'Hear the word
of the Lord'
Fr Jacob Legarda, Archbishop’s Chaplain
If you attend a Eucharist on any given Sunday in one of our churches, you’ll hear the Scriptures read four times – there’s a first reading (often from the Old Testament), a portion of the Psalms, a second reading (from the New Testament epistles), and a reading from one of the four Gospels. The first and second readings conclude with the reader declaring, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’ (to which the congregation reply, ‘Thanks be to God’); and in more traditional settings, the Gospel book is carried in procession with incense and candles, and is read in the middle of the gathered congregation – calling to mind that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). Immediately after the sermon, the congregation stand to profess the Creed in which is affirmed that, the Holy Spirit ‘has spoken through the prophets’.
For us Anglicans, these are not empty words or actions. We declare, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’ after the reading of Scripture because that is what we truly believe it to be. We process, cense and honour the Gospel book because we wish to honour Christ whose words it contains. We read from both the Old and New Testaments because we hold them to be Holy Scripture ‘given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation’, as our Church affirms.1.
Beyond the Sunday Eucharist, the Anglican tradition also calls us to consume a rich diet of Scripture daily – two lessons and at least one psalm at Morning Prayer, another two lessons and at least one psalm at Evening Prayer; and for those who attend the Eucharist daily, there is an additional epistle, psalm and Gospel reading. To ensure that we read the entire Bible (and not just our favourite books or passages) these lessons for the Daily Office and the Eucharist follow the reading schedule of the Lectionary because we view all of Scripture as worthy of our attention and reflection.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, explains that ‘the Christian listens for God and listens in the company of other believers to those texts that, from the very beginnings of the Christian community, have been identified as carrying the voice of God… The Bible is the territory in which Christians expect to hear God speaking. That is what the Church says about the Bible, and the Bible itself declares that it communicates what God wants to tell us.’
This, of course, does not mean that the Bible is a complete and straightforward manual from heaven. We know that the Bible is a historical document consisting of different genres (ie history, law, poetry, parables, letters, etc.) written and edited by many hands over a period of approximately 1,600 years. Anglicanism recognises that Scripture requires contextualisation, careful study and interpretation in light of what it says as a whole2 and in view of the Church’s traditional reading and scholarly reasoning.
While we Anglicans may sometimes arrive at different conclusions or even opposing positions when it comes to our reading of the Bible, our shared commitment to Scripture makes our continued unity possible. ‘Within Anglicanism, Scripture has always been recognised as the Church’s supreme authority, and as such ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity3’. We unite around the Bible and recognise it as Holy Scripture, not because we require a charter or constitution to function as a religious society or institution. Instead, we gather around the Scriptures and place ourselves under its authority because it is the God-given means by which we are conformed to the mind and likeness of Christ.
‘The purpose of Scripture is not simply to supply true information, nor just to prescribe in matters of belief and conduct, nor merely to act as a court of appeal, but to be part of the dynamic life of the Spirit through which God the Father is making the victory which was won by Jesus’ death and resurrection operative within the world, and in, and through human beings. Scripture is thus part of the means by which God directs the Church in its mission, energises it for that task, and shapes and unites it so that it may be both equipped for this work and itself part of the message4’.
We Anglicans claim the Bible to be ‘the word of the Lord’ in the sense that it points to and proclaims Jesus Christ, who is the living and infallible Word of God. ‘As Christians read the Bible’, says Rowan Williams, ‘the story converges on Jesus. The full meaning of what has gone before is laid bare in Jesus. The agenda for what follows is set in Jesus.’ It is with this view that we approach the Scriptures in faith rather than suspicion, in obedience rather than self-service, and with expectation rather than assumptions.
‘We declare to you what was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked at and touched with our hands,
concerning the word of life –
this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it
and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father
and was revealed to us –
what we have seen and heard we also declare to you
so that you also may have fellowship with us,
and truly our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.’
(1 John 1:1-4)
Hear the word of the Lord.
1. Fundamental Declarations, Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia^
2. Article XX: ‘it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another’^
3. The Windsor Report, Lambeth Commission on Communion 2004^
4. The Windsor Report, 2004^