“Please take this New Testament in your right hand.”
I was to swear an oath at the Liverpool District Probate Registry Office as a key part of the process of sorting out my mother’s estate.
The court officer, a kindly lady, noticed I was somewhat surprised – “Is that alright?”
I did think of opening her much handled but underused copy of the New Testament at Matthew 5:34-37 where Jesus says “But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all. . . All you need to say is simply ‘Yes,’ or ‘No.’” But I didn’t. Not really the right time or place.
Moreover, as I recalled from Tim’s recent induction as vicar of Bunbury, I was required at my induction to take an oath of canonical obedience “in all things lawful and honest” to the Bishop while holding the Bible.
But why holding the Bible? It is possible, of course, to make an affirmation without any reference to God but in making an oath in God’s name why actually hold the sacred scriptures? Why the corporality? What is so special about the cardboard and paper which carry the text?
As a student and curate I went through Bibles (capital B, notice) quite quickly – carried around in all weathers, underlined, just generally bashed about. I would simply dispose of the old one and buy a new one without thinking. And basically that is what I would do now – if it were not for Kenneth Lee, my rector in Heswall for my second curacy.
Kenneth happened to mention in conversation that he had just buried his old Bible, such was his reverence for the sacred text. (Quick digression – did you see the first episode of the second series of “Homeland” on Sunday? If you did, you’ll know what I am talking about!).
That struck me as strange because Kenneth was fairly liberal, with a relaxed view on Biblical authority – he buried his Bible with dignity. In contrast I had a high view of scripture and I threw mine in the bin.
And ever since then I have had a dilemma what to do with my old Bibles! This is especially so at the moment as I break up two homes (Mum’s and Jacqui’s auntie’s) while having a huge clear out in our own house now that all our daughters are permanently settled As a consequence I have a whole wadge of Bibles I do not know what to do with!
Yes, they are just derived from wood and textile pulp, no more. But to simply toss these much used Bibles into a skip along with household waste somehow seems unworthy. But there again as a Christian I believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit rather than Father, Son and Holy Scripture. The Bible may be sacred but it is not divine.
In other words, and I really do not understand this, physicality does matter. We are not made just to appreciate concepts and admire principles. God made us flesh and blood. And as a consequence things may be important.
C S Lewis could see this:
“There is no good trying to he more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely’ spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.
“We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
I’ve just started reading Tom Wright’s recent book on “How God became King.” He is in the forefront of re-establishing the importance of physicality – that God’s purpose is not to save us from this disordered creation but to redeem this creation of which we are a key part. And that makes all the difference.
Anyone want a second hand Bible?