In the absence of regular meetings as a church, we are encouraging people to maintain a daily discipline of reading the Bible and prayer. Many of us will have our existing disciplines and routines and we do not wish to disturb that. Jane and I use the daily Office from the Northumbria Community, a discipline of readings and prayer grounded in the Celtic tradition. Others will have their own methods and practices and this is not a time to change or abandon approaches to prayer that have worked for you.
However, if you do not have daily rhythm of prayer in your life, this would be a good time to start! With so many of us staying at home, and so much of the usual frameworks of our day and week swept away, it can be very helpful to have rituals and routines that shape our sense of purpose and our frameworks of time. Bombarded as we are with bad news, and beset by anxiety, it can be restful and reassuring to turn from the TV or the news feed and read an ancient book, and spend time in quietness with our own thoughts, and take time to dialogue with the Divine.
We are providing these readings from the Revised Common Lectionary as a framework for Bible reading and prayer. Why this set of readings? Two reasons: first, they are grounded in the pattern of the church year, and that can strengthen us in our lived faith, especially as we are in Lent and approaching Holy Week and Easter. Secondly, this pattern of worship is widely shared by Christians in many different countries – not everyone, certainly, but enough to form a common framework of attention and devotion around the world. As the whole world deals with the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is good to remind ourselves that we are all together on this planet and our common future can only be secured through shared action.
These readings are built around the lectionary readings for the Sundays of the liturgical year. The first three days of the week have readings reflecting on the Sunday just past. The last three days have readings looking forward to the coming Sunday. You will note that the Psalm is repeated three times – last Sunday’s Psalm on Monday to Wednesday and next Sunday’s Psalm from Thursday to Saturday. This might seem strange, but to meditate on the same Psalm over three days can lead you deeply into its meaning.
In the listing below you can look up the readings individually in your Bible, or just click on the link to see all the readings for that day on your screen in Bible Gateway. Please note that you can select the Bible version that you prefer at the head of each reading, or in the masthead of Bible Gateway. Our Sunday readings at church usually come from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Week by week I will make some comments on these readings. These are not full devotional notes, just some basic introductory comments to help you place the passages in context. What is important is not my comment, but your reading! The fruit of daily devotion is the thoughts and insights that come into your mind when you read, and the actions and commitments that arise in your will and your heart as you pray.
Whatever your practice and discipline of Bible-reading and prayer, may it strengthen and guide you in times of great stress and anxiety.
Monday, March 23, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 59:9-19; Acts 9:1-20
Psalms 146-150 are known as the Hallelujah Psalms because they all end with the exhortation ‘Praise the Lord!’ Psalm 146 is a song of praise, sung by an individual singer (how appropriate in a time of quarantine and self-isolation!) It opens with an affirmation that praise will fill the singer’s life (vss 1-2). Then follows a warning on the limitations of human plans and promises, especially those of the powerful (vss 3-4). Verses 5-9 extol the works of the Lord through creation (vs 6), delivering justice (v. 7) and merciful deliverance and care (vss 8-9). V 10 brings the Psalm to a strong conclusion affirming the timelessness and dependability of God’s reign.
The Isaiah reading is a prophetic lament over the lack of justice (59.9-15a), followed by the oracle of salvation affirming that God sees the situation of his people and will act to punish the guilty and rescue his people (9.15b-19).
Acts 9 is the story of the conversion of Saul, who became Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 42:14-21; Colossians 1:9-14
For comment on the Psalm see Monday.
Isaiah 42 falls in that part of Isaiah where ‘the servant’ figure is a recurring motif. The reading opens with the Lord saying he has kept silent and still but now will act (v. 14) and the following verses outline his actions to come in both deliverance (v. 16) and judgement (vss. 15, 17). What follows is a call to look to the ‘servant’. To the people of the time ‘the servant’ was probably taken as a reference to Israel as the people of God – which would fit with the description of the servant as blind and deaf (vss. 19-20).
Colossians 1.9-14 is a form of blessing. The writer has heard from Epaphras (vs 7) of the Colossians ‘love in the spirit’ (vs 8) and ‘for this reason’ he outlines what he is praying for them. It is an excellent template for how we might pray for one another.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Annunciation of the Lord
Wednesday is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord which celebrates the announcement (hence Annunciation) of the Birth of Jesus by the angel to Mary. Those good at maths will recognise that this feast falls exactly 9 months before Christmas (go figure)! If you click on the link above you will find an alternate set of readings for those in traditions in which this feast day is especially significant. If you google ‘The Annunciation of the Lord’ and click on images, you will see many different artistic representations of how the angelic and human realms intersect, and many different representations of Mary as the archetypal woman.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Psalm 146; Isaiah 60:17-22; Matthew 9:27-34
For comment on the Psalm see Monday.
The Isaiah reading is an oracle of salvation, a message of hope to an embattled people. There are hints that their context has been one of war and violence (the promise of peace in 17b, the ending of violence in 18a, ‘days of mourning’ 20b). Against that background, the prophet announces peace and plenty (17), ‘everlasting light’ (19-20) and flourishing (21-22). What puts this grand promise of salvation in perspective is the last sentence: ‘in its time I will accomplish it quickly’. Patience is still needed before deliverance comes, but come it surely will.
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 1:1-3, 2:8-3:3; Revelation 10:1-11
Psalm 130 is a penitential Psalm, a psalm arising from a context of deep distress. From vs 6 it would appear than the Psalm belongs to the long and lonely watches of the night of distress, when the singer cannot sleep and waits for dawn to rise on their troubles. Vss 1-5 are the voice of the individual suffering singer: vss 7-8 are the refrain from the whole community which affirms their shared faith in the dependability of God and the certainty that the community will be saved.
The Ezekiel passage is part of the call narrative of Ezekiel. While the rest of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2 are about what the prophet sees, our selection is about what the prophet tastes: words of ‘lamentation and mourning and woe’ (2.10) that tasted ‘as sweet as honey’ (3.3b).
The Revelation reading continues the theme of the Scroll (similar to the one Ezekiel ate). Here an angel wrapped in a cloud and straddling land and sea (10.1-2) carries small scroll that is open. The roaring of the angel (3) seems part of the apocalyptic drama that is unfolding all around. The Lord warns ‘ there will be no more delay’ (6-7) but the writer is urged to eat the scroll (9-10). The scroll proves bitter to the stomach, sweet as honey to the mouth (10) and proves to be a commission to prophesy against peoples, nations, languages and kings (11). A useful reminder that it times of distress and pestilence and social dissolution the people of God are called to preach and prophesy.
Friday, March 27, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 33:10-16; Revelation 11:15-19
For comment on the Psalm see Wednesday.
Ezekiel 33 engages a dilemma for the wicked: if sin is weighing us down and we are guilty, how can we live? (vs 10). The following verses outline the answer – that God does not desire their deaths but their repentance (vs 11), that sin is fatal to the righteous as much as to the wicked (vs. 12-13) and repentance will save the wicked (vss 14-16).
Revelation: After the first six angels with their six trumpets have unleashed their various terrors on the earth (Revelation 8.6 – 9.21), the seventh trumpet sounds. Where we might have expected more fury and violence and judgement and destruction, we find the announcement of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom and the praise of all the heavenly host beginning with the 24 Elders gathered around the throne.
Saturday, March 28, 2020: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 36:8-15; Luke 24:44-53
For comment on the Psalm see Wednesday.
The Exilic context of Ezekiel’s work can be seen in this oracle, a promise of the restoration of Israel. When Jerusalem had fallen and the nation was deported to Babylon, Ezekiel prophesied that there was hope for the future. Israel would again be tilled and farmed (vs 9) and the towns rebuilt and the population again would grow (10). The final verses (13-15) refer to a saying that ‘you’ devour people… Who is the ‘you’? It would appear to be the land itself (cf. vs 12b ‘No longer shall you (i.e. the land) bereave them of children’). Given the calamity that had befallen the nation, some people (vs 13 🡪 ‘they’ say to you… ) were blaming the promised land itself as the source of contagion and disaster. Here Ezekiel proclaims God’s determination to set that right so that it will never be said again.
The Luke reading is the final verses of this gospel. It includes Jesus’ last words to his disciples, the promise of the Holy Spirit and the description of the Ascension.
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