Each week I spend a little time each day, standing in the sanctuary and saying the gospel outloud. I move around as feels right, gesture, play with wording until it sounds natural. I practice when the building is empty, otherwise I feel shy and awkward. But I repeat this process until I have the whole story down. What I do by heart on Sunday always begins again on Monday.
This learning by heart is much easier to do now, after years of practice, than when I first started. Something sticks, week-to-week and year-to-year.
The easiest yet was this Christmas Eve. It’s the same handful of Luke every year: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…”
This year, I walked into sanctuary and, without any preparation, said the first six verses of Luke 2 entirely from memory. I couldn’t remember what came after the “no room” part. But even so, I hold in my heart holy words about Jesus’ birth. I don’t need a book or an app.
There is great power in this. Power that need not be the pastor’s alone. Consider for a 2015 resolution: learn your favorite bible story by heart. Consider more: telling it by heart in worship some Sunday. Or even for one other person who needs it.
Many of us were required to memorize poetry in grade school or bible verses in Sunday school. Rote memorization has gone out of style. But memorization doesn’t have to be mindless or heartless. Even people who have forgotten their own childrens’ names remember the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or “How Great Thou Art.”
I don’t know about you, but I want, on my dying lips, words of hope and forgiveness and love. Every week, I prepare for that holy, homegoing day.
I’ve always been inspired by the fireman in Ray Bradbury’s book, Farenheit 451, who comes to memorize the literature he once burned. And I believe deeply that gospel by heart is God’s invitation to all Christians in this post-literary digital age.
I can’t live a story I don’t know, let alone tell it to somebody else. I can’t trust what I can’t remember. God’s prophet, Jeremiah, envisioned a glorious, forgiveness-filled future as the day when God will write God’s Word on our hearts!
Help me speed that hopeful day. Learning scripture by heart.