The Christian Year: Use of the Revised Common Lectionary

When a congregation and its leaders are considering the observance of the Christian Year, there is another question that immediately presents itself.

It’s about the use of the Revised Common Lectionary. Is it necessary to use the Lectionary with the Christian Year? Will it help us if we do? Will we forfeit some benefits if we don’t? And what is the Revised Common Lectionary? Perhaps your members are asking these questions and they are coupled with the fact that you have never used it, or are not quite sure what it is. So they wonder if the Lectionary automatically goes with the Christian Year.

It is important to remember that the use of the Lectionary has a very fluid relationship with the observance of the Christian Year. The most common practice is for the two to be used together as partners. Indeed the Lectionary is built around the Christian Year. But some congregations will observe the Christian Year without using the Lectionary, and some pastors will use the Lectionary without overtly observing the Christian Year. So you have the right to make your own decision on the matter.

The Lectionary is a three-year schedule of multiple scripture readings arranged for use in worship. It has been prepared by the Consultation on Common Texts (www.commontexts.org) which is an ecumenical organization of scholars and denominational representatives. The Lectionary is structured with a three year cycle – Year A, Year B and Year C – each with four readings for every Sunday: an Old Testament reading; a Psalm reading, preferably sung; a reading from the New Testament epistles; and a Gospel Reading. Readings from the Gospel of John are found in all three years, Matthew is found in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C. You will find the entire Lectionary in the supplement of The Worship Sourcebook, second edition, pages 823-831.

When you see it, it will look like this, beginning with Advent.

Sunday or Festival

Year A

Year B

Year C

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:11-2, 8-13
II Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

 

It will continue in this fashion for each Sunday of the year.

A pastor may select the passage for the sermon from any one of the four selections provided for each Sunday.

Here are some significant benefits from using the Lectionary:

  • Using the Lectionary makes it possible for the preacher and worship planners to know the focus and passages for each worship service, weeks (and months) ahead of time. This will make advance planning much more manageable.
  • Using the Lectionary exposes us, as preachers, planners and a congregation to a representation of the full range of scripture over a year’s time.
  • This exposure to the full range of scripture will have the added benefit of encountering the full range of emotion, drama and experience that is found in scripture.
  • Using the Lectionary helps us encounter many passages of scripture that we might not ordinarily consider because they are more obscure and unique.
  • The Lectionary encourages worship planners and preachers to include more direct readings of scripture in the worship service. In this way, worshipers will encounter many more passages of scripture than they might normally experience.
  • The preacher is able to avoid wide-open decisions each week in selecting passages on which to preach.
  • Using the Lectionary and including multiple scripture readings in each worship service makes it very clear to the worshipers that we take the Bible very seriously.

On the basis of such considerations, we might think that all churches would follow the Common Lectionary carefully. Such, however, is not the case. While some use the Lectionary because it has been their custom for years, other do not for the very same reason – it has been their custom not to do so. While some are pleased to have their selections made for them, others find that too restricting and desire to retain their own freedom in selecting passages for preaching.

So a decision will have to be made about how thoroughly the Lectionary will be incorporated into your observance of the Christian Year. There will be great benefit in doing so. The congregation which worships with the regular cycles of the Christian Year and the regular rhythms of the Lectionary will be enriched. But we may give ourselves flexibility in deciding how many of the passages to include, and how much freedom we choose to give ourselves.

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