Reading is the act which opens us to the voice of Jesus’s witnesses, and so to history, to the world, and to the empty tomb at the world’s centre. Reading should be the core moment in all our liturgy, the heartbeat that gives life to the sacraments, the preaching and the prayers. Reading should be at the focal point of our church buildings, so that what we see first is not an altar, not a pulpit, but a lectern. Reading should be the lifeblood of our preaching, so that every new sermon we compose springs from a study of the Scripture that is for us as though for the first time, new, vital, surprising. Reading must be the rhythm of our life, the daily beat of the Gospel which gives order to the flurry of undertakings all around it. Reading schools us in self-denial and flexibility, emptying out the imaginations of self-generated visions and filling us with the thoughts of others. Reading accepts the divine violence upon the world that has given us life, but offers no violence back to the messengers through whom the news of that life comes to us.
Oliver O'Donovan, "Saint Mark, violence, and the discipline of reading: a sermon"I am astonished when church services are confined to a single short reading to make more time for preaching (or singing, or coffee). This usually means the congregation rarely hears the Old Testament and what it does receive frequently lacks much context. Worse is when a "reading" from an extra-scriptural source is regularly substituted for the Bible. I am all for introducing congregations to the riches of Christian thought through the ages, but not as a substitute for Scripture. Using a lectionary makes more and more sense to me as a liturgical discipline of regular, systematic, extended engagement with the actual words of Scripture.
Thanks to Æ for posting this sermon. He also points out that a book of O’Donovan’s sermons, “The Word in Small Boats”, will be published by Eerdmans in the northern Spring of 2009.