Today is the first Sunday of Advent for us, which means it’s the beginning of the liturgical year. And that means it’s time to switch back to the lectionary for our sermon texts. At Upper Room, we usually preach lectio continua (straight through a book or portion of scripture) during the ordinary Sundays of the year. But in Advent, Lent, and the weeks following Easter, we follow the Revised Common Lectionary, which provides particular readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels for each Sunday. It runs on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C), of which this will be year B. I was a stranger to the lectionary until going to seminary, but now I really appreciate it.
Aside from the fact that it provides seasonably appropriate readings for each Sunday, I have two reasons why I use the lectionary. First, it takes control out of our hands. For four years now, I’ve been reading the daily lectionary, a similarly structured set of readings for every day of the week which goes through most of the Bible in a two-year cycle (1 and 2, of which this will be year 2). When I started doing this I noticed that it relieved the anxiety I had previously taken in to my devotional times. What should I read? How do I know where to begin? Giving up that control meant that it was much easier to sit down and read the Bible. All I had to do was open the book and turn to the appointed readings. Then I found that I was reading parts of scripture I would never have read on my own and over time it gave me a much deeper knowledge of the Old Testament. Soon I began to hear God speaking in new ways through parts of scripture which had previously seemed dry to me. Yielding control over my reading of scripture led to a much deeper and richer reading experience. Which leads to the question, Can we really hear God’s word to us if we choose where we encounter it? Altogether, the daily lectionary has been a tremendous blessing to my personal devotional life. (If you’re interested, it’s easy to access online and the PCUSA has printable monthly reading lists available.)
Second it’s an exercise in ecumenism. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is used by Roman Catholics and a number of mainline Protestant denominations. It’s far from perfect, and omits a number of passages which pastors should still address (hence Year D). But to read the same scriptures as other Christians of different stripes, especially at the high points of the Christian year, shows that we seek to find our unity in the Word of God. The daily lectionary likewise is used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and other Protestants and I’m grateful to know that other Christians around the world are reading the same texts I read each day. Not only are these the same texts that our brothers and sisters in different denominations or communions are reading, they’re the same texts that our brothers and sisters in China, in Uganda, in Italy, and in the United States are reading. That’s a beautiful picture of Christian unity.