who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The collect for today, Bible Sunday, says it all. The Bible is there for us to learn from, to study and receive illumination but also for our comfort. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and in reading and inwardly digesting, we receive the fruits of the Spirit inwardly. What more could one want?
Today’s Morning Prayer in my parish church was special. We not only had the readings from the King James Bible, we also had the service from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It took me back to my childhood in Wales.
My father, a confirmed and even militant atheist, sent me to church because it had been one of the requests made of him by my mother on her death-bed. It was hugely to his credit that in spite of his own views, he made sure I went. He would often drive me himself – and wait outside until what he called the “God bothering” was over; that was the only negative comment he ever made.
It so happened that our vicar was an older man who, in spite of the pressures to go with “Series 3” nonethless used the Book of Common Prayer for Communion at least once a month, as well as for Morning Prayer. I loved the language. I did not always understand it, but that was okay, that was what Bible study was for. What I did understand was that I was hearing something which appealed to the love I had (and have) for Shakespeare and for poetry. It took me out of myself in wonder. It still does.
The King James, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known, is far better poetry than the NSRV’s For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
That is not to say that I always prefer the KJV or that it is somehow “better”, just that there are moods in which it suits me better. Equally there are times when the RSV I was given at my Christening suits me better, especially when I am studying the Bible. I feel the same about the Prayer Book. I adore the BCP, but have found in Common Worship equally acceptable forms of prayer.
It all depends on how I feel and what I am wanting to do with my Bible. Sometimes, when praying alone, just letting the readings from the KJV roll off my lips is an almost sensual pleasure; the language so majestic, almost, I feel, how I should be talking to God. But sometimes it’s better to use the Common Worship texts and my RSV – that seems to be how God speaks to me. For my Compline it has to be the ‘traditional language’ version in Common Worship which speaks to me and sends me ready for sleep to my bed. I like that it is unchanging.
Yet, for morning and evening prayer (except on Sundays when I tend to prefer the BCP and use it privately) I find the Common Worship texts work precisely because they change. All of this bothered me once upon a time as I sought to find “the form” which suited me best. Then I realised the wonders of God’s Grace. There were versions that suited whatever mood I was in and where I was, and sometimes it is better just to accept what is on offer.
The final point which truck me on Bible Sunday, is the wisdom of the lectionary. In following it (in whatever version of the Bible) I am taken through Scripture across time in linked readings, and with the help of commentaries and prayer, I can digest and inwardly learn to the profit of my soul.
How wonderful it is that God’s word is so freely available to us. What matters is that we do as the Collect for this Sunday says. Have a wonderful Sunday!