Some years ago I attended a session of one congregation’s long-term visioning project. When the gathering was discussing hopes for the church’s future worship and preaching, one 40 year old mom spoke for her small team and said, “We really think that we should have more preaching on contemporary topics — something other than the Lectionary — so that we can learn to live in today’s world.”
Intended or not, that comment sparked a spirited and nearly nasty argument. One person responded, “We already know how to live in today’s world — but it’s not good. We work 50+ hours a week so we can make enough money to pay tuition, build additions or new houses and take luxurious vacations.” The talk went downhill from there for a bit. Thank goodness, though, the meeting’s able facilitator finally managed to shape that scene into a constructive conversation.
Surprisingly discussion about Lectionary use can be spirited in other places. During the sermon evaluation at a classical examination, a synodical deputy asked the candidate why he picked this given passage. The candidate honestly said that the Classical Interim Committee had assigned him to choose a text or texts from the Lectionary for the Sunday he was to present the sermon.
The synodical deputy then proceeded to lay into the Interim Committee for using a resource that was not part of Reformed heritage. He then boasted, “Why, I have preached for over 40 years and never once used a Lectionary. You’ve got to be free to choose what the Spirit tells you to preach.”
To that one smart aleck delegate quipped, “So, you never used the Heidelberg Catechism?” Good point, I thought as I recalled a late 1970s’ preaching class at Calvin Seminary. At that time Dr. Carl Kromminga was lecturing on preaching resources. He spoke about the Lectionary. Anticipating some opposition, he reminded us callow youth that the Catechism is a Lectionary too. It behooved us to learn to use both our lectionary and the Common Lectionary. We are, after all, part of the universal church and Lectionary preaching has a rich history of keeping preachers disciplined not to ride their own hobby horses.
For many years Roman Catholics, Anglicans, most Lutherans, many Presbyterians, Methodists and even some Baptists have followed some form of “The Common Lectionary.” This selection of passages varies slightly from one Christian tradition to others. It is “common” in that it runs in a three-year cycle, telling the Gospel from Old and New Testaments, thus unifying the church year beginning with Advent through the church “seasons.”
At different points in worship an Old Testament passage, a psalm, a New Testament epistle, and a gospel passage are read. One would normally be used as the main preaching text; skillful preachers have been known to connect all readings within the sermon without confusing worshipers. As well the other readings can be woven into the fabric of the day’s liturgy, as some worship teams do.
Until the last 30 years or so, Christian Reformed preachers rarely attended to those four thematically-linked Bible readings to shape weekly liturgy and preaching. More do these days, partly because Reformed Worship, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (along with its annual Worship Symposium) and Calvin Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching have provided helpful articles and resources for Lectionary preaching.
So, whether you are a preacher or one who listens to sermons, I wonder about your experiences with Lectionary preaching. Do you use it (or hear sermons preached from its passages) always? Regularly? Occasionally? Never? If you preachers respond to that first question, please explain why or why not you do or don’t use the Lectionary.