Writing in the New Yorker, James Wood offers us an interesting take on the contemporary place that the Book of Common Prayer has in our society.
The words persist, but the belief they vouchsafe has long gone. A loss, one supposes—and yet, paradoxically, the words are, in the absence of belief, as richly usable as they were three hundred and fifty years ago. All at once, it seems, they are full and empty. They comfort, disappoint, haunt, irritate, disappear, linger.
The whole piece is worth a read here but it got me thinking about the ways that the Psalter (the 150 Psalms) are similarly looked upon in our contemporary culture. Certain phrases and snippets are printed onto mugs or used in funerals or on condolence cards but our neighbours (Canadian society more broadly) have largely left behind the beliefs which undergird and enliven the Psalms.
As with the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, the Psalter in particular has had a profound impact on the literary and artistic culture that we have inherited. Nevertheless, it is increasingly a foreign and off-putting text which is, in the memorable phrase of James Wood, “full and empty”.
When we faith-full-y sing the Psalms in public worship and read the Psalms together, we are brought into a liturgy of sanctification that transforms us.
While our congregation has never made use of the Book of Common Prayer in a formal manner - and many would be quite unfamiliar with it - the theological content and the manner of expressing our heartfelt repentance for sin, our profound awareness of God’s glory and majesty, and our faithful reception of the mercies of God shown to us in Jesus Christ all find beautiful expression in the phrases and responses of the Book of Common Prayer. And the BCP derives much of its scriptural basis from the 150 Psalms. And where the Word is present, the Lord’s work is continued in us!