Daily Office Challenge

2012-08-06 13.03.01

The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval.
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding
(Romans 14:18-19).

Two days ago I responded to a tweet by Marek Zabriskie of the Bible Challenge which seemed to me to be making a false opposition between the lectionary and “reading all the Scriptures.” I was hasty and abrupt in my reply — a failing of mine exacerbated by Twitter’s 140-character limit.

The Bible Challenge is an approach to reading the entire Bible in the course of a year rather than just hearing the selections read in worship on Sundays. In that sense, it is a very important project — one I have embarked on several times before, as have many members of the congregations I have belonged to. Reading the whole Bible gives you a sense of the sweep of salvation history and the relationship between parts of Scripture that you might not otherwise get on Sunday mornings.

For myself, I have benefited the most over the years from the Bible-reading plan outlined in The Illustrated Bible Handbook by Edward P. Blair (Abingdon 1985). Blair’s book is long out of print, unfortunately, though you can still find a few copies around.

My initial point, however, is that there’s more than one lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer.

The lectionary for the Daily Office — for Morning and Evening Prayer — provides for the praying of the Psalms and the course reading of Scripture. The Psalms are prayed over a seven-week cycle, the bulk of the New Testament each year, and the bulk of the Old Testament over the course of two years (see BCP 934 and following).

Because Morning and Evening Prayer are part of the public worship of the Church (with the Holy Eucharist on Sundays), the readings in the Daily Office lectionary are organized to reflect the seasons of the Church Year, unlike the Bible Challenge’s approach of reading through the Old Testament in order, supplemented by New Testament passages and Psalms each day.

Marek observes in a subsequent tweet that “Episcopalians excel on Sunday. Our weakness is Monday to Saturday. Helping folks engage Scripture and pray each day is critical.” I couldn’t agree more.

The practice of the Daily Office puts the reading of Scripture in the context of prayer, and the canticles and collects appointed for the Sundays and weekdays of the Church Year help us to understand and interpret Scripture in the way that Christians throughout the centuries have done.

The Bible Challenge and the practice of the Daily Office complement each other, though they are designed with different purposes in mind.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

The more we soak ourselves in Scripture, the more we begin and end each day in prayer and Scripture reading (no matter which method we prefer to use), the more readily we will recognize Jesus’ voice and his call for our lives.

On that we can all agree.

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