The Lectionary:

A Brief Introduction


What is a lectionary?


In many Christian traditions, including most Lutheran expressions of the Church, the people of God use a lectionary.  A lectionary is a regularized list of Scripture readings.  The primary lectionary used in many churches is called the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), published in 1992 by an ecumenical group in North America, the Consultation on Common Texts.  For every Sunday of the Church Year as well as for feasts and festivals the RCL has four readings: two readings from the Old Testament, a reading from a New Testament epistle, and a New Testament Gospel.  The RCL rotates in a three-year cycle following Matthew (Year A), Mark (Year B), and Luke (Year C) with the Gospel of John playing a critical role in on feast days and during the seasons of Advent and Lent.  Each year the Gospel readings follow the movement of the Church's time that centers on Christ's incarnation (Christmas), life, and passion (Holy Week and Easter).


What good is a lectionary?


The RCL or any other lectionary is not perfect.  Like flesh and blood servants, a lectionary is a servant of the church - not the other way round.  Preachers and parishes, then, have the freedom to alter the boundaries of readings and the flow of the readings.  At the same time, the lectionary provides a glimpse into the unity of Christ's church (imagine that while you're listening to the text read in worship, Christians across denominations, across North America, and across the globe are hearing those same texts read and preached on in many different languages and places!).


Are there other lectionaries?


Yes.  For example, the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches follow three-year lectionaries that are related but different than the Revised Common Lectionary.  There are also other lectionaries compiled by individuals or groups not synonymous with whole denominations.  Such lectionaries generally have a particular purpose.  Examples are the Year D Project, compiled by Dr. Timothy Slemons, in attempt to broaden the amount of Scripture that is being read in worship and the Narrative Lectionary, a nine month / school-year lectionary compiled by faculty at Luther Seminary in order to draw hearers into the over-arching narrative of the biblical story.


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