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Speaking to the Soul: Liturgy of the Word

Speaking to the Soul: Liturgy of the Word

Week of Proper 17, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Job 19:1-7, 14-27

Acts 13:13-25

John 9:18-41

Many Episcopalians are habituated to the formula for the first half of our Sunday worship known as the Liturgy of the Word. This portion of the service usually includes an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a reading from an Epistle, a reading from a Gospel, and a sermon by a community leader. In today’s second reading, though, we learn of a different form for a “Liturgy of the Word”. In the synagogue gathering visited by Paul and his companions, the community hears a reading from the Law, a reading from the Prophets, and a speech from visitors.

While I’m not proposing a new format for the Liturgy of the Word, I think this passage can remind us of what these early gatherings were listening for when they received the good news. It seems that this earlier form of listening to scriptures in community invited God to speak with special boldness. This synagogue gathering and others like it start by listening to their most ancient stories and traditions, found in the first five books of our Bible (“the Law”). Then, they listen to material from the Prophets, who constantly called the people to visions of justice.

At this particular gathering, after the readings from scripture, the synagogue officials also send a message to Paul and his companions: “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” Then Paul gets up to speak. In other words, the leaders intentionally invite the newcomers in their midst, the travelers through their region, to deliver their insights to the assembly.

This Liturgy of the Word really works. Our passage this morning includes only part of Paul’s speech, but when he is finished speaking, the people beg Paul and his companion Barnabas for more. They ask them to speak again on the next sabbath, and “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44).

As we pray with the scriptures today and then go about our daily lives, we can recall this pattern of listening in the synagogues who welcomed Paul and his companions. They listened first to the depths of the past, then to prophetic summons, and finally to new voices. In this soundscape, surely we too can hear the word of the Lord.

Lora Walsh blogs about the Daily Office readings at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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