Friday, June 12, 2009

The Lectionary

Lectionary is a term referring to reading through the Scriptures. It can refer to daily readings or reading in worship. Throughout this post I will use it to refer to reading in the worship service.

Reading the Bible in worship is a vital part of the building up of the saints and honoring the Lord. There can be anywhere from 2 to 4 different readings. Some churches do an Old or New Testament reading. Others do an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels. Finally, some churches do an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels.

There are two ways this can be done. One is called lectio continua. This means you read consecutively through books of the Bible. For example, one week read Matthew 1, the next week Matthew 2 and so on. The advantage of this type of reading is that the congregation gets to read through a book getting a feel for its flow and texture. This is very effective with narrative, such as I Samuel or Acts. It is not as effective with books like Isaiah or Romans because it is harder to follow this type of reading from week to week. The other disadvantage is that you may end up reading something that does not relate to the church year. What if you ended up reading Matthew 27 on Christmas!

The second way the Scriptures can be read is called lectio selecta. This means passages are selected that are linked together in some way. For example on Pentecost Sunday, the Church could read Ezekiel 37, about the raising of the dry bones by the Spirit, Acts 2:1-11 about the pouring out of the Spirit and parts of Roman 8 on the work of the Holy Spirit. The advantage of this way of doing things is that it helps the believer tie together various parts of Scripture, in particular the Old Testament and the New Testament. Also this allows someone to use Scripture readings to correspond to the various parts of the church year. So at Advent there are readings that talk about Christ’s coming from the Old Testament and His arrival in the New Testament. The disadvantage of this is that the congregation does not read through whole books of the Bible.

At my church we use the last method for Scripture readings in the service. Since we only have two readings, an Old and New Testament, we follow a lectionary that includes an Old Testament reading and a corresponding New Testament reading. For example, on June 21st we will read the account of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf from Exodus 32 and Paul’s use of this passage in I Corinthians 10:1-11 to remind us not to follow in their footsteps by worshipping idols. One great advantage of using this method is that it links the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is a sorely needed exercise in today’s church where most Christians read the Bible as a group of unrelated passages. It also follows the church year so that at Christmas we read Christmas portions of the Scriptures. I encourage my congregation to read the lectionary readings before coming to worship and look for the connection. Some are obvious, such as the one mentioned above. Others require some more thought to see the link. If you do find the link your understanding of how the Old Testament is interpreted by the New Testament will be enhanced.

We should be reading through the Bible consecutively as well. This is primarily done in our daily Scripture readings with our family. But even in worship I read through books of the Bible as I preach through them. I normally use the lectio continua method in my preaching. Before my current series on Proverbs, I preached through the first ten psalms. Before each sermon I read the Psalm I was going to preach on. In a few weeks I will begin preaching through Philippians. During this sermon series I will read straight through the book prior to the sermons. Both of these are lectio continua. Thus at our church we combine both methods.

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8