I taught an adult Sunday School class last week for newcomers at our church, and struggled a little to hide my shock when a couple of the students said they’d never heard the story of Joseph and his jealous brothers, and didn’t know why Noah had built an ark. So the idea of a “Bible Challenge,” in which we would invite parishioners to read the entire Bible in the year ahead, has some appeal to me. Apparently many churches are embarking on this project, including St. Mark the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, according to the Sun-Sentinel:
It may be a struggle and incomprehensible to some at times, but South Florida Episcopalians have committed to reading every word of the Bible this year, from the Old Testament to the New Testament to the Psalms.
Parishioners say they are ready for the challenge from their bishop, who asked every church and congregant to make their way through the holy books in 2013. It’s part of the national Bible Challenge, sponsored by the Pennsylvania-based Center for Biblical Studies, which says hearing the Scriptures on Sundays is insufficient for developing a good understanding of the Bible’s deeper meanings and relevance today.
Former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold talks about this project at the Web site of the Center for Biblical Studies:
The vitality of scripture and its capacity to impart life flows from Jesus’ resurrection. In the 24th Chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, we are told that when the risen Lord encountered two grieving disciples on the way to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Later on, looking back on the encounter, the disciples exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on he road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:13ff). It is the continuing ministry of the risen Christ, through the agency of the Spirit, to open the scriptures to us in order that our hearts might burn within us with the living truth of his presence. Christ is the “Word of God” (Revelation 19:13) whom we encounter at the heart of the scriptural word.
This notion of living encounter mediated by the words of scripture is wonderfully captured in a hymn written in the 4th century by the deacon, Ephraim of Edessa: “I read the opening verses of the book, and was filled with joy, for its verses and lines spread out their arms to welcome me. The first rushed out and kissed me and led me on to the next.”
To approach scripture in such a spirit of expectation opens us to the possibility of our being surprised and accosted by the Spirit who draws continually from “the boundless riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:8) and makes them present to us through the words of scripture.
We’d love to hear from those of you participating in this challenge and how you are weaving this into the life of the parish.