“Be not too tame neither”
“Alas, alas for you
Lawyers and pharisees
Hypocrites that you be
Searching for souls and fools to forsake them
You travel the land you scour the sea
After you’ve got your converts you make them
Twice as fit for hell
As you are yourselves!” – Matthew 23:29ff, as rendered by Stephen Schwartz in “Godspell”
These are gospel verses that reliably remind me: sometimes you’ve got to get worked up at the lectern.
Have you ever encountered a reader of scripture who handled every word as though it were as fragile and priceless as a Faberge egg? Each syllable intoned with stately gravitas?
It’s generally done out of respect, to be sure. But there’s more than one way of showing respect. For instance, channeling the distress and rage and heartache that produced those words in the first place.
If you’re lucky enough to have seen a good production of “Godspell,” remember the furious energy of Jesus in “Alas for you.” The first time I saw the musical, that song seared itself into memory: Jesus was actually spitting mad. It’s okay for the rendering of Bible readings to make listeners squirm, when the meaning is squirm-worthy. If it’s your turn to read, practice delivering outrage in voice as well as word.
For the sake of the Word, maybe we can give one another permission to pronounce with passion. Wonder, fury, delight, despair, tenderness, betrayal, sacrifice, joy: it’s all in the Good Book. All waiting to come alive in our speaking and hearing.
God, grant me courage to speak your speech with my whole heart and body and voice. Amen.
John A. Nelson is the Pastor of the Niantic Community Church (UCC/UMC) in Niantic, Connecticut.