The Office Book

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
6 September 2011

It’s more valuable than my cell phone (contacts, calendar, and communication).  Its information is more reliable than that on my computer.  I would be lost without it.  I have given it away and take it with me wherever I go.  I have used it on an airplane in the middle of the night, in my car before a meeting, in great cathedrals, and in my favorite chair.

I refer (of course) to the Contemporary Office Book (New York: Church Publishing, 2000; $140), that single volume and 2884 page repository of all things necessary to offer The Daily Office in Rite Two using the New Revised Standard Version of the scriptures.  Its name comes from the Latin word officium, meaning duty or service.  This service is and is not a duty.

Today’s Old Testament reading (I Kings 16:23-34) gives us the entire scriptural account of Omri, King of Israel, whose name means worshipper of Yahweh.  But Omri is important for another reason.  The scriptures say that he “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” but they overlook his quelling of a rebellion and his might shown in capability both abroad and at home.  He was one of the greatest kings of Israel.  I came by this extra knowledge innocently: a Bible professor I had in seminary wrote his dissertation on Omri.

But I have come to see that nothing about the scriptures and the daily prayers is irrelevant to my daily round cellular activity: contacts, calendar events, and communication.  In fact, the scriptures and the daily prayers give to me and reinforce in me an important meaning lying behind the events.  We are God’s, and we remain God’s despite what we do.  And, at times, we even answer our calling to do God’s will.  Even old Omri reminds me that we all have a double story, the one that is written down and the one that defies writing, the one that’s harder or more inconvenient to see.  We all pray that God’s will be done, and occasionally we actually do it.

For the scriptures tell our story, too.  We find duplicated in us the events and the emotions of the people of Israel through the ages.  And we find, too, that place where we can trust in God’s loving-kindness and mercy.  Over and over we are called to that trust and to commit to that relationship so that it is as firm for our part as it is for God’s part.

I’ve said it in sermons precisely because I believe it.  When Jesus speaks in the proclamation of the Gospel for the day, he speaks and is present to all his hearers not only those of two thousand years ago.  He speaks to you and to me, and to the situation of our lives.

And so I carry the Office Book with me and use it though I think of it more as a breviary, a collection of those short readings that give to me and remind me of the deeper meaning, and open the door of eternity.  To me it’s very like Jacob’s Ladder, stretching to heaven and declaring God’s promise: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15).  I’ll take it over a cell phone any day.