Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your
beloved Son, the King of all: govern the hearts and minds of those
in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and
torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and
gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
THE fictional but truth-telling story of Job is, at one level,
all about words. Having recognised the force of honest words (Job
6.25), Job railed against his friends' "windy words", which had no
limit (Job 16.3). Then, in words people who are bullied online
today might use, he protested: "How long will you torment me and
break me in pieces with words?" (Job 19.10), before echoing
Habakkuk's lament (Trinity 19; Sunday's readings, 4 October) that
even God did not heed his words: "Even when I cry 'Violence!' I am
It is in that desperate context that we hear Job's yearning: "O
that my words were written down! O that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!"
We take it for granted that words are written, but in Job's
society this was rare. Most words were spoken, and, although the
oral culture was reliable as a means of transmission and
remembrance, there was not the permanence or the potency of the
This explains the impact of Hilkiah's discovery of the written
book of the law which led to Josiah's reforms (2 Kings 22), and
Jehohoiakim's determination to destroy the written words of
Jeremiah, which challenged his rule (Jeremiah 36.20-32). It helps
us to understand the depth of Job's desire to record his words for
Paul also knew the power of words. He wrote to warn the new
Thessalonian Christians not to be shaken in mind, or alarmed by
words or letters purporting to come from him. Knowing how words
could deceive, he wanted them to stand firm and hold fast to what
they had been taught by him, by word of mouth and by letter.
What words did Job want to write? If we can resist humming
Handel's aria, which lifts the words out of Job's context, we hear
his sublime protestation in the face of total disaster and
misunderstanding by his friends. His defiant hope, "I know that my
redeemer lives," rings through the centuries as a bold affirmation
of confidence in God that transcends circumstances. It made the
entrusting of his bitter complaints to writing an act of robust
We have seen the power of the written word in Durham this
summer. For three months, the World Heritage Site hosted the
Lindisfarne Gospels (Features, 9 August).
Written on Holy Island, kept for a century at Chester-le-Street,
and then at Durham Cathedral for several more centuries, they have
been displayed and interpreted again in their original
More than 100,000 people have come from all over the country and
overseas to see the Gospels, alongside a stunning collection of
similar writings, including the Durham Gospels, which are still in
the Cathedral's care. Seeing all those handwritten and illustrated
words side by side has been a powerful testimony to the enduring
word of God.
Through written interpretation, pilgrimages, and talks, we have
reminded people what a Gospel book is, and have told the story of
Christianity in the region. We have prayed regularly that people
coming to the exhibition would encounter the Lord of whom the words
of the Lindisfarne Gospels speak. Many people have told me of
weeping when they saw them.
When Eadfrith wrote the Lindisfarne Gospels, and Aldred later
inserted a translation into Old English so that people could
understand it (long before Tyndale and others sacrificed their
lives so people could have the Bible in their language), they were
writing for the glory of God, but also, as it has transpired, for
posterity. Like Job, the community of St Cuthbert knew the power of
written words, and left us carefully written words as testimony to
their faith and worship.
On Remembrance Sunday, we will hear Laurence Binyon's familiar
words: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. . .
.", and we will be stirred by the evocative power of a very few
well-chosen words. The war poets have left us a terrible,
disturbing beauty in writing. Job has left us his written words of
defiantly daring faith. Cuthbert's community has left us a
breath-taking, life-giving Gospel book. In a world where we tweet
and blog almost mindlessly, if we could leave only 20 or 30 words
for posterity, what would they be?