Stunned

Yesterday I finished reading the Epistles, the last one being Jude, and that was such a great letter to end with! Have you read it recently? I last read it with a friend, Jane. She found some of the cultural weight of the Bible hard to cope with, feeling separated from it by the two thousand years and the different culture, but she loved Jude! And reading it again, alone, I saw what it was that had made her lower her prickles and open up to the words. It’s such a friendly, warm, human letter. Jude steps off the page, and into the conversation, into the moment, like a family member, a good mate. He’s encouraging, but he’s also cautious, warning us about charlatans and false teachers, and it just feels as if he’s linking his arm with ours, leaning in, so that we can hear him, trust him, know him. Nothing magical or mysterious or imponderable in Jude, just a good friend giving sound advice. God’s gift to us.

Isn’t it fabulous when the Bible speaks to you in that way? That’s something we can discover when we read the Gospels, the personal touch of Jesus, his words and his history, and his daily routine. I love the incidental details, walking in the heat of the day, or going up a mountain, or separating from the crowd, or sleeping in the boat, or his mother at the door, or a small man unable to see through the crowd. Such colourful detail.

Doesn’t your heart ache with longing and joy and peace – a right old mish-mash of emotions – when you read the Beatitudes? The Sermon on the Mount is so personal, so direct and clear, so human. Jesus makes it easy for us to love him.

I’m struck time and again by the simplicity of the New Testament, the clarity of his teaching, but also the mundane events that we see catch a glimpse of, over all the centuries and miles. God made man. Think of it! That’s becoming a bit of an obsession with me – how is it that we don’t fall down in wonder and gratitude that God became man for us?

So much beauty in the Bible that sometimes it’s overwhelming. The breaking of bread. Is there anything more beautiful than the breaking of bread?

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’

Imagine those hands, breaking that bread. This is his body. A prophecy of what was about to happen. So simple. So gentle. No great drama, no self pity, no fear. Just a piece of bread, a metaphor both physical and visual, one we can share with him, one we can repeat. Now that I don’t have a local church, there are many things I miss, but I miss Communion more than anything else.

Today I am bemused and flummoxed by the Bible. It’s completely amazing. It is. Occasionally something we know, or think we know, comes alive and startles us, becoming vivid and insistent. That’s the Bible for me today. I was going to say that I wish it was always like this but, honestly, I don’t think I could cope with this awareness all the time. It is alive. It is alive. It’s powerful and relevant and it speaks. Not in a voice but in a heart and soul. A friend used to say ‘Jesus is brilliant, he says the words our hearts need to hear.’ He does.

Having finished reading through the Epistles, putting the commentaries away today, I was wondering what book of the Bible to turn to next. Start at the beginning, at Genesis? Maybe not, because having done an on-line Genesis study during lockdown, I really should move on to pastures new.

So, what now?

Exodus? Hmmm…. I’ve read it a few times in the last few years so if I’m going to break – for me – new ground, I should move on.

Leviticus? What, really? With all those laws and rituals and carrying-on? If it was just a case of dutifully reading it, then yes, maybe, but I want to submit to it, to open myself to the teaching, to ponder it. I can’t see me pondering Leviticus too regularly, delving into commentaries, without the top of my head exploding.

Numbers? I think not. Deuteron – oh, come on, Luce. Get a grip. And then I realised – I was playing a little self-delusional game – setting off on a path that would lead to Isaiah, or Job, or Hosea, or Ecclesiastes. Or Song Of Solomon. I was heading back to the books that feed my love of language, the books whose allure is partly the language and imagery, the love and passion pouring from the pages.

Isn’t it a pain when you know yourself so well you can’t even kid yourself?

So, I am not going to wander back down a path I’ve walked so many times that I could do it with my eyes closed. Where would be the new sights and insights if I did that? I want the next year to be a voyage of discovery, not a routine run to the shops.

I folded my arms and I spoke sternly to me. ‘Not Isaiah.’

You know by now that I’m not a aesthete, I don’t do hairshirts and ashes, so I’m not going to grit my teeth for Leviticus and the teaching of skin disease (chaper 13) or mildew (14) or bodily discharges (15) but instead I’m going to start in Joshua and read right through to Nehemiah. All the books that are called ‘the historical books’. And I’m going to get the commentaries and do it thoughtfully and – who knows – I might end up with a better understanding of the chronology of the Bible than I have right now.

But I might sneak back to the Gospels every now and then. I might read the Beatitudes at least once a week. I might return to the man at the well a few times.

He is on every page, in every word. The man at the well. From ‘In the beginning’ to the final blessing of Revelation.

Stunned.

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