Faith Works 10-25-14
Greetings and salutations
"This is the word of the Lord."
"Thanks be to God!"
In many churches, there is a tradition, liturgical in origin but still generally practiced in lower-key congregations, that at the end of public reading of Holy Scripture there is a refrain between reader and people.
"The word of God for the people of God."
"Thanks be to God!"
The response is often simply "Thanks be to God," whatever the reader says. In some liturgical traditions, there is a different acclamation in response to a Gospel reading, where the reader ends "The Gospel of the Lord," and the people answer "Praise to you, O Christ."
Not every church is accustomed to responses. Often, it's enough to signal the closing of the reading by saying something like "May God bless this reading of His Holy Word." Others may be a bit more colloquial by closing with "May God help us apply these words to our lives."
As the preacher, I like to read the text I'm more specifically preaching on, so there's (at our church services) a lay reader, then usually an anthem by the choir or special music of some sort, and then the reading I share, closing with a prayer that is adapted from Psalm 19's conclusion: "O Lord, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight: You who are our rock and our redeemer."
The introduction of a reading is an art, and that art can vary; it's good, I believe, to remind listeners of the setting and circumstances of the text leading into the portion that's read out loud. Rare indeed is the reading that stands well entirely on its own. Something like "These are Paul's words to the church in Corinth; this is what Holy Scripture says…" can be a simple yet effective way to draw the congregation into the act of understanding the Bible.
Good public reading of Scripture is as much a gift to the congregational worship experience as a vocal solo or crafting banners for the sanctuary, and those who aspire to the work of public Bible reading desire a noble task!
Just as a scripture reading benefits from a greeting at the top and a salutation of some sort at the end, so do our own letters.
You probably use "Dear so and so" to begin and something like "Sincerely yours" for the close. Or do you? Texting and e-mail has wreaked havoc on such niceties, leaving postal etiquette in the dustbin of written history.
I'm just old fashioned enough that even in texting I tend to want at least a minimal greeting, the person's name if not the "Dear…" portion, sincerely meant or not! And a salutation just feels right.
Over the years, as a pastor, I've fiddled with salutations in print, in letters, in e-mail and even with texting. "Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ" was beloved by Paul for both openings and closings; "In grace & peace" tends to be my default sign-off, although I've used "Shalom" and a few other churchly signifiers.
What's handy for the short forms of e-mail and texting, I've found, is simply "Pax." It's just different enough to make people think, but known well enough to ring the bell of "Peace!" It's Latin for peace, and as "Pax" is the watchword for Benedictines, with which I have a bit of a history. And Latin was my first foreign language, and it just has a ring to it.
Add in the fact that Baden-Powell, when that legendary British general and founder of Scouting decided to settle down and have a home, named his house in England "Pax Hill" . . . well, "Pax" has been my default sign-off for a long time.
Many thanks to those at Newark Central who noticed this quirk of their pastor's, and got him a stole with a large embroidered "Pax" on it, with an olive branch. It's a lovely gift which I will be wearing as I read Scripture this coming Advent!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you read the Bible out loud at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.