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.

Transitioning to Advent

Advent is coming… just over two weeks from now we’ll be donning the purple and keeping watch for the four-fold arrival of Christ: in his Nativity, in his Sacraments, in the hearts of his faithful people, and in power and great glory upon his bodily return.

To be fair, I’ve only ever heard of a “three-fold” advent, with different sources choosing either the Sacraments or the believer’s heart.  But I’m not going to get into that here and now.

The changing of the seasons, liturgically speaking, is never sudden.  Each season, or sub-season, has its transition markers.  The modern calendar is a little rougher ’round the edges than the traditional lectionary, but the approach toward Advent is a smooth one in both systems.

in the traditional calendar & lectionary

The Trinitytide Collects & lessons follow an upward path of spiritual growth and maturity, culminating in the ultimate goal of Christian perfection via union with Christ.  The natural response to such a progression is to issue a call to labor, to strive for that perfection, to prepare ourselves for that union with Christ, which is very much in line with Advent’s call to “keep watch.”  Further, the Last Sunday before Advent is a fitting close for the Trinitytide themes and a herald of the Advent season to come.  It’s hardly a stretch to see it as a sort of “Christ the King Sunday” like what we have in the modern calendar.

in the modern calendar & lectionary

The sequential Gospel and Epistle lessons approach their end through the month of November.  In each of the three years, the final weeks before Advent take us into the eschatological discourse of Jesus, looking at the “signs of the end” and his eventual bodily return.  This actually steps on the toes of the traditional Advent season, and opens up the modern Advent to a slightly heavier focus on the upcoming Nativity of Jesus.  So in a way, the modern calendar begins the Advent themes as many as three weeks early.  It’s such a smooth transition that there was actually an “Advent Project” some years ago, advocating for a 7-week Advent, like the Church had in Late Antiquity.  Feel free to peruse that site, but be warned that it contains much that is theologically and liturgically liberal, perhaps inappropriate for a healthy Christian congregation.

I’m wearing black today

It occurs to me that the lessons and collect for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day (in the ACNA’s Sunday & Holy Day lectionary) give them a feel not unlike the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (popularly, All Souls Day). I haven’t double-checked, but I suspect most of these lessons are also options for our Burial service.
In which case, it seems that the funeral colors (black is traditional, white is modern(ist)) would be reasonable options for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.
Obviously, as Anglicans, and especially under the modern calendar with less connection to the 1,500 years of recorded liturgical history, vestment color schemes are in the “a diaphora” category that are not regulated by canon law – we do have freedom of choice here. In that spirit of freedom, and awareness of what our modern lectionary is doing, I decided I’m wearing a black stole today, to celebrate Veterans Day.

The Lost Sunday

One of the downsides of the modern calendar is that the same Sunday almost always gets overridden by All Saints’ Day when it’s transferred to Sunday.  Occasionally it’s the Sunday before that gets missed, but usually it’s this one, the “Sunday closest to November 2” or “between October 30 and November 5” or “Proper 26” (depending upon what book you’re looking in).  The Collect, which we at least get in the Daily Office for the rest of this week starting this morning is:

Grant us Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

It’s a lovely Collect, drawing heavily from the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, and it’s a shame that most of our congregations will miss hearing it most years.  If you have a mid-week Communion service, and you celebrated All Saints’ back on Sunday, the “lost” Sunday Propers (collect & lessons) are highly recommended!

Kings & Chronicles mixed together

The Daily Lectionary of the Anglican Church in North America is nearing its final form.  It has gone through two extremely different editions in the past couple years, and has seen two or three version of its third incarnation this year.  You can tell from the nature of its revisions that the committee and the bishops are getting very close to finalizing it.

If you’ve been reading along with it lately, you’ve been in the historical books for a while, currently in the middle of 2 Kings.  There has been the occasional interruption from 1 & 2 Chronicles last month and this, there’s another one coming tomorrow, and several more over the next two weeks.  Especially if you’re using a physical copy of the Bible (as opposed to reading the Office online) this might be something of a nuisance.  But the reasons for this minor inconvenience are actually quite sound.

  1. Although the overlap between the books of Samuel and Kings and the books of Chronicles is enormous, there is unique material in each of them.
  2. The books of Samuel & Kings together cover more detail than the books of Chronicles, so they get the primary coverage.
  3. The books of Chronicles, therefore, have excerpts interspersed among Kings & Chronicles in order to fill the few gaps left.

There are two simpler alternatives to this plan:

  1. Skip 1 & 2 Chronicles entirely.  This is what the original Prayer Book daily lectionaries did.
  2. Read 1 & 2 Chronicles all the way through.  This brings the lectionary’s average reading length up, as there’s more to cover in the year.

So yes, although book-skipping like this can make the narrative a little tougher to follow, and the logistics of using your bookmarkers a little more complicated, this lectionary is following a sensible plan with good reason.  If you’re the kind of person who wants a perfectly “completionist” daily lectionary, then the liturgical tradition is inevitably going to disappoint you a little bit.  However, there’s nothing stopping you from “filling in the gaps”, as it were, on your own.  Midday Prayer, for example, is an excellent daily opportunity to read from material that the daily lectionary omits.

If that’s something you’re interested in, be sure to check back in here next year, because once the daily lectionary is finalized and published I’m going to be working on a supplementary daily lectionary for Midday Prayer that inserts all the chapters from the Old Testament and Ecclesiastical Books that the daily lectionary leaves out.  It’s already outlined, I just need to see the final edition before I can build around it.  So if you’re a fan of the books of Chronicles, hang in there, I’ve got your back!