Eucharist – Bible Sunday – 25th October
25 October2020 “Bible” Sunday
Nehemiah 8: 1-12, Colossians. 3.12-17
Matthew. 24. 30-35
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he[a] is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Bibles are funny things: not funny “ha-ha!”, funny peculiar. They can have the oddest effect on otherwise perfectly normal people. Once, at a primary school question-and-answer session, some (but not all) of the kids were quite interested, and asked thoughtful questions, not only for information, but also on spirituality. It made me think about things nothing else ever has. But then, as time was just running out, one of the teachers put his hand up and asked how I could justify living my life according to some book, as if it was silly. Which of course, it is, if that’s all there is to it. I replied that I didn’t live my life by a book, but by a person: – and then the bell went. I don’t suppose he was satisfied, but at least his enquiry showed something (or maybe someone) was “making the wheels go round”.
Our first reading today is a wonderfully joyful account of how God’s first people, the Jews, re-discovered a dusty old tome (= big book) of what scholars think might have been the one we now call Deuteronomy. After many long years knowing there were God-given rules about life, and rules about worship, and rules about everything else, but not what they actually were any more, they knew they must have been breaking them, somehow, and deserved to be punished, without knowing why. No-one could ever get out of the trap if they couldn’t learn from their mistakes. Only once the tome was found and carefully read out to them could they put matters right, with each other and God, and feel better. No wonder they were happy! But note: it isn’t the scroll of parchment per se that they rejoice in but regaining their hope of release. Then they can return to a pattern of right relationship described, many years later, by Paul in his letter to Colossus. Whereas one set of people knew their need of a book, another knew theirs of a person. For those who know both, like us, the nice question is balance.
Our Gospel passage, therefore, came as a bit of a puzzle: not so much hopeful as confrontational. Jesus is describing the end of the world, and day of judgement: hardly a positive statement. Until, that is, the last line: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”. If we look back at today’s collect, we see that Cranmer, very positively, asserts the value of scripture as the word of God (a book) about the Word of God (a person). Both: and each supporting the other, if Matthew’s quotation from the lips of our Lord is correct. Mulling the Bible over, or brooding (which is what birds do sitting on eggs in the nest) can bring its words to life, and (please God!) lets our spirits take flight. In that prayer we ask God to help us, in the hope of eternal life: ie not just after we’ve “passed away”, but always – even now. It used to be said on the second Sunday of Advent, which makes sense when you consider how that season precedes and prepares either the Apocalypse, or the Nativity of Christ: Alpha and Omega: not or. It’s a promise: we have his word, which will not pass away.
Blessed Lord, 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!