The commenter Walmart Episcopalian has made a great comment down below that shouldn’t get lost. Here it is:
I know the discussion has moved on to the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan, but I wanted to continue our discussion about the Liturgy of the Word.
I spoke with my Rector about the Liturgy of the Word, following our discussion here. His experience as a lay person and then as a priest tells him that most people are bored by the O.T. and Epistle and perk up during the Gospel because they have a greater sense of connection to it.
I was wondering if the Liturgy of the Word has lost its punch/relevance in a literate, information-saturated society where story-telling is not an exciting break in routine but something against which we learn to defend ourselves. I even wondered, to my shock and surprise, if returning to the proclamation of the Old Testament in the Liturgy was a good thing.
As the first reading, often the most difficult linguistically and most distant culturally, perhaps it causes shut-down among the people and by the time for the Epistle they’ve already glazed over and turned inward.
Also, the majority of Episcopalians I’ve met are crypto-marcionites, or maybe just marcionites. In Adult Ed. I constantly hear about how the God of Love would never countenance the killing of the Hivites, Jebusites, Perrizites, Egyptians, Amalekites et. al. and they simply don’t believe God had anything to do with it. They don’t believe the God of the Holiness Code is the God of Jesus.
They generally like the psalms, however, because most of the psalms address experiences in ways that are comprehensible to them. Except for the ones where the Psalmist curses his enemies or demands death, those make them uncomfortable.
Perhaps adding the OT was a bad idea for our marcionite church. Maybe the Hebrew Scriptures can only come back when the people again believe that the God of Hebrew Scriptures is the God of Jesus.
On the other hand, maybe we need to keep the OT so that we combat the marcionite tendency through proclamation if not in fact. (I would suspect the Bishop-elect of Northern Michigan would not be a big fan of the God of the Old Testament, the God who struck down Uzzah is not a God who trifles with his ‘otherness’ from humanity)
But there’s my current thought, boredom and Marcionism have gutted the liturgy of the Word. I don’t know how this could be addressed in practice. Any thoughts?
Indeed, I think this is of a piece with the issues surrounding the bishop-elect on Northern Michigan. Our people simple don’t know the Scriptures as well as they ought. This is especially true for the Old Testament.
Part of the issue is scope. The New Testament was written in and is concerned with events that happened within a fifty year span and many of the writings—especially the epistles—are focused enough an theological issues that they can be read without a whole lot of appeal to historical context. (Although I’d would never recommend divorcing them from said context.)
The OT is completely different. The events of which it speaks spans over a thousand years and involves a lot of odd places and things done by people with strange names.
I’ve recently come to some conclusions about how biblical teaching should be done in our parishes. I’m still working out how these will look in practice, but here’s the core of my thinking.
Proposal for Teaching the OT to Anglicans
Because of the issue of scope, clergy and congregations need a set of master narratives within which they can locate any particular OT text. These master narratives are:
1. Historical (I.e., an easily understandable grand sweep of Ancient Near Eastern history and Israel/Judah’s place in it.)
2. Geographical (Where the heck is Edom anyway? Or Babylon, Assyria, Carmel, Samaria (which Samaria!), etc.? We need a basic sense of what’s where.)
3. Literary (I.e., what are the major literary divisions on the OT [TaNaK is a good start…], what are the major genres, and what can we expect from these genres?)
4. Theological (I.e., what are the top 5 major themes running through-out the books that help us locate any particular text we read?)
Yes, these are a bit reductionistic—but any big picture view is. As fond as I am of adding nuance, people need a sense of the whole befgore nuance makes any sense.
The way into the whole of the OT is through the Psalms. It’s been observed by ancients and moderns alike that the Psalter is a microcosm of the OT as a whole. One the above four master narratives are in place, select psalms can be used to help familiarize people with how these things look on the ground. You start with the psalms, then move to the other books.
Does that make sense as a start?