A lectionary is a collection of scripture readings appointed for reading in worship on a given day or occasion. Christian lectionaries usually follow the seasons of the church year; Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc.
For many years as a preacher and worship leader I generally followed the Revised Common Lectionary. Many Mainline Protestants do. Some clergy think it is kind of a sin to depart from it.
But I had my gripes. The RCL is politically correct in that it tends to skip anything in the Bible that might offend modern liberal sensitivities. Sarcastically, I say lets include everything but issue trigger warnings.
Gene Packwood in his blog, GENEralities noted that one reading censored David’s prejudice against lame people. He went on to list six problems with this kind of thing:
- Sunday only readers and hearers will not only get an unrealistic impression of the Biblical witness but also skewed portrait of important Biblical characters like David.
- Holy Scripture’s impact as a dynamic, “living and active” account of a real God dealing with real people who are not only capable of great love, faithfulness and goodness, but of error, sin and cruelty, is diminished.
- Real Biblical people like David become mere cut-out figures in a politically correct religious fairy tale.
- It becomes easier to manage or avoid other disturbing passages such as those that get a little close to the bone on matters of sin and judgement and God’s anger, and those that call into question the ways in which we might like to express our sexual selves exramaritally—all the references to homosexuality, for example, have been excised.
- We miss the opportunity to compare and contrast the “offending” bit with the loving reality of Jesus and his teaching.
- I feel I’m being managed so that rather than being under the authority of God’s utterly demanding Word, I am being invited to accept a religious, politically correct revisioning of Scripture based on what a small group of humans think God would have said if He’d been as progressive and compassionate as they think He should have been.
Right on, in my opinion.
In my own church the current pastor is using a new lectionary called the Narrative Lectionary. It has a four-year cycle and aims to get pastors to preach annually through the biblical narrative in order to give church goers a sense of the sweep if God’s story. For instance, for the rest of Advent this year the narratives covered are as follows:
First, “Isaiah of the Exile”. This is an excellent way to refer to Second Isaiah.
Second, “Rebuilding the Temple”. So it lets you follow up on Isaiah by telling the story of the return from the exile.
Third, “Zechariah’s Song”. This involves the story of John the Baptist’s birth and its connection to Jesus–a splice between the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels.
Finally, on Christmas Eve there is the “Birth of Jesus” and on Christmas Day “Shepherds visit the infant Jesus”.
There are set readings in the lectionary for each of these stories. Those readings may, like the RCL, eliminate what some find distasteful in the stories. But a pastor following this lectionary could deal with whatever aspect of the story he or she liked. I did this a few weeks ago when I filled in and was supposed to preach from the Elijah story. I altered the set readings so as to deal with the broader story, not just the reading about the contest with the priests of Baal at Carmel.
The idea of the Narrative Lectionary would be to tell the story, while leaving some leeway about what to include in the readings.
Anyway, for the rest of Advent I want to experiment with this by covering the stories in the Narrative Lectionary.