This morning a blind gentleman read the Tanakh lesson from a braille copy.
I finally realized that there's a problem with the bulletins that list the lectionary readings for the day. Instead of listening to it, people read it instead! What was the point of reading it aloud if people were going to read it instead of listening?
Of course, people who are hard of hearing or deaf need to read it to understand it. This post isn't addressing that. I also don't think congregations should stop giving the lectionary readings, either. I read them before the service to know what stories we'll be learning about in the sermon.
The ritual act of reading aloud seems to be losing its importance, and that is what I'm concerned about. Certainly when people were illiterate (though many still are in different degrees and dimensions) it made sense to read Scripture aloud. It was sometimes the only chance some people got to understand the Bible. Now that people are, by and large, literate, listening doesn't seem to have that same appeal.
"Why listen to it when I can read it faster?"
"It's there to read, so why not read it then?"
While people may certainly be listening as well as reading the passages during the service, I think people are forgetting the importance of the lectionary readings.
The lectionary readings aren't just to prepare us for the sermon. The sermons serve the readings, not the readings the sermon. We listen for God's voice in the readings, then we have a sermon to help us understand the readings better.
Reading the scriptures is one thing. We Christians should be more conscientious about studying the Bible; however, reading is only one way of being open to the Spirit. Listening offers us another opportunity to be open. We hear the rhythm of the words. Our reader may emphasize a word or phrase which we would've skipped in reading.
I'll admit my own difficult in actually listening to the readings. My mind wanders. I speculate about the sermon's topic. I worry about the future. I wonder whether I'll ever find a husband. In other words, I do everything I'm not supposed to do during the Holy Eucharist. In all the prayers I'm present, lifting my voice with others to praise and petition God. I listen intently to the words of the priest while he raises the chalice and the paten. I sing with the congregation to our God. But in the readings I feel free mentally to wander away from God's worship.
But just as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the bread and wine, so too do we receive God through Holy Scripture. The readings help us to know God and to unite with Him just like the prayers help us to abide in God and to trust in Him.
While the mass is the work of the people for God, it is also a means by which God comes among us. Why pass it up? Listening to the readings is a chance to set aside ourselves and our distractions in order to open ourselves to God's presence in history.
I kind of envied that blind man reading to us today. Does he have similar distractions during the readings? I'm sure he does. But I can hope that he knows just how beautiful and important listening to the readings is.
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