Friday, June 01, 2012

What's the deal, Mr. Lectionary?

So, the new Revised Common Lectionary (I say "new" because the Episcopal church has been on it less than 30 years) has this gimmick for the Trinity Season (I refuse to use the term "Season after Pentecost") of having two tracts for the Old Testament readings in the summer and early fall. One is the traditional Old Testament readings that tries to capture the theme of the New Testament/Gospel readings, regardless of whether that makes the Old Testament reading change from book to book every Sunday.

The other alternative track for the summer is one that reads an Old Testament book largely in sequence, at least in theory. Last year, it was largely the Book of Genesis. I really enjoy preaching from a Biblical text in a sequence; you can get more in depth in your sermon if you can build on things and not have the Old Testament text and theme change every Sunday.

I seldom preach on the Epistles for this reason because the Lectionary butchers them so badly. You have to read the Epistles in sequence or else you spend half your sermon giving the exegetical background of the Church that Paul is writing to and putting into some context. By the time you have done that, your time is about up. And then the next week, you are on to a completely different epistle and theme. I drives me batty sometimes.

I do appreciate the Lectionary in the sense that it does force us (in a Bataan Death March sort of way) to grapple with a vast majority of the Bible in the 3 year cycle of the Lectionary. Oftentimes, that involves texts that we would just as soon not touch on this week (or ever). So, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Lectionary overall.  It does the Gospels and Psalms well. Occasionally, it does the Old Testament and Epistles well in the times when they are read basically in sequence.

What gripes me, though, is when the Lectionary teases me with this "we're going to read this book in sequence," but we will do that by glossing over whole chapter sections of the story. This happened last year with the Joseph story. The Lectionary did a good job of telling most of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stories, and then it came to Joseph. The Joseph saga is a good quarter of the whole of the Book of Genesis. And we got 2, count 'em 2, stories about Joseph before it was off to butcher the Moses story in Exodus: the coat of many colors story and then the very end of the narrative when Joseph is reunited with his brothers in Egypt. The Lectionary did not have the gumption to include even the Potiphar's Wife story.

This year, it appears we get largely the David saga. It appears that the Lectionary follows David for most of the summer, so I cannot complain too much on that count. But it gives us scant little about the actual saga of Saul. This coming Sunday, we get the story of Israel wanting a King and demanding Samuel anoint them a King. And then next week, we skip all the way to the point where God has rejected Saul and God sends Samuel to anoint David. We completely lose the tragedy of Saul.

That's one of the most powerful stories in the whole bible. What's the deal, Mr. Lectionary?


Father Foodie said...

I do appreciate the two tracts, and I have some sympathy for having to hit the highlights, since the OT is really long.

When the RCL was first released, I was really excited about it. After having used it for a few years, I'm less so. I 100% agree with you about how the Epistles are managed. My other criticisms are that the readings are cut in very strange ways. Sometimes, they are painfully long. Other times, they are so short, you feel like why even bother having read them. I also really wish they had rearranged the collects to match the readings. It's really bizarre when you have a collect that refers to "The way, the truth and the life", and the gospel is the parable of the sower or something.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Yeah, one of the very first things I do if I am beginning to work on a sermon and the reading (or readings) has verses in the middle that the Lectionary cuts out, I go look up what juicy bits the Lectionary deemed inappropriate for public consumption. Sometimes its just a pericope that is read elsewhere in the Lectionary, but often, its a sanitized "What the President meant to say" revision. That drives me nuts. I mean, either read the whole thing in context or cut it all out entirely.

I am also conflicted on the two track thing to begin with. I mean, if we all aren't hearing the same readings on a Sunday, then what's the point of the Lectionary to begin with. But, I realize I am coming at this from the Common Prayer mentality, in the true sense of the word "common," meaning in common.

But, aside from that, I don't see why they can't have a 2 track thing for the Epistle reading, or even better, reading the Book of Acts in sequence. I read somewhere that the Lectionary only covers less that 20% of Acts. If Acts is the 2nd part of the Gospel of Luke, why is Acts not read in its entirety like the Gospels?

Father Foodie said...

I also tend to look up the stuff they've cut out. In all fairness, some of it is just irrelevant to the rest of the story. I agree that it would be nice to get more of Acts. Maybe they should do a 7 year lectionary cycle. Then, we'd really get the whole Bible in.