Tag Archives: Richard Meux Benson

NT Wright on Scripture in worship | A big, exciting room we come in and inhabit

I couldn’t possibly agree more with N.T. Wright’s comments in this five-minute video on Scripture in worship from Glenn Packiam’s Mystery of Faith Blog.

With attention to what we are doing, we are fortunate in our “gentle Anglican liturgy”  — in the morning and evening offices and in the Holy Eucharist — “to inhabit the world of Scripture” just as Wright describes:

What one is doing is turning Scripture into a world where you come in and live, a big exciting room that you come in and inhabit.

Wright gently bemoans how the public reading of Scripture is too often sidelined in worship. He even describes being invited to preach at a “modern-style” service and at the last minute being asked, “Would you like a Scripture reading?”

The public reading of Scripture is itself the primary act of worship. It is not conveying information to the congregation; it’ll do that as well, but it does that as the byproduct … of celebrating the mighty acts of God.

And so what do we do in this “big exciting room that you come in and inhabit”?

When you have built this great house of praise and worship, which is the scriptural story surrounded with the psalms and the prayers of the people of God, then you turn it into intercession, because you’re now living in a room where intercession makes sense.

I’m reminded here of what the founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Fr. Richard Meux Benson, says about praying for others:

As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

In the first half of the video, Wright has actually been describing the Daily Office, a point that I think might have been lost on his listeners, because he then goes on to clarify that the same thing is happening in the Eucharist.

I am grateful to Packiam and his colleagues for sharing this short glimpse of Wright’s deep, lifelong meditation on Scripture.

However, I find Packiam’s comment as he introduces the clip so poignant:

It is precisely because Prof. Wright is an ‘outsider’ to our modern worship world that his thoughts may be helpful. He may see things we miss. What he chose to address was the absence of Scripture in worship.

Here as elsewhere in his books and videos, I think N.T. Wright is explaining historic Christian worship from the “inside,” especially when he calls it “an act of humility, a way of saying ‘I’m not making this up as I go along.’ It’s a gift from the whole worldwide church, and I inhabit it gratefully.”

The public reading of Scripture — and especially the pattern we have inherited in the Daily Office — is a gift from the worldwide church, indeed, and I inhabit it gratefully. I hope you do, too.

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For ourselves and on behalf of others

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud. (Psalm 123:4-5)

In light of the renewed anger in Ferguson following last night’s announcement that the grand jury will not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and in light of the repeated calls for “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), the Daily Office and today’s readings speak a word we need to hear.

We begin Morning Prayer each day by reminding ourselves that we come together “to set forth [God’s] praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and for our salvation” (BCP 79).

For ourselves

Morning Prayer begins with the Confession of Sin for a reason. We need first and foremost to admit what we’ve done wrong and recommit to doing right. We do this every day because we stumble and fall every day.

In today’s Gospel reading, the blind beggar from Jericho speaks with our voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). We are all blind to the depth of our sins, but God’s mercy opens our eyes so that we can see truthfully. We see our sin, but we also see that we are held in love.

Seeing clearly convicts us, every day, of our need to repent.

And we have a lot to admit to and repent for. In today’s Old Testament reading, God has Zechariah act out a prophecy against us.

“Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” God tells Zechariah, for “Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich’; and their shepherds have no pity on them” (Zech. 11:4-5).

We who are rich and comfortable and safe in our houses — that includes me and that includes nearly everyone reading these words — we benefit from the same social order that kills young black men and goes unpunished.

We are made to feel safe and secure by the police and the legal system and courts and judges, by a system that focuses our attention on the career of Darren Wilson instead of on the body of Michael Brown.

In the media coverage of looters whom we can look down on, in public officials’ calls for peace and order and restraint, in our own desire to get back to our Thanksgiving cooking and Christmas shopping, we demonstrate that we “have no pity on them.”

On behalf of others

But “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We who are called to follow Christ are called instead to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When we pray for others in the spirit of Christ, we see that they need the same love that we depend on day by day. We see that even though their experience is different than ours, their human spirit is the same.

The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, writes:

In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

As we approach God “on their behalf” …. on their behalf, not ours … we ask different questions.

What do they need in the midst of their situation? The looters, the police, the young people, the larger St. Louis community?

What strength do they require to endure their heartbreak? What consolation do they need in their grief? Michael Brown’s family, Darren Wilson and his family, the young and old who live in Ferguson?

What inspiration will show them how they can serve? The lawyers and the judges, the pastors and the police, the protestors and the property owners?

God knows what I have done and left undone, God knows what I need, and God loves me every day.

As I turn my thoughts and prayers to the needs and concerns of other people, whom God also loves every day, as I approach God on their behalf, perhaps I can begin to learn to love them as God does.

Perhaps I can also learn to act toward them like God does through Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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