On the Public Reading of Scripture

A HOLY WEEK EXPERIMENT

During Holy Week–the week leading up to Easter each year–our church generally devotes a fair amount of energy to different events and programs. We often put on a Messianic Seder Meal and a Good Friday service. Sometimes we’ve hosted prayer vigils, Maundy Thursday services, or prayer labyrinths. A week historically set aside for reverent remembrance tends to get filled with busy-ness and programs.

This year, we did something different, putting into practice and idea I  borrowed from a pastor friend of mine who had done something very similar at his church for several years. And ironically, though this “program” took up a lot of time during the week—a total of 14 hours over 5 days—it was simple and life-giving.

Here’s what we did: we invited people to gather 3 times every day for one hour at a time, at 6:00 in the morning, at noon, and at 6:00 in the evening. The only two things we did during that time was to read Scripture aloud and pray. As an experiment, I was not sure how it would go. I didn’t know if people would show up, nor did I have an idea of how they would take it.

On Monday morning, I showed up dutifully to the church at about 5:40 AM, turned on the lights, unlocked a few doors, and waited. As I stood in the lobby and sipped my coffee, I wondered what I would do when (not if) no one else showed up. “Well,” I told myself, “I’ll do exactly what I would do if 100 people showed up: begin at Matthew 1 and read aloud for 45 minutes, then respond to the reading in prayer.”

At about 5:58, I heard a car pull up. Two friends—fairly new believers—got out, carrying their Bibles, their own cups of coffee, and a distinctly sleepy look in their eyes. “Good morning!” I greeted them with a smile, as they slipped in the door from the darkness of the morning.

“Where is everybody?” John asked.

“I think we’re it,” I replied, “and that’s about triple what I was thinking would be here about 5 minutes ago!”

We walked down to the front of the sanctuary, I sat on a stool with a music stand in front of me. On it sat a large print ESV Bible, already opened to Matthew 1. John & Jennifer sat down in one of the pews facing me, and opened to the same place.

“Well,” I said, “Thanks for being here. The plan is to simply read through the Gospels a chapter at a time, out loud. I’ll start, and if you’d like to read, one of you can pick up in chapter 2. We’ll just keep reading until about 6:45, then spend the rest of the time in prayer.”

The hour went by amazingly quickly. And over the week, more and more people showed up. Our largest gathering wasn’t huge—just over 20 people were present. John & Jennifer showed up every morning at 6:00 (along with a number of others as the week went on), and they were present any other time their schedules allowed. They were sad when they had to miss one of our times.

As we read together, and aloud, people began to experience the powerful and life-giving impact of the Word of God. We intentionally spent time in the Gospels because we wanted to look at Jesus. We wanted to walk with him. We wanted to hear his words—spoken aloud, as they were to those who originally heard them—and be shaped by them. And we were.

As awkward and weird and maybe even boring as this time may sound, it was anything but. For those who participated, it was surprisingly powerful. And the word I heard more than anything from participants was “life-giving.” It was a truly life-giving time of swimming in the word.

On a personal level, I spent 14 hours that week, with brothers and sisters in Christ, reading and listening to the Word of God read—from Matthew 1 all the way through Acts 28. When Saturday morning came, I missed it. As did others.

DEVOTE YOURSELF TO THE PUBLIC READING OF SCRIPTURE

“Until I come,” Paul commanded his protege, Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13). Many churches don’t even devote themselves to the public teaching of Scripture, much less the public reading of Scripture. We think it too much—especially in a highly visualized, digitized, and distracted world—to ask people to “listen” to something read aloud for more than 30 seconds.

And yet we believe, as the author to the Hebrews wrote:

“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”    (Hebrews 4:12-13)

And as God declared in Isaiah:

“my word…shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which i purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”    (Isaiah 55:11)

I’m not sure exactly what God’s purposes were for his people during the week that we corporately read, listened, and prayed his Word. I know that he intended to impart life. And he did. I know that he intended to encourage us. And he did. I know that he intended to bless us. And he did. And I know that 14 hours of the public reading of Scripture and the prayers offered during those times has and will bear fruit that we may never know about until all things are made perfect on that Day.

Until then, we will continue to “devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.” In fact, we plan to incorporate more of the public reading of Scripture in each of our weekly services. There is little doubt next Holy Week will follow much of the same pattern as this year. We discovered, if nothing else, that we desperately need God’s Word–it is life. it is food. As Jesus himself, quoting Deuteronomy, asserted:

“man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”    (Matthew 4:4)

God has invited us to come to his feast–not alone, but together. What better diet for a church to have than the very words of God, spoken to and over them as much as possible.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

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