I note that Jack Spong is on a rant recently about our liturgical custom of concluding reading from scripture with “The Word of the Lord.” And the expected response: “Thanks be to God.” The precipitating event was attending his local parish church several weeks ago when the First Reading was the story of the prophet Nathan condemining David for his sins (2 Samuel 12).
The story is great. But the concluding line? “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”
“The Word of the Lord!” “Thanks be to God!”
I must say I have some sympathy with Jack’s position on this. I have no difficulty declaring that I believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God. In fact, I have declared that publicly at least four times — once at each ordination and once by voting for a General Convention resolution attesting to the same.
But that is different from saying that every verse, story, and chapter of the Bible is “the Word of the Lord.” The Bible itself contains progressive revelation and is, in some sense, self-correcting within its very pages.
Perhaps you have shared with me the same experience of having to stifle a smile or some embarrassment by loudly proclaiming “Thanks be to God” after the reading of some lesson in which thousands are slaughtered or babies killed by God.
I think there is a solution to this. Rather than selectively deciding which passage of scripture should be designated as “The Word of the Lord” (a very dangerous undertaking!) perhaps we should just retire the use of such a concluding statement altogether. “Here ends the Reading (Epistle)” is rubrically permitted. As is, I might add, simply letting the reading trail off into silent reflection since the rubrics are permissive (“After each Reading, the Reader MAY say…”)
Silence is often the best response to the readings. Lectio divina can also include “arguing with” scripture in good Hebrew fashion as well as letting it convict, convert, and save us. Let us not be afraid to wrestle with scripture even as Jacob wrestled with the angel!
Thanks be to God!