“My words shall not pass away.”
Here are words “written for our learning” but only through our sitting and listening. Here are words “written for our learning” about hope and comfort in times of darkness, danger, and despair. Here are words audible and written, yes, but also words made visible. “He hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, as pledges of his love, and for a continual remembrance of his death, to our great and endless comfort,” as the Exhortation so rarely heard so wonderfully puts it (BCP, pp. 88-89). Words written for our learning.
The Exhortation speaks to the character of this Sunday which is sometimes known as Bible Sunday because of the Collect composed by Cranmer. It calls attention to the reason and purpose of the Scriptures. The Sacraments, too, belong to that understanding of the purposes of God for our humanity. If you read the Proper Preface used for Passiontide, for Passion Sunday right through to Maundy Thursday (BCP, p. 80), you will find that the Exhortation draws directly upon it. We give thanks “for the redemption of the world by the death and passion of our Saviour Christ, both God and Man; who did humble himself, even to the death upon the Cross, for us sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death; that he might make us the children of God, and exalt us to everlasting life.” The Exhortation adds only one word, miserable, “miserable sinners.” Sinners in misery because sin is misery.
Yet here is our comfort: “the patience and comfort of thy holy Word,” and the “great and endless comfort” of “the holy mysteries,” the Sacraments which “he hath instituted and ordained as pledges of his love, and for a continual remembrance of his death, to our great and endless comfort.” Word and Sacrament conveying hope and comfort.
The two Exhortations appended to the Communion service underscore an important reformation ideal. Both Cranmer and Calvin sought to increase the frequency of Communion and especially the reception of the Sacrament over and against the practice of Mass in the late Medieval world largely as a spectator event: seeing the host elevated, even through a squint (literally a hole in the wall!), but receiving the Sacrament very infrequently. The insight of the reformers was essentially a Scriptural insight into the purpose of the Sacraments as revealed in the witness of the Scriptures: “Take eat … Drink ye all, of this … in remembrance of me.” Such is “the memorial which he hath commanded,” (BCP, p. 83). It is about taking seriously the things which have been written. It is about words “hear[d], read, mark[ed], learn[ed], and inwardly digest[ed]” as Cranmer so famously and memorably puts it. Such words are the clarion call and challenge to the recovery of deep reading over and against the superficiality of our digital compulsions, the ephemerality of flickering images.