There’s an Episcopalian joke I like to tell: some parishioners went to their rector and said, “Father, we want to do a Bible study. What book should we start with?” Their rector, taken aback, but quite pleased, suggested they start with the Psalms; he showed them where it was, near the middle of the Bible, and told them to come back in six weeks and tell him what they’d learned. Six weeks passed, and they came back to his office, rather upset. “Father!” They exclaimed, “The Bible has stolen its material from the Book of Common Prayer!”
Last week one day, the Daily Office Lectionary assigned Philippians 4:1-9; a passage with 3 or 4 separate highlighter marks in my trusty hard-backed NIV Bible from high school.
The passage epitomizes why I became Episcopalian. As I read, or listen to, these words, I hear memory verses in verses 4, 5, 6, and 8—sentences I committed to memory as an elementary or high school student:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
In verse 4 I hear the lyric to a children’s song I learned more than twenty years ago at home.
Verse 7 is the common blessing offered during Ordinary Time at the end of a Eucharist service:
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When verse 8 is read, I hear part of a prayer said during the service in the Book of Common Prayer called, “Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child”—a service I relish offering at hospitals when I visit the newest members of my congregation.
The psalms have become the same kind of patchwork quilt for me—snippets and echoes of other Scripture passages pop up in the psalms all the time, and in turn, the psalms are woven throughout our Book of Common Prayer.
The little red (or black) book that guides Christians of the Anglican tradition in their prayer, worship, and study with God is a puree of Scripture, set to rhythm and mashed up to show through its very being how the God of the Old and New Testaments is made man in Jesus Christ.