Reading the Bible with fresh eyes

This message was written by The Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. Dr. Jones is a Board Member of the college,  former Director of Studies at UTC (2004-2011), a teacher and perpetual student of a midrashic way of reading and preaching biblical texts. She currently serves in ministry with the community of faith of Cedar Park United.

Sometimes we ‘grey-haired’ ones in pastoral ministry are asked by parishioners, or by younger colleagues, particularly at the time of the great annual festivals of our faith (Christmas Eve, Holy Week and Easter) “Doesn’t it get boring after so many years of reading and preaching the same biblical texts, year in, year out?” It’s a loaded question to which none of us would dare to say out loud, “Well, yes, it does!” But truth be told, I’ve discovered over 25 years of ministry, that in fact, no, it doesn’t get “boring” or “old.”

I put that down first and foremost to the holy mystery of the Lively, or Living Word of God as found in Scripture. The Spirit is always breathing fresh life into ancient stories, lifting them from the page in ever-new ways, as they come into conversation with our ever-changing circumstances. There is a deep core of truth to be sure, but I marvel, constantly, at how that truth shares itself slightly differently every time we plumb its depths. Rather like the way the sun’s dance upon the water is both familiar, and unique in any given moment, any given day.

As I write, I’m preparing to preach -again- about Ezekiel’s Spirit-led-tour of the valley of the dead. I recall vividly what I said three years ago in the sermon, delivered to an iPhone, duct-taped to a make-do tripod,  10 days into the then brand new, utterly terrifying CoVid-19 pandemic and its resultant global shutdown. Now, three years later, the same text lands differently. Three years ago it was the newness, the breath-taking shock, the fear in the text that resonated with this preacher and with her community of faith. This year? It’s the exhaustion, the utter desiccation, the settled-ness of that valley of death that resonates, along with Ezekiel’s weary, deflecting response “Only you know, Holy One” to God’s question “Can these bones live?” In fact, following a lectionary, which gives us opportunity to revisit texts every three years or so becomes a holy gift of timely reflection. We are experiencing the long-drawn-out fatigue of the past three years, so it should not surprise us that we notice the same in poor, worn-down Ezekiel. It’s as if the sacred text sees us coming and offers the insight that will lead us closer to good news and to God’s utter fidelity.

As I live in the Lenten moment, I’m already anticipating my deep dive into the texts of Passion Week and Easter, holding my breath in anticipation of THIS year’s holy surprises in a text both ancient and new. Every. Single. Time.

This message was written by The Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.