Thursday, July 10, 2014
Ozymandias the Lector
Within certain circles, it is customary for the lector of the day to make free commentary during the time set aside for the Old Testament, Epistle and New Testament lessons. Curiously, among the Lutherans, anyway, no attempt is made to explain the unfathomable wisdom of each anthem sung by the congregation ... along the lines of, for example, "Lissen up, folks. We're in for a real treat. So you, Grandma Schmitt, stop snoring. And Anderson, stop with the sobbing. It isn't time yet. Dumb Swede. Anyhoo, here the pietist composer of "Were You There, When They Crucified My Lord" sincerely if shamelessly attempts to wring your heart of all of its tears, like a turnip spits blood. If you aren't moved and lifted up as I'll be, at least to the third heaven like a real Christian, then perhaps your wallet is too heavy and we will seek to relieve you of that problem shortly, by means of the collection plate. Ask yourselves, as you warble: Were you there, Grandma? Did you throw dice with the best of 'em? And do I hear a 'Holly-wood-yah' from the pews, brothers and sisters?"
Obviously, something is going on here of interest, but we'll leave our interpretation of the absence of "hymn-talk" for another time.
The custom of making like Lenski at the Lessons, however, calls to mind Cornell professor William Bishop's brilliantly satirical light-verse treatment of Shelley's Ozymandias , which poem speaks directly to this age of coarseness, self-promotion, and its lost sense of mystery and indeed, of holy Presence. Bishop's piece quotes Shelley verbatim for a time, lulling us a bit, but then he artfully spills the apple-cart with a mischievous flourish:
...And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings.
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Also the names of Emory P. Gray, Mr. and Mrs. Dukes, and Oscar Baer
Of 17 West Fourth St., Oyster Bay.
Despair? I despair, all right. See, it's very difficult for me to imagine Aquila (or God help us, Priscilla), giving a running explanation of the letter of the Corinthians, in the course of its very first liturgical reading to that church: "This is what I think the tent-maker really means, 'cause frankly I don't think you, the assembled groundlings here, will get it. Maybe it's the warmth from the agape gyros, escaping from your tummy to your brain, I don't know.
So you need some help.
In this instance, you need help from me ... also a tent-maker. To be sure, we sought to have that fisherman Peter provide the intro on this momentous occasion; but the prince of the Apostles says he's passing, because he finds Br. Paul to be a real head-scratcher every now and then."
To my sensibilities, that which passes for "explanation" during the Lessons invariably detracts from, and intrudes upon our precious Word's private meditative time with His lambs. Frankly, it constitutes graffiti of a sorts, a "Look at me and my wisdom" insistence which borders on stealing from that time. The helplessly fallen and broken Ozymandias would surely understand. According to Mr. Bishop, that guy understands graffiti to a fault.
But I digress.
Liturgists at the lectern: Let the precious Word do its own thing, please. Patience, sirs. Your chance will come. Save the insights for the homily, at which time the Lord will surely open your lips with His Spirit, and through these means make haste to help us.
Speaking both for Ozymandias and me, we do thank you liturgists in advance, for considering our suggestion.
Pardon me, sir. What's that? Great Scot. I didn't notice, your eminence, sir. Sorry. Psst ... Ozzie, Ozzie, can ALL of you stand up when you're speaking to the bishop?
Posted by Michael L. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D at 1:22 PM