I was the worship leader at my church recently, which meant I started the service, made announcements, read the scriptures, and sat up front looking saintly. I like doing that, but I am always stymied when introducing and ending the lessons.
I like to start the lessons by giving a little background on the reading because jumping into the middle of a biblical book can be confusing. For instance, if I stood in front of the congregation and said, “A reading from Habakkuk” or “A reading from Philemon,” most folks would have no idea what I’m talking about. I can just hear them asking, “Who?”
Or what if I said, “A reading from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy?” Unfortunately, Paul didn’t write any letters to Timothy, but some Bible translations (such as the King James Version) will tell you he did. Scholarship tells us a writer “borrowed” Paul’s name (capitalizing on name recognition) to write this letter.
Sometimes a reading will go on for several minutes. In these cases, I want to tell the listeners, “Settle back. Get comfortable! This is going to be long and boring.” The Holy Week scriptures in particular tend to be lengthy, and in some churches, folks have to stand during the readings. I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering “Is this ever going to end?”
In Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, the clergy make a big deal out of reading from the Gospels. The service starts with a hymn while the acolytes carry the processional cross and candles down the aisle, followed by someone holding the book high in the air, followed by the priest. When the procession stops, the acolytes turn to the priest, who takes the missal, kisses it, and holds it up high—to show God the reading, I guess.
The congregation stands through all this, and by this point, I’m of the opinion that the ritual is more important than the scripture. Finally, the priest reads. When he is finished, the missal is closed, held high, kissed, and given back to the missal bearer. Another hymn is sung, and the parade heads back to the altar, where everything is put back in place.
At this point, I’m exhausted, I’ve forgotten what the priest read, and I am ready to head home—but the service is just starting.
To me, the long reading ritual is overkill.
Here are a few more of my thoughts about how to end a Bible reading in church.
After some of the more complex scriptures, I want to say “Whatever!” or “I have no idea what that means!” and sit down.
In my church, the reader never says “The word of God” because we know some god didn’t write a Bible in archaic English with lots of thees, thous, and -eths.
In my last reading as worship leader, the Gospels ended with Jesus saying “Follow me” (John 21:19), so I just sat down.
Do you have any other ideas for starting and ending Bible readings?