hear them prayerfully. They are meant to open our hearts to Jesus so that we will be ready to receive him in the Sacrament.
2. The Prayer Book provides daily Morning and Evening Prayer with a lectionary for daily Bible reading; that is, a list of Bible lessons to be read each and every day of the year—two at Morning Prayer and two at Evening Prayer, along with a plan for praying the Psalms (We discuss this in some detail in our Inquirers’ Class).
3. It had been said by some in our tradition that the Morning and Evening Prayer are for the clergy, not the laity. This is baloney. The Prayer Book was written for the people not for the clergy. The English Reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale had as his goal that the plowman of his day would know more Scripture than the clergy. The Prayer Book envisions the whole church participating together in the daily office and its daily readings.
4. This daily habit is both a spiritual discipline and a means of continual reform. We don’t have think each day about what we are going to read. We just have to develop the habit of actually reading what the church has appointed for us. As we read the Bible in this habitual manner, our behavior is continually confronted and reformed. For the Bible convicts us of our selfishness and ingratitude, leads us to confession and forgiveness, and inspires us to live in a new way.
E. An exhortation.
1. We find ourselves historically in a similar position to our Lord in today’s gospel. Our culture has also rejected Jesus and his call to repent. As during Holy Week, those who oppose God seem to be winning. However, now as then, things are not as they appear. Like the first century crucifiers of our Lord, his modern adversaries will also see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in power and judgment; and, as with his first century followers, all who are faithful to Christ will be vindicated by him and with him.
2. We can only understand this; we can only see what is really going on from God’s perspective by reading the Bible. As we “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the biblical word of God we “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life” over and against the false promises and hopes of the world. We are called to do this as a daily discipline. For, as Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”