The Gospel lesson is in the evening now?

You may have noticed yesterday that the Gospel according to St. John started its second sequential read-through of the year in the evening, even though for most of the year so far the gospel lesson has been in the morning (and epistle in the evening).  You may be wondering why did it switch to the evening?

If you’re familiar with classical prayer books and their various daily lectionaries, this may be especially jarring.  The traditional pattern, with very few exceptions, is that the New Testament lessons in Morning Prayer are from the Gospels and from the Epistles in Evening Prayer.  If all you’ve know is the 1979, then maybe you’re still adapting from its weird daily lectionary and didn’t even notice that this little switch has taken place.

On one hand, the daily office lectionary in the 2019 prayer book represents a huge stride toward the style of the 1549/1552/1559/1662 daily lectionary.  But this treatment of the New Testament lessons is a surprising exception.  So let’s take a look at the logic behind this.  (I should be a good role model and cite my sources, but I don’t remember where I read all this, so you’ll just have to trust me on this.  Or look through the Prayer Book Q&A stuff yourself.)

How the original daily lectionary worked:

  • Most of the Old Testament and about half of the Ecclesiastical Books were read through, continuously, from Office to Office.  This meant you had to read Morning and Evening Prayer daily in order to keep up.
  • The Gospels and Acts were read through three full times in Morning Prayer.
  • The Epistles were read through three full times in Evening Prayer.  (Revelation was omitted.)

How the 2019 daily lectionary works:

  • Most of the books Genesis through Chronicles, plus extracts from three Ecclesiastical Books, is read through the year in Morning Prayer.
  • Most of the rest of the OT, and extracts from the Maccabees, is read through the year in Evening Prayer.
  • The New Testament is read once through the year in Morning Prayer.
  • Most of the New Testament is read once through the year in Evening Prayer.

The idea here is an accommodation to the reality that many individuals, not to mention churches, do not say the daily offices daily.  In the old lectionary, if you only say MP, or only EP, you’ll be reading every other chapter of the OT, and miss half of the NT entirely.  In the new one, basically the whole NT is covered in both offices, but in opposite orders (Gospels together, Epistles together).  That way if an individual or church has a pattern of only saying one office per day, the morning and evening “halves” of the lectionary can be turned into a two-year cycle to ensure that the most Bible coverage is attained.

The only downside to this plan, as far as I can tell, is that those who do read the whole lectionary in a year has to keep track of four continuous books at a time, instead of three.  But then again, if you’re spiritually disciplined enough and mature enough to be saying both offices every day (or almost every day), I guess you can probably handle tracking four books of the Bible in tandem.  I just hope you’ve got enough ribbons on your Bible! 😉

Reading 1 John in Eastertide

This evening we begin reading the epistle 1 John at Evening Prayer, and will go through it over the course of the whole week.  As I noted with 1 Peter a little while ago, this is an appropriate daily lectionary experience because it matches up with the Sunday Communion lectionary on one of the three years of its rotation.  It doesn’t match up perfectly in real time, of course, but the idea of reading 1 John in Eastertide is achieved both in Year B on Sundays and in the middle of May in daily Evening Prayer.

What makes 1 John an Easter-appropriate epistle such that it got assigned to this season in one year of the Communion lectionary?  In part, it’s an echo of the historic lectionary for Eastertide, which features 1 John and 1 Peter and James as the Epistle lessons through the season.  Digging deeper, the style of 1 John is very similar to the Gospel of St. John, which also gets heavy coverage in Eastertide and other major festal seasons and occasions throughout the year.  1 John has emphases on community, belonging, love, and release from sin, which all connect easily with the tradition of reading Acts in Eastertide, and the more general “result of the resurrection” frame of mind that this season is all about.

The opening prologue to 1 John also betray the unusual status of this book.  It is billed as an epistle of John but its writing style is much more like a homily or address.  Thus it makes for great reading and hearing but a far more difficult study than a more orderly epistle like those of St. Paul (at least in my opinion).  Despite the general challenge of making sense of how this book is structured and organized, the opening verses are one of my personal favorite passages of Scripture.

If you’d like a homily to accompany you in Evening Prayer today, here you go:

2 Peter and Jude Together

As you go through the Daily Office this week, you might notice something surprising about the Epistle readings in the evenings.  We just finished 1 Peter, we’re getting into 2 Peter, but next is not 1 John, but Jude!  The Epistles are almost finished… but why is Jude moved before John instead of read after like it’s found in the order of the New Testament in the Bible?

Part of the reason might be chronology – some of the Epistles are offered in our daily office lectionary according to the order in which they were written.  It is very likely that St. John’s epistles were written later in his life, post-dating pretty much the entire rest of the apostolic writings.

But most likely, in this case, Jude is read immediately after 2 Peter because they are very similar books.  For those who tend to be more “critical” of the biblical text, 2 Peter is sometimes looked upon as a “correction” to Jude.  Not a correction in that Jude was wrong, exactly; more a correction in that Jude makes some confusing and obscure references, and 2 Peter offers similar teachings with cleaner Old Testament references.

In its extremely brief length, the Epistle of Jude manages to make references to

  • the origin of demons: “that did not keep their own position” (v6)
  • Sodom and Gomorrah’s indulgence “in unnatural lust” (v7)
  • a dispute between the devil and Michael the Archangel over the body of Moses (v9)
  • a cited quote from the (very) apocryphal book of Enoch (v14-15)

Despite these difficult lines, Jude has two very popular texts, one at its beginning and one at its end:

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

and

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.

The previous epistle, 2 Peter, contains a similar warning against false teachers and false brethren who practice immoralities, but does so without quite so many oblique references.  Chapter 2 references the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Baalam, and the steadfastness of God’s holy angels.  So when you get to reading Jude on Sunday, keep Friday’s reading from chapter 2 in mind.  The similarities will be very helpful.

Apart from that, 2 Peter has a few unique contributions regarding the eyewitness authority of the apostles, which in turn is subordinate to the witness of the Scriptures (cf. chapter 1); and also reiterates some of the points regarding suffering already covered in 1 Peter.

It’s helpful that these books are short, too, so that we can read through them in fairly rapid succession and be able to notice the connections between them.  Still, it’s a good thing our lectionary moves Jude up next to Peter!

Reading 1 Peter in Eastertide

This evening the Daily Office Lectionary begins its trek through the epistle 1 Peter.  As you may recall, 1 Peter is one of the three books that gets highlighted in the Epistle lesson slot during Eastertide in the Sunday Communion lectionary.  It’s kind of neat that we get to read this book in the month of May, either to reinforce or contextualize the Sunday readings if it’s that year, or giving us the book’s coverage on the years that don’t touch upon it on Sundays.

The First Epistle of St. Peter is a sobering book to read; it deals plainly with the subject of enduring persecution, noting that many churches in the region of Cappadocia have already begun to experience that.  As such, the letter looks keenly at the eschaton, the End of history, while acknowledging that the “Last Days” are already begun.  The letter also looks firmly back, at Jesus Christ, firmly grounding the Christian’s identity in the completed work of Christ.  Related to that, 1 Peter also contains one of the most strongly-worded teachings about Holy Baptism, if couched in one of the most difficult contexts in the entire New Testament.  It even makes space for ethical and pastoral instruction.

In Year A of the Sunday Communion lectionary, the suffering-related texts tend to get omitted.  It’s understandable, when choosing highlights to summarize the book in the Easter season. but still obviously a bit of a loss compared to the depth of the book itself.  So the Daily Office, here, is where we really get to dig into this (and every) book.  In an evangelical culture so used to focusing on the writings of St. Paul, a careful read of this book can be a refreshing perspective check.  Enjoy it!

Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary

Last week we looked at an option of filling out the book of Leviticus in a set of daily readings for Midday Prayer, for those who like to read every last page of Scripture.  You can revisit that post at this link.  Today, however, I am pleased to release the entire Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary.

Here it is in pdf form!

From the introductory and explanatory material:

The following lectionary is offered as a supplement to the Daily Office Lectionary.

Its first priority is to complete the portions of books omitted in Morning and Evening Prayer, including the books omitted in their entirety yet listed in Article 6 of the Articles of Religion (namely, Tobit, 1 Esdras, and 2 Esdras). As much as possible, this lectionary appoints these omitted readings in a manner that is integrated with the Daily Office lectionary – supplying parallel readings between Kings and Chronicles, for example, or appointing omitted chapters promptly after where they would have appeared in the regular lectionary.

The second priority of this lectionary, when possible, is to supply a traditional devotional reading for Holy Days found in previous Prayer Books but not supplied in the present edition.

And in further detail:

Throughout the year there are a number of days left blank in this Supplementary Midday Lectionary. On such days the reader is encouraged to make use of the standard lessons provided in the official liturgy for Midday Prayer.

January begins with the book of Wisdom, continuing where the Daily Office Lectionary left off on the morning of December 31st. The book of Tobit is then read. Because there is ample space remaining in the month, the major feast days (including the Martyrdom of Charles I on the January 30th) are each given an appropriate reading. The lesson is drawn from the 1662 Prayer Book in each case except for the Confession of St. Peter, which is drawn from the 1979 Prayer Book due to it being a feast day first reintroduced in that book.

The last day of January and the bulk of February continues the omitted writings of the Ecclesiastical Books with 1 Esdras, the majority of which is a rewrite of the end of 2 Chronicles and beginning of Ezra. Space is made for the two major feast days of the month, plus a brief interruption to begin the book of Baruch which is then finished in the Daily Office Lectionary’s evening lessons. That finished, the book of 2 Esdras is begun. The leap day, February 29th, is omitted from this plan.

March is occupied with finishing the book of 2 Esdras, breaking only to observe the Annunciation.

The Ash Wednesday lesson is taken from the 1662 Prayer Book. The same is true for the Holy Week and Easter Day lessons, though in that case several of those readings had their traditional day swapped around to accommodate our Daily Office Lectionary which appoints Lamentations 3 on Friday and Saturday instead of Tuesday.

The month of April begins the major fill-in-the-blank efforts with the Old Testament, first completing the book of Leviticus, then settling into Numbers.

May sees Numbers finished, and then proceeds through 1 Maccabees.

Ascension Day and Pentecost days are supplied with readings from the 1662 Prayer Book.

June completes 1 Maccabees and then covers the omitted chapters of Joshua. The additions to Daniel (namely the Song of the Three Young Men and Bel and the Dragon) are covered on narratively-appropriate days in tandem with the Daily Office Lectionary’s coverage of Daniel in the evening.

UPDATE: I left out the missing chapters from the book of Ezekiel.  They’ve been added to the end of June, just after the regular daily lectionary finishes the book, and parts of July, August, and September.

July sees the end of the book of Judges covered roughly in line with the end of that book in the Daily Office Lectionary’s morning lessons, as well as the Greek Old Testament Additions to Esther in tandem with that book’s coverage in the evening. Ezra chapter 2 is also supplied. The two major feast days each receive a special reading – the first from the 1979 Prayer Book and the second from the 1662.

The month of August adds Nehemiah chapter 11 and begins the omitted portions of 1 Chronicles. Only one major feast day had room for a special lesson.

September supplies the end of 1 Chronicles and some of 2 Chronicles in close parallel to its matching material in the Daily Office Lectionary’s morning lessons from the historical books. The latter two feast days of the month received lessons from the 1662 Prayer Book.

In October, omitted chapters from 2 Chronicles are supplied in the same manner, with omitted chapters from 2 Maccabees filling in the gaps to complement the evening lessons from that book. The latter two feast days of the month, again, received lessons from the 1662 Prayer Book.

November sees the final omitted chapters of 2 Chronicles covered, and supplements the missing chapters from Judith. The omitted chapters from the book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) are also begun. Space was made, also, to observe the major feast days of the month: All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed with a lesson each from the 1662 Prayer Book (the two originally appointed for All Saints’ Day); Saint Aelfric’s Day is observed with a lesson chosen from the Commons of Saints; and Saint Andrew with a lesson from the 1662 Prayer Book.

In December, Ecclesiasticus is completed, the major feast days are supplemented from 1662, and The Epistle of Jeremiah (sometimes accounted Baruch 6) is read.

What about the rest of Leviticus?

The book of Leviticus has started its run-through in the Daily Office this morning, according our daily lectionary.  But if you’re looking at the actual lectionary table rather than just following the entire Office online you’ll notice that tomorrow we’ll skip from chapter 1 to chapter 8.  Then we’ll skip to 10, then 16-20 in a row, then 26, and that’s it for Leviticus.  Of the 27 chapters, we’ll only cover 9 – just one third of the book!  Some of you might breathe a sigh of relief at this news, others might get indignant and ask “what gives?”

The main point of a Daily Lectionary, yes, is to get the “full counsel of God” into the eyes and ears of every Christian.  You could to Morning and Evening Prayer every day and over the course of the year you get through the entire Bible.  Or rather, the vast majority of the Bible.  The fact is, every Prayer Book lectionary is “incomplete” when it comes to biblical coverage.  Although this occasionally can be a cover for revisionist selectivism and overlooking difficult/unliked passages (I’m looking at you, 1979) the usual reason is perfectly harmless: not all parts of Scripture are equally accessible and equally beneficial to the reader.

Yes, all Scripture is “God-breathed” or “God-inspired” and therefore beneficial for instruction and training in righteousness, but not all parts of Scripture will accomplish that as well as other parts.  To that end, different lectionaries at different times have made different omissions, judging by the needs of and expectations for its congregations.  The earliest Prayer Book lectionary included only four chapters of Leviticus: 18-21.  It also omitted 1 & 2 Chronicles, much of Numbers and Ezekiel, and the entire book of St. John’s Revelation (apart from one or two snippets in the Communion lectionary).  The reasons for these decisions generally revolve around:

  1. simplicity of use (rather than weaving the Chronicles material into 1 & 2 Kings like our new lectionary, just skip them entirely)
  2. potential for misunderstanding (the Laws of the Torah and the Apocalyptic visions of Ezekiel and Revelation are too complex or too obscure for the average reader)
  3. constraint of time (there are only so many days in the year, so unless you read multiple chapters at once you’re not going to cover everything on just 2 readings per morning plus 2 per evening)

With these reasons in mind you can glance at different lectionaries from different centuries and perhaps better understand why some omissions were made in the 17th century and different ones are made today.  With public literacy higher, more study resources readily available, and an evangelical background expectation to read “the Bible in a year” already common, the modern reader is better-equipped to tackle more of the difficult and obscure passages of Scripture.  But it will always be true that some parts of the Bible simply need to be taught and preached for the majority of readers to finally “get” them.

That said, if you’re of a completionist mindset, and want to read the rest of the book of Leviticus yourself, something you can do is device a supplementary lectionary of one extra reading per day and use it during Midday Prayer.  The Saint Aelfric Customary will providing just such a lectionary, and here’s how it finishes the books of Leviticus and Numbers:

April

1  
2  
3 Leviticus 2
4 3
5 4
6 5
7 6
8 7
9 9
10 11
11 12
12 13
13 14
14 15
15 21
16 22
17 24
18 25
19 27
20 Numbers 1
21 2
22 3
23 4
24 5
25 7
26 9
27 10
28 19
29 26
30 27

May

1 Numbers 28
2 29
3 30
4 31
5 32
6 33
7 34
8 35
9 36

Holiness and Marriage and Mary

Yesterday was the feast of the Annunciation, one of the major holy days of the Christian year.  Only one reading in the Daily Office Lectionary was specially altered to befit the day, however.  (This is my main disappointment with this particular lectionary, that it provides only scant observance of the major holy days, often offering only one special reading, and even then often doubling one of the readings from the Communion service.)  But what we did have was an interesting “accidental” convergence of topics.  The evening reading yesterday was from Ephesians 5, and this evening finishes that chapter.  Because it’s the Daily Office Lectionary we’re able (and ought) to read these lessons in the context of the whole book; but in this instance we’re able to read it also in the context the Annunciation.

How does this help?

The strict call to holiness in the first half of chapter 5 leading into the beautiful description of marriage in the second half take an extra sense of oomph with the Annunciation fresh on our minds.  There were have the angel telling Mary that’s she’s a “grace-filled one” (full of grace in Catholic translations, favored one in Protestant translations).  There we have Mary offering her fiat to the New Creation – “fiat mihi…” = “be it unto me…”  There we have her virginity intact, and her betrothal to Joseph.  In short, she is modeling almost everything we see in Ephesians 5.

Whether you go on to believe the historic Marian doctrines or not – her perpetual virginity, her sinless life by God’s grace, her bodily assumption into heaven – at least this moment of the Annunciation sheds a great deal of light on her and her husband-to-be.  They’re called the Holy Family… Christ was literally present in the marriage of Joseph and Mary, and in their life together.

So consider keeping this extra context in mind as you read the rest of Ephesians 5 tonight.  You may just discover a newfound respect and devotion regarding our Lady!  And for some this may finally be that breakthrough in understanding the difference between the veneration of the Saints and the worship of God.

Lectionary Convergence: 1 Corinthians

This week we’ve got a somewhat rare event: the Daily Office Lectionary and the Sunday Communion Lectionary are crossing one another’s paths.  The Epistles in Evening Prayer started us in on 1 Corinthians a week and a half ago, and this evening is reaching chapter 12.  Yesterday and the Sunday before, the Communion lectionary has also been taking us through chapter 12.

This sort of double exposure probably happens a few times a year, at different times depending upon which year in the 3-year cycle it is.  This can be an excellent opportunity to get a perspective check on the Communion lectionary readings.  That lectionary, by default, is unable to be as comprehensive as a daily lectionary; it has to cut corners, it has to summarize books of the Bible and move on.  It is the function of the Daily Office to slog through virtually everything and put it all in context.

Having Evening Prayer take us through the bulk of 1 Corinthians in the past ten days, and finishing the book in the coming week, will be a helpful overview to remind us of the larger context as we listen to the 1 Corinthians lessons at the Sunday Communion services for the next few weeks until Lent begins.

Revelation begins today!

In Evening Prayer today, the daily lectionary begins its course through the book of Revelation.  Just as this book has an interesting place in the biblical canon, it also has an interesting place in the liturgical tradition.

Even in the Early Church there was widespread disagreement over how to interpret this book.  Some theologians, especially in the East, took a largely preterist view, seeing the vast majority of its fulfillment in the first century.  That being the case, there was little need to preserve it in the active canon of Scripture.  To this day, the book of Revelation is barely ever read from in East Orthodox liturgy (though its several hymnic sections, I’m sure, deeply inform their hymnody).  In the West, too, there was dispute on how to interpret this book, and although I cannot comment on its liturgical use through the medieval era, I can point out that the original Anglican daily lectionary omitted the book of Revelation.

Despite how modern Evangelicals love Bible-in-a-year plans, this was hardly scandalous at the time.  It had long been understood that some parts of the Bible were more readily edifying than others.  Most of the books of Leviticus and Numbers, and much of Ezekiel was left out of the original lectionary as well, along with 1 & 2 Chronicles.  Genealogies, finicky Old Covenant Laws, and obscure Old Testament visions and prophecies, although all Scripture, are not as relevant to forming and informing the ordinary Christian life as other parts of the Bible.  The book of Revelation was cast in the same light – much of it was obscure, controversial, and liable to stir up further controversy.  Indeed, radicals and revolutionaries had a tendency to use images from writings like Revelation to bolster their crazy ideas… the time of the Reformation was tumultuous enough already.

Unfortunately this backfired.  The lack of familiarity with the book of Revelation eventually gave rise to new and theologically dangerous interpretations of the book throughout the following centuries, most noteably that of Nelson Darby, who essentially invented the near-heretical Dispensationalist theology which rewrote the doctrine of the Church and sundered the entirety of Scripture between “Israel” and “the Church” in a new and complicated way that very nearly undoes the entire Gospel.  Today’s popular doctrine of the Rapture rose to prominence through this false teaching, and the various End-Times views that populate the religious landscape right now are a testimony to how poorly-understood the book of Revelation has been.

Anglican lectionaries have since restored this book, always at the end of the year.  Its eschatological and apocalyptic content lends itself perfectly to the mood and theme of the Advent season, and the culmination of the New Creation at the end of the book is matched (at least emotionally) by the arrival of Christmas.  In the modern Sunday Communion lectionary, the book of Revelation shows up on a couple holy days here and there, but gets its most thorough treatment in the season of Easter in Year C (the year which has just begun).  The context of the Easter season also befits this book, as it begins with an image of the resurrected (and ascended) Christ and looks ahead to his victory not only over death but over all evil.  It takes Easter and projects it into all of time and space!

So as you begin reading Revelation tonight, try to keep in mind that although this is a mysterious book with a great deal of controversy about it, the context of Advent’s anticipation of the return of Christ can be a helpful benchmark for understanding this book.  Also, try to take it in as a whole and tuck it into your memory, so that when Easter rolls around in a few months, and you hear parts of it read on Sundays for a few weeks, it’ll be more familiar to you.

Ecclesiasticus / Sirach starts soon

Like all its predecessors, the ACNA daily office lectionary brings us a series of readings from the Ecclesiastical Books towards the end of the year.  If you’ve been using the current draft, you’ll be nearing the end of Judith today and tomorrow, and beginning Ecclesiasticus or Sirach on Thursday.  As many Anglicans today tend to be under-eductated about these “additional books” listed in Article 6, perhaps it’d be prudent to have a quick preview of what that book is about.

Ecclesiasticus, or more formally, The Wisdom of Jesus ben-Sirach is a wisdom book.  It reads a lot like the book of Proverbs, especially the first few chapters of that book which favors discourses of 10-20 verses; Sirach has very few individual proverbs by comparison.

Its first few chapters are largely focused on the benefits of wisdom, frequently using the female personification (Lady Wisdom) introduced in the book of Proverbs.  If you read these discourses keeping in mind the traditional interpretation that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, then you’ll find much good fruit to savor in these pages.

There are parts of the book that exalt the Law higher than a Christian should – after all, the New Covenant was not yet known.  There are parts of the book that seem elitist, classist, or even misogynist in a couple places – again, its cultural context is very different from ours, and again the New Testament sheds better light on the breaking down of human-imposed barriers.

Starting in chapter 44, the book takes a grant tour of Old Testament history, much like “the hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, except much longer.  These chapters highlight the great men of the past, telling of their faithfulness to God and the Wisdom displayed in them and through them.  It must be remembered, reading this, that the intention is not to teach history, but to uphold positive role models.  The author, ben-Sirach, is not sugar-coating history, but pointing out the good things God’s people should imitate and learn positive lessons from.

Unlike the original Prayer Book lectionary, we’re not going to get to read the whole book.  But you will see a decent majority of its contents over the next month or so.  Enjoy it!  I have found this book very quotable, in my own experience.