Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Remembering the story

I've had a pleasant summer reading Gordon McConville's excellent commentary on Deuteronomy. I've almost finished, and I'd recommend it to anyone. Chapter 26 of Deuteronomy particularly caught my eye. It describes, amongst other things, the ceremony of firstfruits, in which the Israelite was to bring the first produce of their annual harvest and present it to the Lord. The symbolism is clear: God gave you this land, and therefore its produce is his continuing gift to you - you acknowledge this by giving some of it back. But what interested me was this passage:

And you shall make response before the LORD your God, 'A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.' And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God.

This is clearly a creed, but unlike our creeds (which belong within the discipline of systematic theology) this is essentially narrative. It is a remembering of the story of the nation. In reciting it, the individual identifies with the people of Israel as a whole, stretching back through history. "We" were rescued at the exodus. The Lord brought "us" into the land. So this little narrative creed makes the saving events of the past a present reality for the current generation of Israel.

I wonder whether the ascendancy of Biblical theology, coupled with the prevailing ignorance of the overarching Biblical narrative amongst both Christians and others, means that the time is ripe for the writing of a narrative creed to be recited in our churches?

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