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.