“It’s really heavy! Make sure whoever you get to carry it has some muscle and endurance.”
Kelly was talking about the particular Bible that will be carried in the Service of Commissioning and Ordination. It has sufficient heft to it and the procession is sufficiently lengthy, what with the stops along the way to deal with other symbols, that the carrier of the Word has to be willing and able to hang in there.
On Friday evening members of the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will worship, commission and ordain people who are called to be in ministry to our church. The worship area will be donned with symbols of our faith – bible, chalice, soil, baptismal bowl, cross and candle. And just as the five letter symbols used to write the word “bread” calls to mind a particular image or reality for you, so too, each of the symbols carried into the worship service represents something particular and powerful for those of us who are Christians. Of them all, the heaviest is the bible.
That bible – that cumbersome book containing the story of the ages that someone will have to bear – that is, according to the Christian Scripture, a symbol for “the Sword of the Spirit”. No doubt about it … It is a lot easier to just go out and buy a gun, thinking that having one in your house or on your person will make you and everyone around you safer. Perhaps this is true on rare occasions; but for followers of Jesus a gun is not the weapon of choice. We are called to do the much harder work of carrying the Word, of being not only familiar with it, but seeing ourselves in it.
Arguments in our country over guns pale in intensity when compared to the debates over the meaning of Scripture. People criticize religious folk for our devotion to a “book” – full of inconsistencies, brimming over with stories about a God who causes floods and pestilence, causes the rain to fall or not, sends famine, gets water from rocks, makes bread fall from heaven and – this is the toughest one of all – raises people from the dead. It’s a life-long discipline to study, to read, to contemplate what all these stories mean for us. It takes prayer and humility to extricate from the symbols – those words on the page – what we ultimately believe is the “Word of God”. And I don’t deny that people have used this “sword” for selfish purposes, shutting people out, made to think they were unlovable.
But it’s a heavy book! It’s not just a “symbol”. It’s an invitation to do the arduous, unending work of self-reflection under the relentless light of redemptive truth. When we get serious about the call to carry the Book, the notion that guns, self-righteous attitudes, or anything else we might carry on the assumption it can save us becomes absurd.