O, How We Need the Public Reading of Scripture

I am deeply enjoying Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton now that I am finally reading it. Or, rather, I am listening to it. I can’t help but think that listening to Michael York read this book is the best way to savor it.

One scene is particularly riveting and gives a moving picture of how the public reading of Scripture should be done. The main character, Kumalo, who is a priest, is deeply distressed and downcast, but is attending a worship service. Then, another priest rises and reads Scripture to the gathered congregation. Paton describes the reading in this way:

“the voice was of gold, and the voice had love for the words it was reading. The voice shook and beat and trembled, not as the voice of an old man shakes and beats and trembles, not as a leaf shakes and beats and trembles, but as a deep bell when it is struck. For it was not only a voice of gold, but it was the voice of a man whose heart was golden, reading from a book of golden words. And the people were silent, and Kumalo was silent, for when are three such things found in one place together? …

“And the voice rose, and the Zulu tongue was lifted and transfigured, and the man too was lifted, as is one who comes to something that is greater than any of us.”

Too often, in various Christian groups including Baptists, the public reading of Scripture is overlooked, not practiced, or done perfunctorily. Paul told Timothy to “give attention to” or “devote himself to” the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). We seem to have forgotten this and, as a result, neglect a powerful means of grace.

O, how we need public reading of Scripture in our gathered worship like that described in Paton’s novel! Where golden words are read by one who loves those words and has been impacted by those words- careful, deliberate, passionate reading of words which have entered deep into the soul of the reader and therefore come from his mouth with care, with reverence for them and with longing for others to hear and receive them. May we, thus, read the Scriptures to our people and train others to do so.

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