Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why to love the lectionary

A couple of weeks ago, Dan Clendenin of Journey with Jesus had a good post at emergent, Lovin' the Lectionary. It's not too surprising as he features a lectionary essay, what I usually call a reflection, on the week's readings. He says that he has come to love the lectionary for four reasons:

Liberation: Pastors who follow the lectionary are forever freed from the onerous burden of dreaming up a sermon topic for every Sunday. The weekly readings decide that for you. Your creative energies are thus directed toward interacting with Scripture rather than wondering how or where to start. With four readings every week, there is also flexibility that allows for one's personal inclinations.

Discipline: When you follow the lectionary you can't "cheat" or cut corners by gravitating toward favorite passages, avoiding unpleasant texts, or choosing Scriptures that you consider more relevant or clear. Instead, you're forced to deal with the "whole counsel of God" that, in my experience, we honor only with lip service---from John 3:16 to Hosea 13:16 and the butchering of babies and pregnant women.

Thoroughness: When you follow a three-year lectionary cycle you will read and grapple with almost the entire Bible. Imagine what a lifetime of lectionary devotion might do to our churches or to our very own souls as we work through all Scripture every three years.

Community: Most Christians in the world follow the lectionary; those who do not find themselves in the minority. I love identifying myself with the communion of saints around the world who are all studying the same Scriptures at the same time. Together we read, meditate, and pray through the rhythm of the Christian year---Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and all the so-called "ordinary time" in-between feast days.
The last point is of particular note. Because so many Christian groups use some version of the Revised Common Lectionary, resources such as Textweek can exist.

The RCL and the lectionary put out by the US bishops for Catholic use a very similar, the main difference lying in the Old Testament lessons. All this grew out of the first new lectionary published in 1969 following the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Other groups found the idea attractive, and ecumenical meetings around this topic grew into the Consultation on Common Texts. The bishops reserve the right to issue a specifically Catholic lectionary, but support a significant Catholic presence, with at-large Catholic members in addition to the two official representatives.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and still remember the prayer book with the Sunday lectionary lessons included. (Throw away missalettes still feel strange.) In my early 20's I attended many services with evangelical friends, and never could get used to not having that set rotation moving you steadily through scripture. As I work on reflections today (and yes, I have missed a couple from lack of time), I greatly appreciate the work that has gone into the lectionary, in its various versions and revisions. The commonality that we have achieved, where many Christians are hearing the same Gospel lesson preached on the same Sunday, is a true ecumenical achievement.

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