Two Cheers for the Lectionary

Have I written on this subject before?

This is kinda like the guy at dinner who says, have I told you the one about ...  You think, I know I've heard this before, but It's not worth stopping him.


So the story is told, who knows if it's true, that when Harry Emerson Fosdick, the famous mid 20th century preacher was asked what he thought of the lectionary, he responded by saying, "Two Cheers for the Lectionary."  My interpretation of this statement is bascially, the lectionary is fine but don't marry it.

Some people believe that to deviate from the lectionary, is the surest path to liturgical hell. Well, off I go.  

First the positives of the lectionary.  One.  It does force you to read a variety of scripture passages thus preventing the preacher from picking his or her favorite lessons. That's good.  Two.  It does help a faith community view the scriptures in connection with the cycle of the liturgical year i.e. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, etc.

Now the drawbacks. One. My first gripe is that four scripture passages are too many.  I have yet to hear a sermon or read one that does a good job of bringing all four together in one homily.  I have heard it done, but each time - it's a train wreck. In addition, most reading of scripture aloud in the assembly of worshippers is done so poorly, one wonders if it really is Holy Scripture.  If you are going to use the lectionary, fine, but pick one, two at most. This is one of those less is more kinda things.  Two. The number of times that the scripture in the lectionary dices and slices a text is frustrating at best.  I suppose the narrative lectionary is an option here, but that feels like I'm listening to an epic reading, as if I need to sit through an oral reading of Gilgamesh.  It's just too much.  Remember the average North American has the attention span of a ten year old, and no matter what you do, the longest a person can pay attention is 7 minutes. (This is why when asked about a speech most people can only remember the beginning and the ending, but the middle is gone.)  Third.  The lectionary has its own bias.  For instance how many Lament Psalms are in the lectionary?  Walter Brueggeman has pointed out there are none - except Ash Wednesday.  What does this tell us about our grief denying North American culture?  How many times is the book of Daniel represented in the lectionary?  Once, and only on St. Michaels Day.  How often is Isaiah used vs the other prophets. etc.

Summary. The lectionary has some positives, but I'm hard pressed to stand up and say, "three cheers for the Lectionary. Hip Hip  Hooray."  No, I'm with Harry on this one.

My suggestions.  Hey, it's an experiment.  Try it, if it fails, count it up as a good learning tool.

Use the Lectionary during those times of year which benefit from it.  I'm thinking Advent, Christmas, Lent & Easter.  But, pick only two scriptures.  The rest of the year consider short series, such as four parables of Jesus or three weeks on Psalms, showing the difference (and please pick at least one lament), the life of Moses or The life of St. Paul you never knew. One could even have a series in October on three key scriptures to udnerstanding Martin Luther.  If you want to have real fun, and be really bold and adventurous you could do a series on four controversial passages of scripture.   Hey, try it for a year.  Just test it out.  See what works, and what doesn't.  

What's the worse that can happen?  I've been accused of Hersey so much that I'm getting used to it, and liturgical hell kinda sounds like a comfy place to me.  A nice fire at my feet might warm me up this winter.

Smile, remember what I wrote a long time ago about the difference between a serious faith and a sincere faith.