The Bible text is sacred.
Reading the Bible passage is an experience of the presence of God. While not a sacrament in itself the word of God is integral to the celebration of each of the seven sacraments. I would go so far as to say that the efficacy of each of the seven sacraments as an encounter with Jesus depends on the quality of the celebration of the word. For example, a deeper our recognition of the Word in life experience will greatly enrich and fulfil our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist.
The Bible is holy in do far as it is a gift of God to his children. It is God’s work: conceived by God, inspired by God, and sealed by God. Someone once described the Bible as the love letters of God in the handwriting of people. But it is not a question of God merely dictating and the scribe writing it down. Rather it is the story of God at work in human history as perceived and interpreted and formulated by people of faith under the influence of the Spirit of God. And it has been accepted by the church as what God wants us to hear as necessary for our salvation or put more simply so that we might have life in Him. “These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.” Jn.20:31.
So there is not one word in there that God wanted left out and not one word left out that he wanted in. So that every word is important; the arrangement of each word in the sentence is important; the arrangement of sentences in a paragraph is important. This is all God’s doing – And therefore to be treated with the utmost reverence and veneration.
We can go further in faith and believe that not only did God inspire these word in the original formulation of the text but that the spirit of God continues to inhabit these words and can be experienced once we begin to enter into dialogue with text. So in this sense we can say “The word of God is truly alive and active and cuts much deeper than any double edged sword…”
I find it helpful to compare the Bible passages to the letters of a lover or a friend. Such a love letter is not only read for a message the letter in itself is cherished; the paper on which it is written; the handwriting; the choice of words, phrases or expressions. Furthermore the letter is handled with great care, preserved in a safe place, and taken out and read and pondered over and over again as a source of presence and nourishment.
The text is a sacred reality in that it offers us an encounter with Jesus Christ. Christ yesterday, Christ today and Christ forever. In the text we encounter the historical Jesus. Through the text we come to recognition and encounter with presence and activity of Jesus today in the historical events, happenings and journeys in our own lives. This leads on to a further encounter with Jesus in prayer and in the gift of wisdom.
For the past few hundred years the church has made a distinction between the text and the message. And the general impression given was that the message was more important than the text. Once you had extracted the message the text had fulfilled its purpose and could be set aside.
The Bible was treated as a container of messages – doctrinal, moral and spiritual – and the message was taken out and held up as the word of God. It was the message that mattered.
But the message is not the whole reality of the text; it is also a written word that is more than the message. In this regard it is a little bit like a person who is always more than he or she says or does. The person has a sacred reality over and above what he or she says or does.
In our Catholic tradition the Bible has always been accorded appropriate veneration in the liturgy. This is evidenced in the Lectionary being carried aloft into the assembly in procession.
Also the lectionary is assigned its own throne or lectern in the sanctuary. Furthermore the reading of the Gospel is often accompanied by presence of candles, incense etc.
In the practice of Lectio Divina we see the centrality of the text. We read the text. We meditate on the text. We pray the text. Every gathering for Lectio Divina begins with the text, continues with the text and concludes with the text. Text is not just the jumping off ground but runs right through the whole experience of reading, meditation and prayer. Usually the Text is placed in a central position and adorned with candles, flowers etc. Some gesture of reverencing the text is also encouraged.
The experience of Lectio Divina is a gradual falling in love with the text. As we journey through the various stages with the text we find the text growing on us, becoming more and more important for us, becoming more and more beautiful for us. Eventually we come to point where we just feel to say, “I just love that text. I love it more now than I did when I read it first. I love the movement of that passage. I love the words of that passage. That particular text matters to me. It has a hold on me. I just feel its greatness. I want to sing those words. I want to thank God for that text. There is nothing higher than that in Lectio Divina.
Ideally too, a good homily will lead us back to the text, to engage with the text so as to taste some more of its treasures.
Ezekiel received his prophetic call. Ezk2:8-3:3.
‘But you son of man are to listen to what I say to you. Open your mouth and eat what I am about to give to you.’ When I looked there was a hand stretching out to me, holding a scroll. He unrolled it in front of me; it was written on front and back; on it was written lamentations, dirges and cries of grief.
He then said, ‘Son of man, eat what you see, eat this scroll and then go and speak to the House of Israel.’ I opened my mouth, he gave me the scroll to eat and then he said ‘Son of man feed on this scroll which I am giving you and eat your fill.’ So I ate it and it tasted sweet as honey.”
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: Rev.10:8-11 “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
“The sacred scriptures are drunk and the sacred scriptures are eaten when the sap of the eternal word descends into the veins of the spirit and the powers of the soul…”