Just when you thought you knew about all the changes up ahead for MUC, we are soon to experience another one. It concerns which Bible passages will be read in worship each Sunday. There are good reasons for the change, which has been proposed by our Minister, the Rev Claire Dawe. The Worship Portfolio has approved the change, which will begin in September of this year.
So why this change and what will it be like? To see that clearly, it’s important to understand the origin of the reading list we have been following, since the beginning of the Uniting Church in 1977. It is known as the Revised Common Lectionary. I will also outline the origin of our new list of readings, called the Narrative Lectionary.
The Revised Common Lectionary
In 1969, after ground-breaking changes made at the conference called Vatican II, the Catholic Church produced a Common Lectionary of bible readings for Sunday Mass. Pope Paul VI thought a 4-year cycle would be too much for people to take in, so it was decided to have a 3-year cycle. In 1992 this lectionary was developed into the Revised Common Lectionary. 70% of the English speaking Christian world uses the RCL, including the Uniting Church. It has occasionally been updated, to avoid anti-Semitic readings of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to take into account the place of women in modern society. The ecumenical movement (inter-church organisations) welcomed the lectionary. It meant that almost everywhere you went to church around the world, in both Protestant and Catholic denominations, you would hear the same readings from the Bible. The Eastern Orthodox churches follow another list of readings called the Byzantine Lectionary.
The Revised Common Lectionary includes 4 readings from scripture every week – Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm, New Testament Letters, Gospels. The three years follow three of the gospels – Year A is Matthew; Year B is Mark; Year C is Luke. John is read at Easter, Advent, Christmas and Lent in each year.
The downside of the RCL is that all 4 readings are commonly read each Sunday. That can be very confusing for people trying to see clearly the message of the day. It can mean what seems like totally irrelevant readings from scripture. (To avoid that, many preachers use only 2 of the 4 prescribed readings).
The Narrative Lectionary
In 2010, the Lutheran Church in the United States decided that there was a better way to present scripture in worship. Instead of the Revised Common Lectionary, with its readings chosen from here and there in piecemeal fashion, they developed what is known as The Narrative Lectionary. It has been so far used mainly in the US, Canada and Australia. This lectionary of readings follows the entirety of biblical stories. It is a much more effective way of getting to know biblical stories from their start to their finish. It is also more logical in its choice of bible readings for the church’s year. For example, in Advent the Narrative Lectionary has the prophets looking toward the birth of a leader who will be anointed by God to lead Israel (instead of the RCL focussing on John the Baptist announcing the coming of an adult Jesus).
The Narrative Lectionary has a 4-year cycle, focussing on 1 gospel each year, which means a more thorough understanding of each gospel.
It narrows down the assigned reading per Sunday to one biblical passage. There is an additional reading that can be used, but that is purely optional. Chronologically it is based on the academic year of the Northern Hemisphere; so it begins in September.
It has four groups of readings, which link to the church’s year.
September to Advent:
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) – complete stories.
Christmas to Easter:
Events from the life of Jesus – 1 gospel only (Year 1 for 2019-20 is Matthew).
Easter to Pentecost:
The early Christian movement – Acts and New Testament Letters.
Pentecost to September:
Preachers create their own sermon topics or series.
The aim in introducing the Narrative Lectionary is to create curiosity about ‘the next episode’ in an ongoing biblical narrative. The Bible was not meant to be read in ‘bits and pieces’ and the hope is that this new lectionary structure will spark a renewed interest in reading scripture among our congregation. Claire will be happy to talk with you about any questions you may have.
For your information, you can print out the 2019-20 Narrative Lectionary if you google: http://www.narrativelectionary.org