Every once in a while, one of the lessons appointed for a Sunday is just so bizarre, so dark, or so unexpected that I wonder if we shouldn’t change the liturgy just for that reading. There are two options for the end of a lesson in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (Enriching Our Worship 1 offers two more). Most, if not all, of the time, lectors finish reading a lesson and say, “The Word of the Lord.” To which, the People respond, “Thanks be to God.” EOW1 allows for the lector to say “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people” or “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches,” but there too, the response of the People is “Thanks be to God.” But, like I said, sometimes, I think maybe we should change the liturgy to not say “Thanks be to God.” The second option in the Book of Common Prayer allows the reader to simply say, “Here ends the Reading (Epistle),” which, when necessary, might help folks sit in the gravity of lesson.
The Track One Old Testament lesson appointed for Sunday is one of those bizzare, dark, unexpected lessons that perhaps requires us to sit with it awkwardly for a while. I rarely do this, but I’ll copy the whole text of the Hosea lesson here for you.
When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.” So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.
“When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.
“Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
With some education and a nod to the larger narrative of salvation history, we are able to hear this lesson, and say “Thanks be to God.” However, I’m sure most of us find this lesson to be squirmy at best. The Lord seems jealous, vindictive, capricious, and quite frankly, God looks like a real jerk in this lesson. If our people are actually listening to the lesson, I imagine they’ll have a hard time saying “Thanks be to God” without snickering or crossing their fingers.
But maybe that’s the point of its inclusion in the Lectionary. Maybe we need to hear these difficult stories in order to understand the depth of God’s desire for us. Maybe we need to hear of the consequences of human sin on God. We tend to focus our attention on how sin affects me, my community, the wider world, and if we’re a little bit fringy liberal, creation. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of the impact our sin has on God. In the opening section of Hosea, it is clear that God takes our sin very personally.
Perhaps we should sit awkwardly when we reach “here ends the Reading.” Or, perhaps more awkward and a better teaching tool would be to muster up the strength to hear God’s devastating words to Hosea and say, “Thanks be to God.”