Then and Now
I have been reading Rome and Jerusalem by Martin Goodman. It is subtitled: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations. The book provides a detailed examination of these two ancient cities as well as much historical information. I have also just finished, coincidentally, watching the second series of the HBO/BBC drama, Rome. What both the book and the TV series do, in their own different ways, is reinforce just how much the world has changed since then.
This presents a real dilemma when preaching because most congregational members are not really interested in exploring the implications of this change when it comes to understanding a passage of Scripture. And yet, an act of imagination is required if the Bible is not just to be a text on which we impose our own pictures inevitably drawn from our very different world.
I will never forget the shock I got when I first went to Galilee. The lake is so small. I was brought up with images inspired by calling it the Sea of Galilee. I imagined it being so much bigger. Being there, helped me get a better image of what the geography must have been like and that helps me now to imagine some of the journeys the Bible describes Jesus making as well as some of the events it tells us about..
We have a problem in our lectionary readings in church at the moment. The software I and many others use, giving us the readings for each Sunday, is out of synchronization with the version of the lectionary published by the Church of England and which is used by the English-speaking churches, amongst others, here in Hong Kong. This has resulted in us having the same Gospel reading for two Sundays running. I used the computer version for the first Sunday and my colleague the published one for the second Sunday.
The explanation of why the printed version is right, and not that on my software, is found on the Church of England Liturgical Commission’s Official website:
'The provision of Is 49:1-7, 1 Cor 1:1-9, John 1:29-42 for 20 January (3rd Sunday of Epiphany) is correct.
This is because the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany (13 January) takes the readings for the Baptism of Christ (Isaiah 42.1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10.34-43 and Matthew 3.13-end), and the 1st Sunday of Epiphany (6 January) coincides with the Feast of the Epiphany itself.
Likewise the readings normally read on the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany are in 2008 read on the 4th Sunday of Epiphany (27 January), and Candlemas may - if desired - be celebrated on Sunday 3 February.'
So that’s all clear then!
One good thing, however, now I know which is the right one, is that I will get to preach this Sunday on the passage that the software gave for last Sunday, that is, Matthew 4:12-23. This describes how Jesus makes his home at Capernaum instead of Nazareth after John the Baptist is arrested. Again, one of my abiding memories of Capernaum, after visiting it, is how small these villages must have been. Peter’s house, which now has an awful looking modern church built over it, must also have been small. It is a beautiful setting, though, and must have been even more so when Jesus lived there.
All of which challenges us all both preacher and congregation to work at the text not just to understand what the words mean, but to imagine what it means: to picture the world in which the words were written. A world with no cars, electric, computers, telephones, and all those things we are so proud of having invented, but which have added to the stress of life and are contributing to the destruction of the planet.
I like this quotation from the historian G M Trevelyan that appears on the Rome website:
"The dead were and are not. Their place knows them no more and is ours today... The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once on this earth, once on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow".
I have just downloaded an update for Visual Liturgy 4, the computer software I mentioned above, and it has corrected the problem. If anyone has been having the same problem as me, check for downloads!