We started this series with preparation for worship, the call to worship, adoration, and confession and absolution of sin. All of those fit into the larger category of GATHERING, the coming away from "everyday" life to worship in community. Now we move into the time of PROCLAIMING THE WORD, which traditionally includes the reading of Scripture, the sermon, a creed or affirmation of belief, and the prayers of the people. This post is about the reading of Scripture.
When the Bible is read aloud in the context of worship, the gospel is being proclaimed. The story of redemption is told. The point isn’t necessarily to remind congregants about facts they’ve forgotten. The point is worship: God’s Word is his gift to us, and to read it aloud, to attend to it, to listen to it, is to worship God and thank him for his gift. We also are proclaiming the gospel as we read the Scriptures, declaring God’s mighty acts in Christ. This is an important thing, as it anchors worship in God’s Word, in God’s story. It prevents us from simply choosing the latest fad and putting it in the center of our times of gathered worship (which is way too easy to do, given the pragmatism of our day… whatever "gets them in the door" is fair game, it seems).
One thing I really like about a time of Scripture reading is that we allow the Word of God to address us without commentary or interruption (which is so easy for us church leaders to do!). The sermon is a time to comment, to bring out the gospel in the Scripture, to "give the sense" (Neh 8:8). But there is a time before the sermon for simply reading aloud the Word of God.
Reading the Scriptures also guards against "proof-texting" in the sermon (pulling Scriptures out of context to prove whatever point one wants to make). It also anchors the sermon in the wider context of the Scriptures, because (if you’re using a lectionary) you’re reading from the Old and New Testaments.
I would also advocate reading the Scriptures creatively on occasion. Last Easter we did a reading of John 20 as a "reader’s theater" where different voices spoke different parts. We used some lighting effects and music to create a memorable and meaningful experience for people. It helped them immerse themselves in the story. But there is no need to come up with some fancy way of reading the Scriptures every week. Simply reading them well is good enough, and says something about the sufficiency and power of God’s Word, that it doesn’t need to be "dressed up" to have its effect.
When the Word of God is read, it is very appropriate for the congregation to voice its thanks and praise. The traditional way of doing this is that the reader announces after the reading: "The Word of the Lord," and the congregation responds, "Thanks be to God!" Whatever words are used, it is not just perfunctory to say the words of thanks after the reading. It reminds us that when God’s Word addresses us, it demands something: action, response, thanks, repentance, etc. The "little things" of liturgy are often the most important, in that in doing them consistently, they form us in certain ways. Ultimately, that’s what active participation in liturgical worship does for us: forms us as the Body of Christ, conforms us to the image of Christ.