Archive for the 'About the Lectionary' Category

For July 20, 2014: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11

The Reading            Isaiah 44:6-8

The earliest books of the Old Testament proclaim that the Lord God is the greatest of the gods. Isaiah 44:1-15 relates a different claim: that the Lord is the only god.

The Response            Psalm 86:11-17

Psalm 86 combines elements of lament—begging God for aid against enemies who despise both the psalmist and God—and praise. After extolling God’s graciousness, slowness to anger, and kindness, the psalmist asks for a sign of favor with which to shame the haters.

The Epistle            Romans 8:12-25

The early church in Rome included both Jews and former pagans, though not without disagreements. Paul explains humanity’s common birthright as adopted children of God: we all share in Christ’s glory, but we are also to share humbly in Christ’s suffering while we wait in hope for our redemption.

The Gospel            Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

We continue examining Jesus’ parables that use the imagery of plowing, planting, and harvesting, with his explanations. The “weeds” in this parable would probably have been darnel, a plant that looks a great deal like wheat until it ripens.

 

 

Further thoughts

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is the three-year cycle of Bible readings, followed with more or less fidelity by most Christian churches, that works from first verse to last through most books of the Bible. A challenge for the RCL’s makers is that the Old Testament, even without the psalms, comprises several times more text than do the epistles and the gospel taken together. To even things out, in Pentecost season the RCL splits just the Old Testament readings and apposite psalms into two tracks. Track 1 begins with Genesis and traces the covenants, falls, and redemptions of God’s children, while Track 2 focuses on prophecy, on calls for repentance or proclamations of righteousness. That a given day’s epistle and gospel tend to be about equally complemented by either track’s pair of readings is both intentional and remarkable.

The gospel readings for Propers 10 and 11 reflect a rare but sensible choice and a surprising choice. As the gospel of Matthew has it, Jesus tells a large crowd two parables and then the disciples urge him to interpret them. The rare but sensible choice is by the makers of the RCL, who allot each sermon-worthy parable and its explanation to a different Sunday: the parable of the sower for Proper 10 last week and the parable of the bad seed this week. The surprising choice that Jesus even complies with the disciples’ demand: he almost never explains parables, and these explanations are almost painfully literal and obvious.

How does this square with the other lections? Isaiah testifies that the Lord is not merely the greatest god but the only god, who alone knows the future, and the reason we are not to fear. The psalm celebrates this God’s graciousness and compassion. Yet, as the epistle notes, suffering and decay are inextricably part of this world: from birth onward we learn that there is plenty to fear in pain, sickness, shame, disaster, and death. As I write, we mourn the 295 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines 17, including almost 100 AIDS experts bound for a conference, sacrificed for a political cause relevant to few or none of them. How can God foresee such evil and not forestall it?

For Dec. 29, 2013: 1 Christmas, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Isaiah 61 was composed as God’s people returned from exile to find Jerusalem in ruins; life is hard. Even so, says the prophet, there is great good news: it is time to rejoice as one does at one’s wedding, for God’s vindication and salvation are on their way—and already here.

The Response            Psalm 147:13-21

The selection from Psalm 147 is a song of praise. It calls the people to worship and praise the Lord for making the front doors secure, protecting the weak, giving peace, providing rich harvests, controlling the natural order and the seasons, and announcing his word. Hallelujah!

The Epistle            Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

In the epistle, Paul writes to the church of Galatia—a part of Asia Minor populated by ethnic Celts—to explain the difference between life under the law and life in faith. Under the law we were like dependents with no legal standing. Then Jesus came to name us as immediate kin—and so to adopt us into God’s forever family.

The Gospel            John 1:1-18

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Luke gave us the close-up view of the birth of Christ. On the first Sunday of Christmas season, John’s gospel begins with a wider perspective: Jesus the Light of the World comes into the world to give us power to become children of God, if we will take it.

Ponderables

A lectionary is a sequence of readings from the Bible for weekly or daily use. The Revised Common Lectionary or RCL is a three-year cycle of scripture readings for use at Sunday church services; Year A, which began on the first Sunday of Advent at the beginning of December, follows the gospel of Matthew, Year B the gospel of Mark, and Year C the gospel of Luke, with the gospel of John read on festival days and on Sundays in Pentecost Year B after the gospel of Mark is finished.

The RCL is “revised” in that the original version, based on and inspired by the three-year Roman Catholic lectionary that was published in 1969, was altered in 1996 from the version issued in 1983 by the North American Consultation for Common Texts. It is “common” in that it is in use at least to some extent in many Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, UCC, and other churches. One advantage of the RCL is that having all these churches on the same page, so to speak, makes ecumenical services much easier.

The Episcopal Church began transitioning from the lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer to the Revised Common Lectionary in 2007. We retain the BCP usage on some specific Sundays, however. One of those is the first Sunday after Christmas; where the RCL has a distinct set of readings for each liturgical year, Episcopal usage specifies the same set for all three years. The readings bear repeating: it is good to follow Isaiah’s exultant outstretched arm pointing to the Light on the horizon, to repeat with the children of Israel a short litany of the Lord’s mercies, to hear with the Galatian aliens the great good news of our adoption, and to wonder with John at the great mystery of the Word of God made flesh of our flesh. Amen, hallelujah!


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