Canon Missioner - Revd Canon Jay Colwill
On Sunday 6th July 1975 at All Saints Wokingham, I was presented with this red book. It is the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. I was a member of Junior Church- that was our name for Sunday school and my Sunday school teacher was Mrs Martyn- the Rector’s wife. She was quite fierce and the the classes were very orderly and not a lot of fun
I can still remember standing in line, at the age of 7, nearly 8 years old, ready to collect it. Yet, as I look back, it seemed a strange version to give to a 7 year old. The text is tiny, and in two columns. There are no pictures, sub-headings titles- nothing to guide the new reader and help them to work out how to read it. The best you can do is start at page one and see how far you get. I think I tried that and got as far as Leviticus and then gave up.
This Bible remained a closed book to me for many years. I knew it was important and I didn’t throw it away, but I didn’t open it either. Your relationship with the Bible might be like that. You know it’s important, you’ve got one of your own (maybe more) but you don’t read it either.
At the coronation of the a new Monarch, oaths must be sworn to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and after which, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland says: ‘we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.”
‘The most valuable thing that this world affords.’
Why is that? It is because it points to Jesus Christ, the word made flesh. It offers no less than God’s revelation of Himself!
But I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t understand it. It remained a closed book to me. It was as if I had a precious diamond that was surrounded by rock, and all I could see was the outside.
Jesus, himself, in our gospel reading today, explains that the Bible (the Old Testament That was His Bible) spoke about him. He does this by trapping the Pharisees in a riddle:
“If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
Jesus is Great David’s Greater Son, but pre-exists Him! Jesus is the alpha and the omega- the beginning and the end. The Bible helps us to to understand this.
We will only understand this if we can read the Bible in our own language- that is not just English, French, Spanish, Yoruba, Africaans, Portugese. But it is being able to read it in your own dialect and grow in understanding of it. That is what generations of Christian scholars have understood. Our language changes all the time and so our translation of the Bible needs to adapt to accommodate this. That is how we can have three very different translations of our readings, but still read them in the same language. I couldn’t understand this Bible because it didn’t speak my language.
When you find a translation and a format that brings the word alive, you very quickly learn of course, that the Bible is a library of books that we call the Bible is the history of a very particular relationship, and a particular conversation....for it is an account of the relationship of God with God's people.
It’s true, of course, that when we say, as we did just a few moments ago “This is the word of the Lord” we may have quite different understandings of what that means...but we are affirming that God can speak to us through the pages of this book of books.
That's not always a comfortable experience – and indeed, nobody could claim that the Bible is always an enjoyable read. It's tempting to gloss over the awkward parts – both those that tell of unspeakable cruelties and those that give us far more information that we ever needed about the dietary codes of a nomadic race. It can be tempting, though, to shy away from those bits that hit home just a little too hard...those words that remind us that the word of God is indeed active as any two- edged sword...and that sometimes the guidance and truth we need to hear is a far cry from the easy consolation we would like.
However, when people experience the Bible being read and reflected upon, they are often enthused. The Dean and I were surprised when we carried out the online survey to find that out of the 180 who replied, the 77% said reading the Bible and listening to a homily was the first or second most important aspect or morning prayer for them. It might be that people just enjoy Andrew’s stories about musical theatre (!) But I think that it’s more than that. The Bible comes alive when a community reads it together and says (in so many words) ‘speak LORD, your servants are listening’.
When I was 16 years old, I was given another Bible. I had become part of a group of young people who were beginning to wrestle with questions of faith and belief. Through that, I met someone who encouraged me to read the Bible (this one had photos, headings and a font that I could actually see) and wrestle with the questions that I had. It completely changed my life.
Whether it is a book, an audiobook, an app or even an ancient scroll, (it doesn’t matter the format) the Bible has changed people’s lives as they have encountered Jesus through it. And when they meet Jesus, it can change the way that you think, act and live: ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Nothing is more life-changing than that!
Jesus knew the Bible well enough to quote it when he faced temptation, when he confronted his persecutors and the he drew his last breath. If Jesus recalled the Scriptures at the most challenging times in his life, we, his followers could do the same. Can I encourage you: Find a way to read the Bible regularly, find a community that encourages and teaches you, and wrestle with the questions and challenges that you find there. If you do, you will have ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords.”