The calendar and the Bible: for us, today

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, c.1939In a previous post, we saw how Martin Thornton (quoting Sergius Bulgakov) argues that the church calendar is a form of recollection that is not merely the calling to mind of events in salvation history, but a making present of those events for us, today:

During the service of Christmas there is not merely the memory of the birth of Christ, but truly Christ is born in a mysterious manner, just as at Easter he is resurrected. … The life of the Church, in these services, makes actual for us the mystery of the Incarnation. … [I]t is given to the Church to make living these sacred memories so that we should be their new witnesses and participate in them. (Christian Proficiency, p.69)

There is an interesting parallel to this in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book Life Together, in which he commends the practice of reading substantial, consecutive passages of Scripture each day, rather than just isolated “devotional” verses:

Consecutive reading of biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men. We become part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness. All this is not mere reverie but holy, godly reality. We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there he still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, howsoever important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of the Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also. (Life Together, p.38)

In other words, our reading of the Bible is an act of “sacramental” recollection similar to that of the church calendar: a means by which the events of salvation history become not just abstract “timeless truths”, but are made present as truth for us, today.

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1 thought on “The calendar and the Bible: for us, today”

  1. John, Just discovered you site on googling Auden & Conversion. I will now follow. I read your about page. I thought on seeing your url that your name was linking to wrestling with curly questions – from the invented old English ‘Curle Wriver’. By default I think of you under that name

    Walkingbed – Victoria, Australia

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