Have you ever wondered how we choose the texts for Sunday worship each week?
Many congregations, including those from our Lutheran tradition, follow what is called a lectionary. Lectionary readings are arranged according to the Christian Church calendar and are intended to be read at the regular, weekly gathering of God’s people. The readings fit the various seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and the long Pentecost season. Already in the fourth century, readings were gathered for this purpose.
The benefit of following a lectionary is that a congregation hears a broad range of Scripture texts, and often the texts for a particular Sunday relate to one another in some way.
Many congregations in our Lutheran tradition use either the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) or the Narrative Lectionary (NL). The RCL is a three-year lectionary which lists several readings for each Sunday: an Old Testament reading, a Gospel reading, a New Testament reading (often from the Epistles) and a Psalm. Each year of the RCL centers on one of the synoptic Gospels – Matthew (Year A), Mark (Year B) and Luke (Year C). The Gospel of John is read periodically in all three years.
The Narrative Lectionary (NL) is a four-year cycle of readings, one year to focus on each of the Gospels. The Church Year helps to shape the flow of the Narrative Lectionary. During the fall, Old Testament readings begin with the early chapters of Genesis, and move through stories of Israel’s early history, exodus, the kings, prophets, exile and return. This leads naturally to the stories of Jesus’ birth and life from the Gospels during Christmas and Epiphany through Holy Week and Easter. After Easter, selections from the book of Acts and Paul’s letters trace the movement of the resurrection message, culminating on Pentecost with readings focusing on the Spirit. Summer becomes a time to delve deeper in the Bible with a sermon series.
One of the benefits of the Narrative Lectionary is that we get to hear the entire sweep of the Bible story in an orderly fashion, beginning in Creation, through the Old Testament, leading to the coming of Jesus and then the formation of the Christian Church. In an era when biblical literacy is not high, this can be a great help for people in understanding the flow of God’s activity through history!
To learn more about these lectionaries, one can take a look at www.workingpreacher.org and click on the tab for “Narrative Lectionary” or “Revised Common Lectionary.”
I look forward to using the Narrative Lectionary this fall, with a focus on key Old Testament stories that help us understand the history that led up to the coming of Jesus!
Pastor Deborah Lunde