In the first of three articles, Christopher Idle introduces the concept of the Bible Marathon and describes the practical challenges involved in setting it up

A Bible Marathon is a more-or-less continuous public reading of the Old and New Testaments. Both of those I attended involved hundreds of readers, each entrusted with anything from a few verses to a few chapters. Most were scheduled for some fifteen minutes per slot; several had more than one slot. One event spanned Thursday to Sunday; a nonstop day-night fixture. The other took ten 12-hour days with breaks for sleep, music and a wedding. Both finished triumphantly at a main Sunday service.

Its purpose

As the news spread around the respective inner-city and outer-suburb neighbourhoods, people asked ‘What’s it in aid of?’ – that is, ‘What are you raising money for?’ Nothing!

There were of course financial needs and spin-offs; costs to cover, refreshments to enjoy, books and cards to buy, from tables of fading whodunits to a freshly written guide to the Bibles 66 books. And good causes to support. But none of that sponsorship nonsense where the activity has no connection with the need and the givers show little interest in it.

Others might simply wonder: ‘Why?’ – not least those who read the Bible in order to study, preach and teach. The reading slots were innocent of sermons, discussion groups or even silent meditation.

Perhaps you have to be there in order to understand. A Bible Marathon (or ‘Biblethon’) is a statement about what for Christians is still our holy book. Not that we venerate our book as a sacred object per se, but we do hear it as the word of the Lord, mediated by some very human beings but inspired by his very Holy Spirit – and freshly translated many times over for each generation.

One church used the same version throughout for consistency, in this case the ESV, English Standard Version. The other encouraged its readers to choose the one they felt happiest with. Both approaches are defensible; one snag of the latter surfaced when some resonant traditional eloquence suddenly nose-dived into modern triviality (‘So the Lord said, Fair enough…’). Even with their favourite paraphrase, some readers did not seem entirely at home.

A rare opportunity

These events are not a defensive response to Islam or Dawkins. Rather, they provide a rare opportunity for readers and hearers, prepared or not, committed or casual, to engage with the authentic divine word. These are days of mini-readings on Sunday, with or without Lectionary and often without Old Testament or Psalm. At a nearby church on one Marathon’s final day, the total diet of Scripture was eight verses. You may get even less where the songs and notices don’t allow much time for the Bible.

So what a mind-expanding, heart-warming, soul-nourishing experience to take in some of the Big Picture; to hear the roll-call of history, apostolic announcements and adventures, extended tragedies of judgement and wonders of salvation, the Gospel narratives racing inexorably towards Good Friday, Easter and beyond!

As for setting it all up – I have never shared in this testing, energy-consuming activity. Such enterprises need meticulous planning and timing, e-mails and phone calls, reliable volunteers and reserves in case someone calls in sick or doesn’t show up. Plus a rota of doorkeepers, welcomers, coffee-makers, microphone-adjusters, child-minders, photographers and recording wizards. And someone in charge of draughts, heaters and light switches. (One gap to fill? A small handout saying ‘We hope you have appreciated listening to the Bible. If you would like to know more [the book itself, other ways of reading, studying alone or with others], may we suggest…’)

These loyal supporters are not more vital than the players on the pitch. But with no back-up, none of it would happen at all. When it does, the variety is enriching and embarrassing, depressing and delightful. So next time, what about speaking up? |