Today, at our church, a vigil will come to an end. It is part of our "For Love of God and Neighbor Campaign". It has been meant to be a week of spiritual discipline for anchoring our church's mission in the words of Scripture. It is the first time that we have done something like this, but I sense it won’t be the last.
Last Sunday at the end of our last service of the morning, a elder in our church stood before the congregation and read aloud from Genesis 1:1-5, we then dismissed the service and a small group of junior high students and their young adult leaders sat in a circle and took up where the elder left off. For the next five days, from early in the morning until late into the night, there has been someone reading, aloud, from the Chronological New Living Translation of the Bible as we as a church community work our way through the entire Bible.
Tonight, at 7 PM a group of leaders in our church will gather together to read the last chapter of Bible, Revelation 22. We have asked four readers to lead us, with a child reading the penultimate verse and then in call and response fashion the leaders of our church will read the last verse together.
Five days, 1441 pages, 76 hours of reading and an amazing experience.
I was signed up to read with my wife early in the experience. I assumed that I would only read once. My son, who had already read with the Junior Highers tagged along because he wanted to do it again. I listened as my wife read about Passover and the slaughter of the first born Egyptians because of Pharaoh’s stubbornness (with my own first born son listening on). Then I read the passage where because of Israel's own stubbornness (how quick we forget!) God had to punish them in the wilderness.
Throughout the day, I remembered that while I went about leading the church staff in meetings, preparing for events, meeting with people, there was someone reading the word of God aloud in our sanctuary. It was like being in a musical, but the music was the voice of God through the voice of his people. Tuesday afternoon, I snuck in the back of the sanctuary for a few minutes and listened as our church receptionist read all by herself, her friendly voice that greets people when they call the church, filling the sanctuary with the word of God.
Tuesday night after a Sanctuary Remodel Committee meeting, I joined a group of young adults and a homeless women who were gathered reading about Solomon's building the temple. A long passage about so many details, it made me grateful for the committee that is paying attention to our sanctuary details, so that in the words of 1 Kings 8:60, "Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord is God and there is no other."
I left at 10:15, but the young adults carried on through the night, moving from the pithy wisdom of Proverbs through the blush-causing Song of Solomon and into the prophets.
On Wednesday morning my ten year old daughter Ali asked me to get her up early so that she could read before school. We arrived at 6 AM where one of my colleagues was already in sanctuary. From 4 AM - 6 AM he had walked alone circling the inside of sanctuary and reading the psalms of praise. Then I listened as my daughter's sweet voice told of the sacrificial love of the Messiah from Isaiah. She finished by reading Isaiah 59:21: "And this is my covenant with them," says the Lord. "My Spirit will not leave them and neither will these words that I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children, and your children's children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken."
This morning, I returned again. At 4 AM I joined with a Marine dressed in his uniform who sat in the darkness under a huge picture of the Good Samaritan on our chancel with only the glow of the lights for reading illuminating the scene. We read from the gospels (after so many hours we were finally in the New Testament!) taking turns for two hours until both daylight and the friendly face of a 70 year widow and elder in our church lit up the morning. As we gave the scriptures to her, her Texas drawl added depth and warmth to the story.
I prepared to leave the vigil to her strong voice, so that I could see my kids off to school. As I left the sanctuary I heard her reading the words of Jesus, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”
I know that my Texan friend turned the Bible over to a retired lawyer who loves the Scriptures. I smiled to think of his booming, confident voice taking up the task from her quiet confident drawl. And throughout this day, more will read, more will listen. A homeless woman has probably heard more of the Bible this past week than any of us. A family brought their preschool aged boys just to listen and be part of something they really don’t understand.
We have needed the whole body of Christ to take on this task, we needed single adults who had the freedom to read late into the night, stay-at-home moms and retirees who could fill the working hours, children who could bring laughter as they giggled through trying to pronounce Hebrew names and working folk who would begin and end their days “in the world” with a time “in the Word” reminding us what all these writings are really about.
Reading aloud the scriptures, listening to them they way they were read for centuries, in community, hearing the grand narrative of God’s redeeming love for the world, letting it soak into the life of our community as we seek to live out the “powerful play” that goes on.
I feel sadness for those who missed out on this experience. I feel some sadness about times I have missed out on what may have been equally powerful and meaningful because my life schedule didn't permit it.
But for those of us who have been part, and for our church as a whole, I can only imagine what this might do to us.
"When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God." (Jeremiah 15:16)
[Update: Sheryl France-Moran a reflection on the Scripture Vigil at her blog, too. ]