“Bereshith Bara Elohim eth hashamaim we eth ha aretz” - “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” are the panoramic words that open the first pages of the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible, words that speak to us not so much about what really happened or how it happened but explain to us rather the profound faith of the Biblical authors that nothing which exists could have come into being without God’s personal intervention. This majestic presentation of creation as an activity of God within the first six days by the priestly author of the chapter, points to the fact of the tremendous power he believed, belonged to the very nature of God, the God who even before Israel knew him as their mighty creator it had come to know as their liberator from it’s oppression in Egypt “with a firm hand, manifesting His power with signs and awesome wonders” [Deut. 26: 8]. This sets the tone so to say for Israel’s great faith. It is this mighty God who saves who thus is identified also as the all powerful creator in the Holy Bible, quite in contrast to the nagging polytheisms of the surrounding cultures of the time. This redemption – creation axis of the Holy Bible shows us how much God loved Israel and through it humanity. Yes, the Holy Bible is a book of profound faith in God, whose unbounded love the people of Israel experienced in their unwinding story even if they did not see Him face to face. But He was so close to them: their God, they belonged to Him. He was Emmanuel: God with us.
Jesus, the Eternal Word
The same seems to be the orientation of St. John’s panoramic view of salvation history, when he presents to us the story of Jesus. The word - “Bereshith” or “En archč” found as the first word in the first line of the prologue of St. John’s Gospel presents to us the eternal Word: Christ. St. John sees what is explained in the first pages of the Bible as being profoundly connected to the person of Jesus: God’s eternal word, who through His sheer obedience to the Father creates mankind and all of creation anew. Jesus Christ who assumed human nature [ĹŹ logos sarx egeneto] and saved humanity through His death and resurrection is indeed God’s eternal word and the prototype of the new Adam. It is Jesus, the eternal logos, who is central to the unraveling of Salvation history, expression of God’s love. Everything that was created in and through God’s eternal Word has now been renewed or created anew and would become the “new heavens and the new earth” [2 Peter 3: 13] in Christ and man himself has been offered the possibility of being transformed to be like Him, the new Adam. The hermeneutical key in understanding all of this, the entire story of the Holy Bible, old and new, is faith in God’s loving action through His eternal Word made man – Jesus. As John explicitly mentioned “but as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become sons of God, even to them that believe [tois pisteuousin] in His name” [vs 12].
The Bible: God’s story of Love
The Holy Bible is thus not just a book but is God’s story of love for humanity. Every page is filled with that faith. God’s loving and provident creation tarnished by man’s sinfulness is restored in and through Jesus, His eternal Word. It is the story of the dialectic between love and rejection, mercy and vengeance, life and death and the struggle for the heavenly as against the drag of the earthly. It is the story of the call to true freedom in Jesus, God’s eternal Son. It is the call to divine sonship in the likeness of Christ. The words found in vs. 12 of St. John’s Prologue “edoken autois exousian tekna theou genesthai” which literally means “gave them the authority (or power) to become the children of God” contain the central challenge of the Biblical message: call to divine sonship and the experience of eternity.
The Gospel of St. John affirms so: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life” [Jn. 3: 16]. God so loves the world that becoming one like us he enters time and space, assumes a visible form and enwrapping us in His embrace transforms us completely. The eternal, distant God becomes human, subject to fragility, limited in time and subject to death so that He may finally raise us up to heights of eternity with Him. He offers us the possibility to experience true freedom from the daily drag towards unending death and darkness. And so, the Bible speaks to us of a story of hope and joy, of optimism which gives an even profounder meaning to life. More so it is like a beautiful symphony which presents to us the ennobling music of God’s liberative love – He comes to us, speaks to us and we are enwrapped in His embrace. No longer is he far away from us. He is with us and is power unto salvation. Indeed St. Paul felt so most poignantly and exclaimed “I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” [Rom. 1:16].
And so beloved brethren today we are gathered, as disciples of Christ, to render thanks to Him, God our loving Father, for the gift of His eternal Word – that Word which became incarnate in human flesh and in the human word and which seeks to enter into a constant dialogue with us, a dialogue of love, through the pages of His holy Word offering us hope, freedom and joy.
Mission to the World
Diffusion of this beautiful story, of God’s love for humanity which is truly transforming, is the duty of all Christians. States Pope Benedict XVI “we cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man or woman” [VD 91]. In this, the challenge facing us especially in Asia is that of reaching out to all men and women of good will of whatever religious conviction in a sincere spirit of openness, offering them and discovering with them the message common to all in the pages of the Holy Scriptures working to create an atmosphere of inter-cultural enrichment. The Holy Bible can truly be a source of unity and peace among peoples of different cultures for its message surpasses every barrier. The Holy Bible can never destroy a culture as the Pope stated once again in his Apostolic Exhortation, “I wish to re-assure all those who are part of the world of culture that they have nothing to fear from openness to God’s word, which never destroys true culture, but rather is a constant stimulus to seek ever more appropriate, meaningful and humane forms of experience. Every authentic culture, if it is truly to be at the service of humanity, has to be open to transcendence” [VD 110]. The service that we Christians can render in such contexts is to promote a mutual sense of respect for the noble values found in the different religions and, show how these find a profound sense of expression in the pages of the Holy Bible. Thus facilitating the encounter between God’s eternal word and humanity becomes important.
Diffusion, Our Duty
The translation and diffusion of the Sacred Scriptures then becomes our duty towards the Lord and humanity. It is not rare to find occasions when the Bible remains unknown even, among the Christians. We of the Catholic community, thanks to the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on Divine Revelation “Dei Verbum” have in these last few decades become more exposed to the riches of the Sacred Text. But still much more ground has to be covered. What is most satisfying to note is that there is an increasing demand for the text of the Holy Bible even among the non-Christians worldwide and all of that means the need for a commitment on our part to make the Holy Book more available, better known and become a true source of response to the deeper yearning’s of humanity at large. Pope Benedict XVI has indeed recognized the historic role, especially of the Bible Societies, in the matter of diffusing this message, when he stated “given the very nature of such an enterprise (that of diffusing the Bible) it should be carried out as much as possible, in cooperation with the different Bible Societies” [VD 115].
The Ceylon Bible Society
This is an acknowledgement of the fact that the Bible Societies have indeed become the internationally recognized instrument for the diffusion of the Holy Bible and its spiritual riches world wide. It is this same awareness that makes us feel grateful to God for the 200 years of service rendered to Sri Lanka by our own Bible Society; The Ceylon Bible Society. Historic records show that it was first established on 1st August 1812, two hundred years to date, at a meeting presided over by the then British Governor of Ceylon, His Excellency Sir Robert Brownrigg at the Kings House. Their objective then was “to encourage the circulation of the Holy Scriptures without note or comment and especially to supply the demands of the native Christians in the island of Ceylon”. From then onwards the CBS has indeed produced not only the vernacular versions of the Sacred Scriptures but also a wide variety of Scripture based publications and products for the use of the local Christian community. Among these of remarkable value is the Ecumenical Bible which is a commonly acceptable translation in the Sinhala language of the Holy Bible which has been approved both by the Catholic Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka and the National Christian Council. Through the CBS the mainline Churches of the NCC and the Roman Catholic Church have developed a spirit of close cooperation in fulfilling our obligations in the common cause of bringing the Word of God closer to our people. It is our wish that this spirit of collaboration grow and consolidate in the years to come – for, God’s invitation is not limited only to us – we all have a duty to open out the treasurers of God’s love to the whole of humanity.
We then thank God for His Son, His eternal Word, for the grace He showers on us through the Word that seeks to engage in a dialogue with us transforming us and for all the blessings that He has deigned to shower upon our Churches in the common endeavour of diffusing this powerful message of the Sacred Book all these years and pray that He may continue to bless these efforts with success and may make His powerful Word the means of personal transformation and holiness for many people in Sri Lanka. For we know that “unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the labourers toil and unless the Lord guards the city, in vain do the guards keep the watch” [Ps 127: 1].