Lectionary for Sunday 14th August, 2016

Gosh. Well, I know I can be cross with the Lectionary sometimes (see my first ever post), but
this week’s readings are coherent and cohesive; informing and enriching each other
splendidly!

So, seeing that they form such a whole, this is a good week to talk about over-arching
poetry of the Bible. Not the poetry in the Bible. I mean OF. This is different from the poems
or poetry of any one passage, chapter or book. We’re looking at the whole of the Bible’s
strenuous integrity; the straining of clear and foggy voices from all ages echoing,
harmonising and clashing.

And they’re not dry-bone voices which merely opine or record. They are fresh-ancient
voices of people who object, protest, bargain, rebuke, lust, argue, rage and yearn. And the
reason that they inter-link so perfectly is because the impetus of every writer is a yearning
which each shares: the urgent wish to get on top of, to get underneath, to interpret what
God has to do with humankind.

We could call this week’s group of readings “How long?” passages, even though most do not
contain those words. Without exception they are expressions of exasperation about the gap
between what is happening and what is needful. The words ‘How Long’ appear 58 times in
the Bible, from Exodus through to Revelation. But many, many, others contain the same
unease and impatience. Some passages reveal God’s exasperation with us, some deal with
our frustrations towards God; to read them as separate entities is to miss much of the
necessary tension which our world shares with identical divine/human tensions of the Bible.

And, of course, the “How Long?” passages form only one of the threads running in all
directions through the Bible. When the Lectionary is really doing its job, (and this week it
undoubtedly is), it exposes, discloses, and juxtaposes for us all the delight and difficulty of
making sense of multiple and contradictory texts.

Another such thread, which we all recognise, is that of the ‘Servant’ texts – echoing back and
forth, weaving a picture of godly/selfless service operating in the teeth of abuse and
persecution. Perhaps that is the thread which leads us to our most Christian and
comprehending response to Christ…

For me, this is the poetry OF the Bible; the conversations and conflict in image and story,
called back and forth across 40 centuries, in which we can – and must – join.

The Bible rightly overwhelms. It should. This week shall we listen to the “How Longs” in our
Bibles; and then, in harmony and discomfort, work out what our own “How Longs” are?