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Using the Bible in Worship

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Dear Friends in Christ,


Different Christian denominations worship in very different ways. For some, ritual prayers and chant dominate; in others, music dominates (choral or band music). Some traditions use a liturgy jokingly called a “sermon sandwich:” two songs, a sermon, and a song. In some cases, the sermon might quote one verse from the Bible, and expound on it at length. In the Episcopal Church (and other liturgical churches) we read full sections of the Bible in each service (as many as four), and the prayers and sermon and communion are all parts of the whole of worship. Why do we read scripture in worship this way? How does this calendar of readings work?

Especially if people are not reading the Bible at home, it helps God’s people to read and hear full sections of the Bible so that we can understand the verses in their context. The calendar of readings that we use is called a “lectionary.” Our lectionary is very similar to the Roman Catholic lectionary, and is based on the “Revised Common Lectionary” used by several protestant churches. The Episcopal Church has two primary lectionaries (found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer): a two year lectionary of daily readings for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and a three year lectionary of weekly readings for Sundays.


Each Sunday, we read an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading (from books other than the Gospel accounts), and a Gospel reading. Year A is primarily from Matthew, Year B from Mark, Year C from Luke; John is read in all the years. The lectionary does not read from the entire Bible in three years, but it covers a lot of ground. In the summer and fall, the readings from the Old Testament are “semi-continuous,” working their way through a book or section of the Old Testament instead of jumping around. The New Testament Readings usually follow a similar pattern. Notice that right now we are starting to read through First Corinthians.

Why do we use so much of the Bible each Sunday? We could use fewer readings (perhaps it might help us focus our attention on one or two). But with the full slate of readings, we get a lot more exposure to the Bible. The Bible is the central authority for the Christian faith and life. The Bible reveals Jesus Christ, who himself reveals God the Holy Trinity. The writers of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit in their writing, so we do well to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ what we hear and read. We read the Bible prayerfully, listening for the voice of a living God speaking to us through scriptures.


Our worship service comes in two parts, the Liturgy of the Word from our Jewish roots (reading scripture, hearing a sermon, saying our prayers), and the Liturgy of the Table as commanded by our Lord (communion). The Word is foundational to our faith and learning. Sermons find their authority in scripture and therefore respond to the readings (more on Sermons later).


How have you found the way we read scripture in our worship helpful? How have you found it challenging? What would help you go deeper in engagement with the Bible?


This Sunday (and all Sundays), come attentive to the voice of a living God speaking in and through the scriptures, not just to days in the past, but to us in the present. Listen for God’s message to us as his people, and to you as his beloved child.


Yours in Christ,


-Tom


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