A Look at Lectionaries

According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.”

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Most preachers that I interact with on a regular basis don’t typically use the lectionary to plan out their sermons. I will typically look at it for seasons like Advent or Lent, but I usually preach through a book of the Bible or systematically preach through a topic. However, I know some preachers who are attached to the lectionary to the point that they are getting bored with it.

They have sermons for every text over the course of the three year cycle, and they need something else so they can keep flexing their sermon prep muscles. According to Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “the lectionary is the reason why, if you’re a preacher, you’re bored to tears, and if you’re a layperson, you have a sneaking suspicion you’ve heard this one before.” If that resonates with you, then I have good news for you! There are other lectionaries that you can borrow from!

Typically, when one thinks of the lectionary, they think of the Revised Common Lectionary since that is the most common one in use among mainline evangelical Protestants (and we will cover that one for our low church friends). However, did you know that there are actually handful out there that you can use?

Getting the Lingo Down

For those of you who may be eavesdropping into the conversation you may be wondering, “What in the heck is a lectionary anyway?”

A lectionary is a systematic reading of selected Scriptures throughout the Christian year (Advent through Christ the King Sunday). The tradition of using a lectionary goes back to at least first century Judaism (maybe even farther back than that) where there would be assigned readings from the Old Testament to address where the people of God were in the Jewish calendar. (You can read Leon Morris’ extensive work on the Jewish lectionaries here.)

Even in Luke 4, when Jesus teaches in his hometown, the text tells us that they handed the scroll of Isaiah to Him so He could read from it. From this, we can infer that when Jesus read Isaiah 61 and said, “Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21) it was because Isaiah 61 was the assigned text for that Sabbath day.

So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.

So, if the Jews used a lectionary to remind them of the significance of where they were in the Jewish calendar then it’s only natural that Christians would do the same with the Christian calendar.

Let’s look at some lectionaries at our disposal. This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just some that I’ve found helpful.

The Revised Common Lectionary

The Common Lectionary was published in 1983 out of an ecumenical effort by both American and Canadian denominations to have a common experience of the story of Scripture throughout the Church year . There were some various problems with its trial run so the same people who brought us the Common Lectionary went back to the ol’ drawing board and brought us the Revised Common Lectionary which you can peruse at this link. The Revised Common Lectionary, published in 1992, takes into account constructive criticism of the Common Lectionary. It is a three-year cycle of Sunday Eucharistic readings in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke are read in successive years with some material from John read in each year.

When a mainline church uses the lectionary this is typically their go-to. Many PCUSA, Cumberland Presbyterian, United Methodist, and American Baptist congregations walk through this lectionary every three years.*

LCMS One Year Lectionary

The Missouri Synod Lutheran Church developed the one year lectionary which you can view here. Admittedly, I don’t know much about this lectionary, but from what I’ve seen it could be handy for pastors who want to introduce the Christian calendar to congregations that have historically been low church.

At this link you can read a talk given by Rev. Randy Asburry where he gives some compelling reasons for using this lectionary.

The Narrative Lectionary

I have become quite familar with the Narrative Lectionary over the last year or so. Basically, this lectionary operates on a four year cycle where you focus on the story of one of the four gospels every year from Advent until Pentecost Sunday, and then there are various readings of Scripture throughout the rest of the church year that help us in examining other books of the Bible or systematically addressing different themes from Scripture.

I should add that one of the reasons I admire this particular lectionary is that it’s convenient to take a break from during Ordinary Time so that you can preach on other topics or books of the Bible that the lectionary doesn’t cover.

You can read all about the Narrative Lectionary here.

Lectionary from Christ Church – Moscow, Idaho

Even though I follow Christ Church and Douglas Wilson, I haven’t heard much about their lectionary. From what I understand this lectionary is strictly used for readings in the Sunday morning worship services at Christ Church (as opposed to being used for selections for sermon texts). However, when I began filling the pulpit at variousCumberland Presbyterian Churches in my presbytery, I found this lectionary helpful for selecting sermon texts.

Because of the limited readings in a two year cycles, this might be perfect for any preacher that wants a personal challenge. You can find their lectionary here.

If you’re a lectionary preacher, I hope you found this article helpful. Contact me if there are other lectionaries that I can address in future articles! Thanks!

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* There are too many denominations to list that actually use the Revised Common Lectionary.