Question of the Week: Q. How do you pick the readings for each Sunday?
I’m happy to say that I don’t. In the Anglican tradition, we get to share — with Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, some United, Methodist and Presbyterian churches — in a wonderful thing called The Lectionary. The Lectionary sets the readings Sunday by Sunday on a three year cycle. That means that every Sunday of the year, there is a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm, a New Testament passage, and a Gospel selection that are assigned. This Lectionary is ancient, dating back (at least in skeletal form) to the 4th century of the Christian church.
There are a number of things about the Lectionary that are incredibly beneficial to a worshipping community:
-Over the course of three years, we hear most of our New Testament and large portions of the Old Testament. Because of the three year cycle, if we are regular participants in worship, we will become familiar with our Scriptures over time, while still having enough variety that the readings can sound new and fresh to us when we do hear them. Right now, we are in Year B of the Lectionary. Year A focuses on the Gospel of Matthew, Year B on the Gospel of Mark (and to some extent, John), Year C on the Gospel of Luke.
-For a preacher, having a Starting Point is important. I can look up the readings for that Sunday and allow them, through the week, to do what Scripture is supposed to do for us, that is live. I can read the texts and listen through the week to the conversations, memories, current events that surround me, that interact with the texts, and out of that I can hope to capture something of where I hear the Spirit speaking to us in This Time and This Place.
-The Lectionary protects you from hearing only what the preacher thinks is important about the Bible or what the preacher likes to talk about. The preacher is asked to be responsive even to parts of the Bible that he/she might otherwise avoid, find uninspiring or challenging.
-The readings are reflective of the seasons of the church year, and therefore, they help us, along with all of the other symbols we use in the church, to appreciate the different emotions, flavours and themes that move through the year, to connect us to the passage of time and the natural seasons in God’s creation.
-Because on every Sunday, literally millions of people will listen to, and reflect on, the same readings, the Lectionary also connects us to the reality that we are part of a universal and global church, spanning time and space. So many of you name this reality as one of the more powerful parts of your experience of what it is to be an Anglican Christian.
Ultimately, I invite you to discover how The Lectionary is meaningful to you. Because you know that these readings were not selected by me in order to teach you something, you can instead open yourself to wondering how God is speaking to you Today, Here and Now, through the holy words of Scripture.