I was convinced that my Third Grade Bible was especially holy. On the day of the presentation, two wonderful women wrote our names and a special verse in beautiful calligraphy. At the bottom of the bookplate, the ministers had dutifully signed in illegible scribbles noting the day when the Bibles were presented. The cover was burgundy and the page edges were gilded. I remember a sense of pride that I was being entrusted with such a beautiful book.
When I returned home, I declared that my new Bible should be kept in the living room, where all the important books were kept. My parents assured me that I should keep it in my bedroom; after all it was my Bible to use. For weeks, it sat in a special place; only opened so I could admire the calligraphy. Why would I risk harming that Bible when I already had a children’s Bible, a Bible from my grandmother, and stacks of ordinary Bibles lining the shelves at church?
It took some time, but eventually I started actually reading my Third Grade Bible; my mom and I spent an afternoon placing tabs on the pages to mark each individual book, my grandmother marked Psalm 91 on a thin onionskin page. I used it for years, but eventually my Third Grade Bible gave way to a Youth Study Bible, then to a tiny thinline that could travel, and now I find myself with a hulking study Bible packed with notes and the occasional lesson plan tucked among its pages. Despite the many Bibles that have followed; that Third Grade Bible still holds a very special place in my memory.
This Sunday, we will present 20 students with their Third Grade Bibles. Maybe some of them will see their Bible as especially holy or precious. Maybe some of them will leave their Bible behind as they rush to find cookies after the service. Maybe some will be surprised to find key passages already highlighted. Maybe some of them will read a psalm that reminds of God’s love or a parable that teaches them about grace. Maybe some of them will read an obscure passage that makes no sense and raises new questions about God.
Regardless of the outcome, it is a moment when we welcome our third graders into a key part of our faith. We are a people who fought for scripture to be translated into a familiar language; people who built schools to assure every child would be able to read and understand scripture; we are part of a tradition that worked with communities to found printing presses and distribution networks so that the Word of God could be known in all places.
Bibles are indeed a precious thing, but the truly holy part of scripture is the moment when those Bibles are opened and the Word of God can live in our reading, our listening, and our lives.