January 2019

Greetings Gayton Road,

And a “happy new year” to you all! May the grace that has brought us here “thus far,” be the grace that leads us on.

Recently I was visiting with an elderly man who was far away from his friends and family. His room was bare with the exception of a stack of Christmas cards on his bedside table. During our time together, he picked up the cards and thumbed through them tenderly, one at a time, sharing not only the words written on the cards but also the memories and hopes that lay hidden beneath the words. At the end of our visit, he asked me to hang the cards up on his window. Of course he wouldn’t be able to read them there. But simply reading the words wasn’t the point. Those cards meant much more than the sum of their words.

I couldn’t help but think how similar this is to the Bible. For the Bible also is more than the sum of its words. We Christ-followers recognize this when we refer to it as the “Word.” We are distinguishing between the lowercase “words” that make up the Bible and the uppercase “Word” which inspires and connects and complicates all those words. And others too recognize a glimmer of this, I think, when they refer to the Bible “as literature.” To call something literature suggests that its words mean more than they say. Literature celebrates allusion and metaphor and irony, rhyming and flashbacks and anticipation, all of which fill words with meaning far beyond their literal content. So call it the Spirit or call it inspired writing—call it whatever you want. In any case, there is more to these words than meets the eye.

As I shared with you this Sunday, I am excited to have the opportunity this spring to teach a course at VCU, “The Bible as Literature.” Although I will not be speaking in the classroom with the same voice that I use to speak in the pulpit, I am hopeful nonetheless that I will have the opportunity to minister through my enthusiasm for the words of the Bible and the Spirit that underlies and animates them. I am hopeful too that my study in the classroom might inspire and instruct me in ways that I might share with you. In particular, I’m enlivened by the prospect of studying New Testament texts in a closer way than I have in the past, and I would like to share that experience with you—perhaps in a Lenten practice of reading one of the gospels from cover to cover, perhaps in a breakfast study. More on this to come!

As we near the celebration of Epiphany, which will be this Sunday (January 6), I am reminded that there is more than meets the eye not only in the words of the Bible, but also in the world around us. For Epiphany insists that this world is more than the sum of its parts. Things are not just things. A table is not just a table, bread is not just bread. In all these things, there is More going on.

In our epistle text for this coming Sunday, Paul calls this grace that saturates our world “the mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4). Paul ends his discussion of this mystery with a beautiful prayer (Eph 3:18-19)—a paraphrase of which I would like to leave with you now as we enter together into a new year:

Grace and peace to you all this new year! In the joys and sorrows that come our way, may we have eyes to see the mystery of Christ. May we see in all the world around us not just things, but their hidden dimensions. Their grace-filled breadth and depth and length and height. May we know in all things the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.

Yours, Jonathan