Nehemiah 8, 1-4, 5-6 and 8-10
- The whole people gathered as one. Which people? Judah has just returned from its long captivity. The time
is the seventh month, when Rosh Hashanah, their new year, took place.
So it is no ordinary meeting, and I will relay this to our assembly in the same solemn tone conveyed by these ancient
- They called upon Ezra the scribe – to bring forth the book of the law of Moses – which the Lord prescribed
for Israel. Once we have attended a modern Sabbath liturgy, and observed
how the center cabinet is opened and the scroll of the Torah is brought to view and taken in procession among the congregation,
we understand the ceremony behind the trimmed down report. I will make the brief
pauses that I have shown here, placing my emphasis on ‘bring forth’ in the sense of ‘let us see the book’
but also ‘let us hear the word.’
- The assembly consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to
understand. Everyone is there! Can I give a sense of completeness?
- How I love these details: Standing at one end of the open
place… He read from daybreak till midday… And all the people listened intently. He opened the scroll so that all might see it… All
the people rose. Is this happening today in our assembly? Is my ministry contributing?
- Ezra blessed the Lord…
All the people answered “Amen, amen!” Do I hear the
drama in these words and do I pass it on? Let me call on all my powers, recalling
other solemn times that have moved me, so that I may move some today.
- They prostrated themselves, their faces to the ground… Now which people do I see and hear doing this today? Should I
remind my listeners about that, when I paint the picture for them now?
- Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep. I want to speak the words as if it was natural for the ancient congregation (and perhaps
for us moderns?) to be deeply touched by God’s word. In fact, I will read
as if I am expecting such a response! Ingmar Bergman said in an interview that
he was most upset when an audience showed an indifferent response to his films. Unless
I make a difference in the faith of the church, I have not fulfilled my ministry.
- Climax: The people, their hands raised high, answered. Let us be grateful to hear this benchmark of the people’s public worship preserved in the Bible.
- Message for our assembly: Our faith goes back a long way. Do we identify?
- I will challenge myself: to read plainly from the book, interpreting
it with my own vocal powers and faith experience. I have asked myself for
an unusually high level of consciousness, but I must avoid letting it all out when I read.
Our assembly needs the same freedom to respond that the people of Judah enjoyed.
I Corinthians 12, 12-30
- As the body is one though it has many parts… The
reading is very long today and full of repetition. I hear many references to
anatomy, as a layman like the apostle or I might say it.
- Many parts… one body. This inherent tension runs all
through today’s reading, and has inspired many hymns. Let me find my favorite
and hum it while I ponder the reading. Let me re-create his passionate plea for
unity and dependency.
- The apostle mentions the major body parts, hand, eye, ear, head, weaker
and less honorable parts. He is dictating a spiritual letter, not a scientific
treatise. He makes the point that we need them all. (Darwin said something like that in a very long book.)
- The eye cannot say to the hand, I do not need you. The apostle
wants to compare the human body with the local church. By my own glances back
and forth in the congregation I will bring the message home.
- God has so constructed the body. Here is another underlying theme
that I cannot forget. Aristotle said once that nothing we find in nature is without
its purpose. We know in faith that all God’s creation has a purpose.
- Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. I
hear the conclusion, in which the apostle applies his teaching about the body. He
names the offices of the church, putting them in order: first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers… I notice that ‘administration’ and ‘tongues’ come at the end.
- Central point: Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Let me keep this in mind as I move from one example to another.
- The message for our assembly: Do we accept each other for the graces that each of us brings to our common prayer? Are all apostles? Are all prophets?
- I will challenge myself: To keep the assembly’s attention despite the repetition.
Luke 1, 1-4 and 4, 14-21
- Eyewitnesses handed them down to us. If we want to know how the
Gospels came down to us, we have one description here. I too have decided
to write it down in an orderly sequence. Luke is the evangelist with the
most dignified Greek and the most carefully arranged Gospel. It is important
for all of us to know this, even though it will not be the focus of my reading.
- He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue. Let me just repeat the story of Jesus’ first homily (if you wish, keynote or stump speech) with attention.
- He unrolled the scroll and found the passage… The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. The Bible is filled with memories and with promise. We read
the memories too often and ignore the promise, but that was not the way of Jesus. Let
me rehearse it until it bursts forth fresh from my mouth.
- The eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. This is
not Bar Mitzvah time, but a homecoming for a fully formed adult, and the time for the honoree to make a speech. Like current military heroes his fame preceded him, and people expected a show… or did they? At least we do!
- Climax: Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. The
final words of the passage remind me of the message of the entire Gospel.
- Message for our assembly: We live in the time of fulfillment. Let us be
- I will challenge myself: To make the Nazareth synagogue of long ago present to my listeners today.
From Word to Eucharist: Everything we hear speaks
of fulfillment. If we are not moved deeply by the community in prayer that eats
the meal together, pray that we may be so moved.