If the title hasn't bored you already, please read on.

"Changing Lectionaries". To begin with, what's a Lectionary? It's a list of readings from the Bible that is law in some denominations and gospel in others. In some churches there is no choice. Every congregation hears the same readings every Sunday. Every preacher must strike at least one of the readings (usually the Gospel) at least a glancing blow. In other traditions, like the Presbyterian Churches, following a lectionary is optional. It's helpful. It allows for coordination of themes in preaching, worship, and Church School. If everyone knows in advance-- up to three years in advance-- what the readings and themes for a Sunday will be it can be easier to plan and prepare sermons, music, and lessons. Presbyterian preachers often appreciate not having to choose their texts each week, while still being free to set the lectionary aside at times. A lectionary that's shared across traditions also supports Christian ecumenism. It reinforces the truth that we all read the same book and live by the same gospel. Preachers often gather weekly to share sermon preparation, as I did with a group of colleagues in Halifax for many years.

You may not even have noticed that at least some preachers at Glenview have followed a lectionary since the practice became common among Presbyterians in the 1970s. The first version was called the Common Lectionary. It's a three-year cycle of readings, based on a very old Roman Catholic lectionary. I started following it in 1983 and have been using it off-and-on since then. It has been updated several times. It's now called the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Every month in the Presbyterian Record I offer a column to preachers on one of the RCL readings.

The RCL is far from perfect. Cycle after cycle the selectivity reflected in it is reinforced and congregations never hear readings from many parts of the Bible. Especially the Old Testament and the Gospel of John. As a former teacher of preachers, I believe slavish and repeated use of the same Lectionary for many cycles can make a preacher lazy. I also have to admit that I've occasionally retreaded old sermons throughout my ministry, hoping no one can remember more than three years back! (And I've been caught more than once by very attentive parishioners!)

I've decided to change lectionaries. A new lectionary is becoming popular among Protestant preachers in North America. It's called the Narrative Lectionary. It was developed by Bible and preaching teachers at a Lutheran seminary in Minnesota. Many Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United Church preachers and congregations in Canada have begun to follow the Narrative Lectionary. They want to return to a more thorough reading of the Bible. Here's how the authors describe it:

The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.

The texts show the breadth and variety of voices within Scripture. They invite people to hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. Listening to the many different voices within Scripture enriches preaching and the life of faith.

Four years, rather than three, means each of the Gospels gets its own year. Many more stories and themes from the Old Testament are covered than in the RCL. The Narrative Lectionary reflects the functional church year in North America, September through May. That doesn't mean the Christian calendar is ignored. We'll still celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost! In the summer the Narrative Lectionary encourages preaching on the Psalms, or on themes from familiar texts like the Lord's Prayer.

In each year there are periods with themes. Through this fall both Sunday messages and Church School classes will focus on the great theme of "Promise".

But, all that being said, the only difference you'll note on Sundays is that there may be just one reading, after the Psalm. Or there will be one longer reading and one shorter. There may be a clear thread running through several weeks of sermons. Or you may not even notice a difference! For the time being I'll continue to write about RCL readings for the Record.

This Sunday, September 11, we'll start to work with the Narrative Lectionary. We'll follow it most weeks. We're beginning the year of Luke's Gospel. Through the fall, though, Old Testament readings will be our main texts for Sundays.

2 Comments