Lectionary readings

To critics of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and its twin, the RC 3-year Sunday cycle of Mass readings (RC3Yr), I regularly quote Churchill: “The RCL is the worst form of systematically reading the Bible as church, except for all the others.” I challenge people to show me a better form.

Now someone has taken up this challenge.

Someone sent me a blog post, Why I Left the Revised Common Lectionary Behind, in which Rev. Chris Duckwortht argues against RCL and in favour of a new lectionary, recently constructed, “the Narrative Lectionary, a project out of Luther Seminary that offers a 9-month, single-reading lectionary starting with Genesis and moving through to the Epistles and Revelation.”

The top reason for leaving the RCL is that “the RCL presents Old Testament texts only in relation to the Gospel text”. FALSE. About half the year a community can decide to read through the Firsts Testament semi-continuously, just as the RCL reads through the New Testament. Recently, communities spent seven weeks reading through 2 Samuel. Compare that to the Narrative Lectionary: 2 Samuel appears for only one Sunday. Let’s look at the Narrative Lectionary use of the First Testament: the Pentateuch gets five Sundays – 3 reading from Genesis, one from Exodus, one from Deuteronomy. That’s it! The Garden of Eden second creation story, Isaac’s birth, Jacob wrestling, Moses’ call, and the 10 commandments. That doesn’t even cover the stories you would expect in a cardboard children’s bible!!! In RCL, Genesis alone gets something like 26 readings – 14 weeks in a row in Year A. Followed by 7 weeks of Exodus. Need I go on…

The second reason for leaving the RCL is that “The RCL is too focused on the four evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”. Yes, in the RCL we read three readings and a psalm, and one of those readings is from one of the Gospels. This criticism is a bit like criticising synagogues for always having a reading from the Torah on the Sabbath!

Reason 3: “The RCL skips the Old Testament during the most important season of the church year [the Easter Season], replacing it with readings from the Acts of the Apostles.” Excuse me?!!! Seriously?! And the Narrative Lectionary is a solution to this – how exactly?! The Narrative Lectionary, during the Easter Season, takes its reading from the Acts of the Apostles, except for two Sundays when it reads from 1 Corinthians! It does not have a single reading from the Old Testament – not even a psalm – not even optionally!

OK, for communities that find this a serious issue, don’t abandon RCL as suggested, for a lectionary that doesn’t even meet the criticism! There are “Paschaltide readings from the Old Testament” for RCL. No reason to abandon the whole RCL for this.

Reason 4: “The year is all off” – they want to “follow a program year calendar that closely tracks the school year.” Well you can’t show your Northern-Hemisphere bias much more than that! The Southern Hemisphere school year fits fine into the calendar year (unlike the crazy Northern Hemisphere practice of stopping and starting the school year half way through the calendar year!) I haven’t seen much of a movement from these people to change the Northern Hemisphere calendar year to fit the school year! And, Eurocentric people, it is time to wake up to your post-Constantinian-Christendom reality: Christianity is moving to be a Southern-Hemisphere faith. Even the Pope, now, is from the Southern Hemisphere. Get used to it! We, in the Southern Hemisphere, have been trying to adapt the liturgical year to our different seasons for centuries – don’t, Northern Hemispherians, now tell us that the Church Year has never suited your hemisphere in the first place!

Reason 5: “The unity achieved by the RCL is overstated.” In fact, the unity provided by RCL/RC3Yr is nothing short of miraculous, a movement of the Holy Spirit. In a short span of years animosity between denominations going back centuries has given way to clergy and laity meeting together prayerfully over the Scriptures to discuss the same reading that they will hear in their different communities. For this RCL/RC3Yr lectionary, commentaries, hymn, song, prayer, and art resources are available in a plethora of quality books and online resources. Of course, the unity is lessened when someone leaves the RCL. And those who vow and sign that they will follow this lectionary (as Anglican clergy here do) have, in articles such as the one I’m fisking, approached uncritically, yet another spurious reason to continue their approach.

Let us remember Screwtape’s rejoicing:

In order to spare the laity all “difficulties” he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons. We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should over reach them through Scripture.

Yes, there are problems with RCL. But these aren’t them. And Rev. Chris Duckworth’s “solution” is no solution at all. The RCL is the worst form of systematically reading the Bible as church, except for all the others.

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