So will I always sing the praise of your Name,
and day by day I will fulfill my vows. (Psalm 61:8)
Nineteen years ago today, I was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. About four years before that, however, I really became serious about reading the Bible.
Like most cradle Episcopalians, I grew up in the church hearing Scripture read Sunday by Sunday. I was in Sunday School every week. No choice, really, since my father was the parish priest.
I was six when I started serving as an acolyte, and I was 12 when I first read a lesson in church — the story of Creation (Genesis 1:1 — 2:2) at the Great Vigil of Easter.
I knew from an early age that I would eventually be ordained to serve the Church.
After I married my Lovely Wife in 1989, we attended her Seventh-Day Adventist church on Saturdays with her mother and sang in the choir of my Episcopal church on Sundays. Among the Seventh-Day Adventists I was confronted with the truth that though as an Episcopalian I was familiar with the Bible, I really did not know my way around it at all. I had heard it all my life, but had never really read it.
By 1992 I was in the discernment process that leads to ordination, about a year from beginning Deacons’ School, and that lack of knowledge of the Bible troubled me.
So I resolved to begin reading the Bible in a more disciplined way. The first thing I did to jump-start the project was to read the whole Bible in a year, and two books helped me do that.
The first was Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook, which includes a plan for reading the books of the Old and New Testament in an order that makes sense of the Scriptural story rather than just beginning “in the beginning.” Though Blair’s book is long out of print, I have found inexpensive copies on Amazon over the years (since I keep loaning mine out and having to replace it!).
The second was the Revised English Bible, the translation recommended by the Book-of-the-Month Club for its readability. The fresh English translation (at least it was fresh more than 20 years ago) makes reading the Bible feel like reading a novel — the stories feel less stilted and reading flows more naturally.
However, the most important Bible reading resource I ever found is The Prayer Book Office by Howard Galley. Sadly, this introduction to the Episcopal Church’s Morning and Evening Prayer is also out of print. Copies are hard to find and precious.
The primary way Anglicans and Episcopalians read Scripture is in the context of our worship. We organize Scripture readings not only for our Sunday services of the Holy Eucharist, but also for the prayer book services of daily Morning and Evening Prayer. The tables of readings that we organize for Sundays and for weekdays are called lectionaries. In the Book of Common Prayer you will find the Sunday lectionary starting on page 888 and the Daily Office lectionary on page 934.
After I had read the Bible through in a year, it was the Daily Office that proved to be the mainspring of my spiritual practice.
In the Daily Office lectionary, we read through the bulk of the Old Testament once every two years, the New Testament every year, and the Psalms every seven weeks.
That means in the 22 years or so since I began praying Morning and Evening Prayer regularly, I’ve read through the Old Testament at least 11 times, the New Testament 22 times, and the whole Psalter more than 165 times.
And that doesn’t count all the Bible reading I did for three years in Deacons’ School, or every Sunday since then in church, or for four years now as an Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor rereading the Old and New Testaments with my students each year.
This is honestly not about boasting (as St. Paul might say), but about beginning.
The rector of the parish where I now serve as deacon, St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, reminded us last Sunday that you can read the Bible in a year anytime. If you missed starting on New Year’s Day, you can start now, and when February 2 of next year rolls around, it will have been a year!
I simply urge you to read the Bible as much as you can. Perhaps you’ll follow a one-year plan like the Bible Challenge, perhaps your favorite translation is the New International Version or The Message, perhaps you’re not Episcopalian but your denomination also has a lectionary you can follow.
Whatever else may be going on in your life, begin.
Start reading the Bible. Day by day, let the Scriptures work in you. Week by week, make Bible reading part of the rhythm of your life. Year by year, let the Scriptures teach you what it means for you to sing the praise of God’s Name and to fulfill your vows.
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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.