hosting the word

Whenever it gathers to worship the church gives the Holy Bible (literally, the “Book set apart for God”) a place of prominence. For us it is scripture.  In other words, it is the church’s script.  In the Bible we discover the plot that is God’s saving mission in the world. Scripture provides us with parts to perform as actors in the great drama called “Gospel.” The Bible is our source book, the deep, thick memory that reminds the church of its peculiar identity in every cultural context. Reading the world through the lens of the cruciform biblical narrative gives us new eyes to see (II Corinthians 5:16-20).

At University Hill Congregation we are coming to think of the Bible as a holy companion. Rather than “studying the Bible” we speak of “hosting the text.” When the scripture sounds foreign to our ears we do not immediately try to silence it or make it fit into predetermined categories. Rather, we imagine ourselves with Abraham and Sarah providing hospitality to strangers and, in doing so, “entertaining angels without knowing it” (Genesis 18:1-15; Hebrews 13:2). We have come to realize that biblical literacy is crucial for the church. We are a people in danger of forgetting our mother tongue. Our life together is akin to a language immersion class. We are learning to inhabit our story of origin so that we can live the gospel fluently in a world that regularly lives from an alternate story of consumption and control.

On Sundays the role of Bible host is played by the lector. The lector is more than a reader. The lector is a host.  As worship opens, the church bell is rung and a dramatic procession makes its way up the centre aisle – light, water and Bible. Candles are lit. The baptismal font is filled. A large Bible is held aloft and placed open on the pulpit. Later, as the service comes to an end, the congregation is led by the flame and the Word as the lector carries the Bible ahead of commissioned disciples, sent into the world. If the lector does not have the strength to carry the heavy Bible she or he invites an assistant to undertake this important act of hospitality on behalf of the congregation.

During the week prior to worship we invite the lector to read and meditate on the scripture that is to be hosted by the congregation in worship. Our written guidelines for lectors put it this way: “Help us to host the text with love and respect, as we would host an honoured guest. Give the reading meaning – lift it off of the page – which simply means to invest it with your interpretation. Bring yourself to the passage and tell us the story as best you can.” (University Hill’s guidelines for lectors can be found online here)

At the end of each reading the lector reminds the congregation of the centrality of the Bible in its life. At University Hill Congregation we invite the lector to make this proclamation using one of four declarations: “The Word of the LORD” or “The Word of God” or “God’s Word is a lamp to our feet” or “Herein is Wisdom.” Each of these is a daring claim that in hosting scripture we participate in a living conversation with the One revealed in Jesus Christ speaking now through the Holy Spirit. Announcing that the Bible is “The Word of God” is, of course, to be speaking in metaphor.  The impossible possibility of hearing the voice of God through the very human words of the Bible is wondrous good news that lies at the heart of the church’s life. That we do regularly hear a new and creative Word addressed to our souls, our life together and our planet gives the congregation reason to join in the church’s response in every age: “Thanks be to God.”

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