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the gospels

Year C

the gospels

The church’s new year begins on Advent Sunday, December 2. In the three year lectionary the focus is on St Luke’s Gospel.

In your community, and in your own life, is planning underway how to best make use of this year’s lectionary? It is just plain stubbornly irritating, especially if your denomination (like mine) has agreed we will together use the lectionary, to abandon it for a “teaching series” on the letter to the Romans in 2013, for example, when the lectionary wonderfully provides for such a series in 2014.

It is just as irritatingly obstinate should such a pastor or community next year do a series on the letter to the Galatians early in 2013, abandoning the series the lectionary sets for us all from June 2 to July 7. Plan!

Ordinary time begins (Northern Winter; Southern Summer) with the second reading being semicontinuously from 1 Corinthians.

From Ash Wednesday through the Day of Pentecost there are several readings from John supplementing Luke.

During the season of Easter, semicontinuous selections are read from the book of Revelation.

Ordinary Time after Pentecost (Northern Summer & Autumn; Southern Winter & Spring) has semicontinuous readings of the prophets, chosen in chronological order and highlighting Jeremiah. The other set of readings is selected from throughout the Hebrew Scriptures for their association with the gospel of the day. The second readings are semicontinuous selections, chosen mainly from Galatians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and 2 Thessalonians.

As usual, the final Sundays in Ordinary Time focus on eschatological themes and the reign of Christ.

If you have not been using the three year Revised Common Lectionary, might this be your year to begin? Especially if you have agreed, vowed, and signed that this is what you will do (as I have)! If you have been reducing the number of readings provided, might this be the year to lessen a bit of your own stuff, and gather, as a community, around the fuller provision of three readings and a psalm.

The devil, Screwtape, rejoices that the vicar

has undermined many a soul’s Christianity. His conduct of the services is also admirable. 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 ever reach them through Scripture. The Screwtape Letters Chapter XVI C.S. Lewis

This is not some clarion call for liturgical rubrical fundamentalism! This is an invitation and challenge. Liturgy, worship is not, should not be, the personal possession of the pastor. It is the common prayer of us all. Laity are not just consumers of the pastor’s provision! Of course there will be (rare) contexts when the set readings are just not appropriate for that particular service. Of course there will be (rare) contexts where cutting the readings back to two and a psalm is the best decision. But, even looking around local churches that have abandoned their agreement and construct their own reading system, I have yet to see one of them which improves on what we have agreed to.

image source
Arles, the church of St. Trophime – tympanum. The west portal presents the story of the Apocalypse. Christ is seated in majesty with the symbols of the Evangelists around him; the angel of St. Matthew, the lion of St. Mark, the bull of St. Luke, and the eagle of St. John.

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14 thoughts on “Year C”

    1. Fascinating, Tapani. Is this common/required in your denomination? Are you following the pre-VatII Roman or BCP cycle? I have interest in the way that connects to the Jewish year – some of that is preserved in the 3 year RCL, but obviously less. Blessings.

  1. Bosco;

    You make a good argument. There’s much to commend structured systematic choice of Scripture, and it’s often important to take it out of the hands of those who would otherwise fail to preach from the full breadth of Scripture.

    Yet, I’d be much more firmly behind you if the RCL were a better lectionary. It skips far too many difficult passages (how many Sunday readings do we get from Leviticus in three years?) – and let’s face it – three years isn’t enough for a congregation who doesn’t do much reading outside Sundays.

    Switch it for a seven year lectionary, and provide different ‘holy communion’ readings for morning and evening (to avoid the current practice seen in some places of using the same sermon morning and evening), and I’ll be on your side 🙂

    Our historic Anglican lectionary takes a year and covers the NT twice, OT once, and Psalms 12 times — through twice *daily* reading. To switch what is designed for daily reading to use only on a Sunday, multiply by seven. 1 year -> 7 years. And if you can’t get people to come back for evening prayer, then multiply it by 14. 1 year twice daily -> 14 years once weekly.


    1. Thanks, Vincent. First, let’s agree with each other: the RCL is imperfect.

      The traditions we have inherited from the synagogue are one year and three year cycles of readings. The tradition within the church, for most of our history, has been a one year cycle [and, as I mentioned in another comment, with linking to the synagogue celebrations].

      I am quite concerned if central passages are not encountered regularly within the worship of our Christian community. One of my criticisms of the 1-chapter-a-Sunday “expository preaching” pick-your-own-book approach is it takes about 24 years to get through the Bible. It is just not acceptable to be encountering some Biblical material only once every 24 years!

      I do not believe that encountering them once every 14 or even once every 7 years for those who go to church twice a Sunday is enough.

      To limit our encounter as Christians with the scriptures to Sunday only is unacceptable. And to see the Eucharist as primarily for teaching (as well needing it to bear the burden of being our primary fellowship, etc., etc.) is asking it to bear what it was never intended to be. Worship, teaching, daily devotion, study, formation, and transformation are all dimensions of our encounters with the scriptures that are essential to our full Christian life IMO.

      The RCL is imperfect. But it is the best of the imperfect systems we have, and its benefits outweigh its imperfections.



      1. Thanks Bosco; I do hope to see the RCL continue to be revised over time.

        Your point about some texts deserving to be heard more than others is well taken. However, if we grant a two-tier classificiation of texts, the second tier texts could certainly be varied more.

        So: perhaps a 3 year RCL for core texts, limited to one of the Sunday readings, never changing – but a longer cycle for the other texts – perhaps 12 year?

        Year A5 = ‘Core’ text from year A (of 3 year lectionary); ‘supplementary’ text from years 5 (of 12 year lectionary).

        A simple change like this would allow for 3 times as much Biblical content, without compromising what you’ve mentioned.

        Consider the 12 year view:-

        Over 12 years under RCL I will hear 468 different passages (ignoring for now that fewer than half the Sunday readings aren’t duplicated within the RCL*!)
        [52 weeks X 3 readings X 3 years]

        Over 12 years in the 3-year core + 12-year supplementary model, I will hear 156 from the core plus 1248 from the supplementary; that is – 1404 readings… exactly triple the content.

        Perhaps we might then have a chance to get a series through Leviticus, or similar, as well!

        Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this simple modification. (Of course, there’s no need to stop at 12 years!)

        * Google ‘duplication in the RCL’ to pick up my article on how much duplication there is in the RCL itself

        1. Thanks, Vincent. I’m sure that RCL will be revised some time. I suspect we will not live to see the sort of radical revision you suggest. In your article duplication in the RCL you conclude by pointing out the difficulty of getting Christians to agree to something – the agreement, hence, to use RCL 3 year lectionary by more than half of Christianity is something to celebrate and encourage IMO. The chart in your article looks particularly confused. You speak of 27 readings being used 9 times in the 3 years. I’m struggling to imagine which readings you are referring to. In your comment, above, you fail to include the psalm.

          The Sunday reading cycle has a number of purposes, the balancing of which inevitably leads to tensions. I have often said, the Eucharist and its related readings is the jewel in the crown. But we also need the crown – to hold this jewel. On this site I have been advocating strongly for daily prayer. It is great to help one’s community to complement possible weaknesses in the RCL.

          What I find concretely, tragically, is that criticism of RCL (valid as that may be) plays into the hands of those who (even against their vows and signing) abandon the lectionary for a system of their own construction (if it is a system at all!). And a system that falls far short of the riches RCL provides. Too often it is not that RCL has been tried and found wanting, it has, in their cases, not been tried.


  2. Here you go Bosco 🙂 It’s likely to have some errors, but it should still have some truth in it!

    Isaiah 50:4-9
    Passion A
    Holy Week Wednesday A
    Passion B
    Holy Week Wednesday B
    Proper 19/ Ordinary 24B
    Passion C
    Holy Week Wednesday C

    Isaiah 52:1 – 53:12
    Christmas Eve/Day A
    Good Friday A
    Christmas Eve/Day B
    Good Friday B
    Proper 24B/ Ordinary 29B
    Christmas Eve/Day C
    Good Friday C

    Isaiah 55:1-13
    Easter Vigil A
    Proper 10A/ Ordinary 15A
    Proper 13A/ Ordinary 18A
    Easter Vigil B
    Epiphany 8C
    Lent 3C
    Easter Vigil C

    Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
    Passion A
    Holy Week Wednesda
    Holy Saturday A
    Holy Week Wednesday B
    Holy Saturday B
    Holy Week Wednesday C
    Holy Saturday C

    John 13:1-38
    Holy Week Wednesda
    Holy/Maundy Thursday A
    Holy Week Wednesday B
    Holy/Maundy Thursday B
    Holy Week Wednesday C
    Holy/Maundy Thursday C
    Easter 5C

    John 18:1 – 19:42
    Good Friday A
    Holy Saturday A
    Good Friday B
    Holy Saturday B
    Christ the King B
    Good Friday C
    Holy Saturday C

    Ephesians 1:11-23
    Christmas 2A
    Ascension A
    All Saints A (service 2)
    Christmas 2B
    Ascension B
    All Saints B (service 2)
    All Saints C (service 2)

    Philippians 2:1-13
    Holy Name A
    Passion A
    Proper 21/ Ordinary 26A
    Holy Name B
    Passion B
    Holy Name C
    Passion C

    Genesis 22:1-18
    Good Friday A
    Easter Vigil A
    Lent 2B
    Good Friday B
    Easter Vigil B
    Good Friday C
    Easter Vigil C

    Plus; Psalms 8, 16, 19, 22, 24, 30, 31, 33, 51, 69, 96, 98, 103, 114, 118 each appearing at least 7 times. Ironically, there’s fifteen, just the number Screwtape mentions from the vicar who “revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms”!

    (Psalms 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 21, 28, 35, 38, 39, 53, 55, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61, 64, 73, 74, 75, 83, 87, 88, 101, 102, 108, 115, 120, 129, 134, 135, 140, 141, 142, and 144 are never read… not even once)

    1. As a lover of the psalms, Vincent, I would miss those psalms if that were my only access to them. But it is not. I advocate strongly that people pray them daily. Those communities that I watch, who have abandoned the lectionary – I have not observed them preaching through the psalms, one a week for three years…

      I asked about the 27 readings you say are used 9 times in the 3 years. You present readings that are used 7 times as your response. And every one of your examples is not a reference solely to Sundays, but includes week days.

      I am not going to comment on each occurrence. Looking just at the first, one of the suffering servant songs: it is used as the Hebrew Bible reading to go with the reading of the full passion each year on Passion/Palm Sunday. Then, as you know, the suffering servant songs are read one by one daily during Holy Week. There is one more occurrence when it is one of two options provided on a Sunday once every three years. I’m sorry I find nothing inappropriate in this selection.

      Whilst acknowledging RCL is not perfect, I continue to think that attacking the RCL in this manner just provides further excuses for those who wantonly, thoughtlessly, and arrogantly abandon the RCL, even though they vow and sign to use it; I have never seen a system that they construct in its stead that improves on what RCL does.


  3. The “27 readings being used 9 times” (as you interpret it) actually means 3 readings being used 9 times (3×9=27). The chart shows the amount of time (slots) spent listening to duplicated (or triplicated, etc.) readings, not the number of readings which are duplicated (etc.)

    Yes, (as you know) I am very much in favour of daily prayer, but I am also realistic. Very few do it, and even when promoted from the pulpit, very few more will do it. People have Satellite TV now. If people realise that daily prayer is more important than Neighbours, it’ll be a game changer… 🙂

    Where I am at present, there is a mix of lectionary and series use – previously more solidly lectionary. I’m seeing much greater engagement amongst the congregation with the series, however the preaching is verse-by-verse exegetical, which suits a series much better as context and theme builds week-by-week. If sermons are disconnected or non-exegetical then the lectionary would be as good.

    1. RCL has just had 2 months in the letter to the Hebrews; prior to that it had a month of James; one could have spent pretty much all year in Mark. If sermons are disconnected or non-exegetical the preacher does not understand RCL and growing a community week by week. Blessings.

      1. Hi Bosco;

        I’m in favour of people keeping their vows Bosco, yes. In my context, the concern isn’t so much the lectionary (not covered) but with those who fail to faithfully preach the Bible (covered), the Biblical gospel (covered), and doctrine as found in the BCP (1662) and Articles (covered). I do suppose I’d have a lot more sympathy with those who complain about a lack of form if they’d also complain about a lack of substance!

        Thanks for the note about the letter to the Hebrews; although I notice the RCL reads Heb 1:1-4; 2:5-12; 4:12-end; 5:1-10; 7:23-end; 9:11-14; 9:24-end; 10:11-14, 19-25. It’s not what I’d call a series, as it cuts far too much out – including some of the most significant theology. I know one may lengthen the reading, but lengthening from (e.g.) 10:11 until 13:25 doesn’t seem reasonable…

        It somehow reminds me of this from the prayerbook:

        … And in this sort the Book of Isaiah was begun in Advent, and the Book of Genesis in Septuagesima; but they were only begun, and never read through: After like sort were other Books of holy Scripture used.

        Wishing you a wonderful Christmas;


        1. Thanks, Vincent. Once again: RCL is not perfect – but no system is. Why would you not read Heb 11: 1-28; 11:29-12:17; 12:18-28; 13:1-end in August to September 2013 as framed by RCL? How about giving us a link to the actual readings your Sunday morning community covered in the last three years as a comparison with what RCL has covered in the last three years. I think your quote from BCP grossly unfair to RCL – have a look at what that was actually in response to. Advent blessings.

    2. “People have Satellite TV now. If people realise that daily prayer is more important than Neighbours, it’ll be a game changer…:

      When Daily Prayer is prime time on satellite TV perhaps?

      1. Brilliant, Claudia! It is one of the reasons we have a Christian presence on the internet (including the facility to pray Daily Prayer online). May someone have the vision to put Daily Prayer on TV (the edges between internet and TV are blurring in any case). Blessings.

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