“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”
The above prayer is the collect for the day on the Second Sunday of Advent. It is original to Thomas Cranmer, and shows with tremendous clarity the central role that Holy Scripture is meant to play in the Anglican way of following Christ. To say that the Bible is important to Anglicans is not a terribly interesting thing to say, nor does it say a great deal about what makes the Anglican way of reading and understanding Scripture unique from other Christian traditions. The core of this prayer about the role of Scripture in the life of the Anglican Christian is the idea that the Bible is like Holy Communion, hearing it, preaching it, and receiving it are all sacramental. Scripture is a gracious gift in which God’s presence dwells, gets in our bloodstream, and nourishes us that we would “hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”
One of the tragedies of the Anglican tradition is that, in imitation of a polarized world, Anglican churches have always been more polarized than most historic traditions. There are churches with a high view of the Sacraments, or churches with a high view of the Word. No one would state this division in those terms, but when homilies are four minutes of optimistic self-help followed by an intricate, ornate high mass, that speaks for itself. So too when a 45-minute sermon is followed by a hasty communion presided over by a mumbling Priest who looks and sounds like he believes he has better things to do, that also speaks for itself. The Anglican tradition is a tradition of Word and Sacrament. We believe that both elements of the liturgy work harmoniously with one goal in mind: to provide an encounter with God in the person of Jesus Christ. We meet God in Word and Sacrament.
Cranmer’s language of “inwardly digesting” Scripture is highly illuminating on this point. Just as the elements of the Eucharist quite literally enter our bloodstream so that we inwardly digest them, so too is God’s Word offered to us as holy food. As we hear it, we read it, we mark it, Holy Scripture mysteriously enters into us, transforming us and shaping us through a mystical divine encounter with Jesus Christ. God’s Word is given to nourish us into everlasting life.
Too many Christians read the Bible because they feel guilty about not reading the Bible, or simply do not read Scripture at all. Like everything in the Christian life, the antidote to this problem is grace. We may not think of Scripture this way, but it is a gracious gift, it is a sign of God’s grace, and when God’s people hear, read, mark, and inwardly digest Scripture they are recipients of grace.