I take for granted that you know the definitions of "revised" and "common," and that the meaning becomes suddenly murky when those two familiar terms are thrown together with "lectionary." A "lectionary" is a list of readings intended for some kind of worship (Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster phrase this in different ways). From the dictionary definitions, it also looks like printing these readings in a single book-binding is optional... I did not know that part previously. Throw those three words together and you have a list of Bible readings that is shared (in its entirety or in part) in the U.S. and Canada by the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians, and some Methodists. It has also been widely adopted in Great Britain and Australia (I took that info from Wikipedia, so please let me know if it's wrong but please get mad at them).
Okay, so what is it about the Revised Common Lectionary that I actually like? I'm glad you asked.
1) It's fun to do the literary analysis and word study to understand what the lectionary architects may have been getting at
Okay, I'll admit it, this is a really geeky reason to like the lectionary. But that's why I'm leading off with it. And, what's more, I am not alone in enjoying this part. When I tweeted the question about sharing lectionary readings, this was one of the responses:
@thebonespeaker My reply: Both: 1. Try to discern what the readings have in common. 2. Ask what we can take away and use in today's world.Maybe I'm reading into Robin's reply, but I don't think so. I think he and I share this inclination in 140 characters or fewer. So I'll continue on to the second point that Robin and I share...
— Robin Garr (@RobinGarr) July 25, 2014
2) The Revised Common Lectionary prompts us to reconcile scripture with real-world issues
Let's admit it: the system of values espoused in scripture doesn't fit nicely into any society... not, at least, any society that I've seen. Which, if I were to get up on my soapbox, I would expect in part because Jesus' ministry set up a counter-cultural attitude of compassion and mercy... these are not principles that I see governments jumping to in order to protect their nation and people. Even more so, take any issue that we here in our U.S. context and over which there is much disagreement, and you will find conflicting pieces of scripture, if you choose to go to the Bible for your moral compass. Now, I'm not saying that the RCL solves that and that, if we only look to the lectionary, all social issues will be clarified. I think I would actually say the opposite of the lectionary; that it includes a lot of really thorny passages and thus the onus is on us to figure out what the cultural issue was in the context of the writers and how that issue relates to the issue we are dealing with in ours.
3) Every three years, the RCL will guide us through a majority of the Bible, if we come to church regularly
I'm sure that there is a lot of milage in this point, but it does give me some satisfaction knowing that I don't necessarily need to pay attention to those read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year programs when I am a part of a community that goes through much of the Bible every three year. Unfortunately, to make that work, it does mean that I need wake up and come to church every Sunday for three years... if you commiserate with that attitude, please see this previous post.
4) Preachers are kept honest about what is and is not in scripture
Now, this idea is one that I am taking second-hand, because I've not actually preached on the lectionary. I've only kept a discipline of blogging about it. However, I'm including this point because a) I will soon be preaching, and b) I asked my preacher peeps online about the lectionary, and this idea of honesty came back a couple of times. So apparently what I've got in store for me is a basis for preaching that does not let me shirk the reality of the stories held dear by my faith tradition. Oh joy.
But all sarcasm aside, I do think this is a really valid point to make. I mean, if you're a preacher and you want to give one kind of message to your congregation, all you need to do is deliver scripture that has that one theme and all of a sudden it's like "OMG! This preacher is TOTALLY in tune with God's WORD!!!1!" But on the other hand, if you're a preacher who follows an order of readings that goes headlong into the parts of the Bible we would rather stay out of, well, you get a different kind of preaching.
And just because you have a preacher who is following the lectionary, that does not mean that you need to like what is in the lectionary. When I tweeted at the Pulpit Fiction guys, this is the response I got back:
@thebonespeaker @FatPastor we wanted a good focus to talk about preaching each week and the #lectionary provides that framework.And it's a heck of a framework. Part of the reason that I enjoy listening to their podcast so much is that they don't just swallow the scripture. They grapple with it. They rail against it. They question it. But at the end of the show, it is still a story from our holy book and there is something to be learned from it, regardless of whether or not we like it.
— Eric Fistler (@PastorPirate) July 25, 2014
And that brings me to...
5) A common lectionary is a tool of Christian unity
This is really my main reason why I like the RCL... so I guess I should have listed it first, or maybe written this post as a countdown from 5... but whatever. I'm going to go so far as to say that a good portion, if not a majority of Christians in the U.S., end up reading the same passages from the Bible on any given Sunday when the Revised Common Lectionary is used. And we also join in with those Christians in Canada, Great Britain and Australia, too. I mean, isn't that cool? To recognize that we are all grappling with the same themes in the same passages of the Bible each week? And that those pieces of our holy book are being taken and digested in such a huge diversity of contexts? I just get floored when I think that through.
I also feel like that gives us a substantial leg up when we start talking about the unified Body of Christ. We keep struggling and lashing out and talking about how different each flavor of Christianity is, but all the while we're walking through our holy book together. That sounds like a Family of Christ to me, even if we don't agree on a single Body. So let's recognize the unity we've got and keep up the good work!