December 6, 2011

A Year with the Lectionary

Ever tried Bible-roulette? In crisis, needing a shot in the arm, not getting it from post-post-modernity, you turn to the unturned-to book, flip it open, begin reading earnestly.  Now since a random flip will almost always open the book halfway, you end up staring at a minor prophet or, even better, Ecclesiastes. Now you don’t mind your pick-me-up advice coming creatively, but there’s no way to comprehend “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is Meaningless!” in five minutes of context-less reading. The book that’s supposedly given meaning to millions of people for millennia has left you more cold and millennial than ever, you put the thing back in its hiding place, and slouch on.

Churches do this too. Oh we try to organize our approach, often via themes that seem relevant to our contemporary crises—Love, Money, Marriage—we slap something like that on and try our best to dive in. But the book doesn’t necessarily respond immediately. We tire of a month of biblical marriage analysis. We put the thing in its place and church on.

Heck, how are you supposed to approach a book of sixty books, written before paper was invented, by men who never spoke anything close to a syllable of the only language most of us have ever known? We are not the first generation to ask this question. In fact, Yahweh’s followers have been asking this basic question of how-to-read since he first showed his prophets how to write. And while there will always be a rich variety of answers available, the tradition of Christ has developed, even somewhat settled on, that most rare of church phenomena—a common approach. It’s been called the lectionary and Vox, a community hungry for scripture, has decided to follow in its footsteps this coming year.

The Bible begins with God taking his people for a walk through his garden, showing them the sights so to speak. In many ways the lectionary picks up right where that walk was cut short; it is a grand tour of the grand book of creation, a walk-through marked out by the experience of centuries, a look at every scriptural corner, in a sequence that gives context and rhythm to the week, season, and year.

The approach is simple, just four readings a week: an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, an excerpt from a New Testament epistle, and a Gospel reading. To allow you to hear each Gospel writer’s voice and story completely, only one Gospel is read each year, resulting in a three-year (A, B, C) cycle. John’s Gospel, so stylistically and thematically distinct, is reserved for special occasions each year.  The weekly passages are carefully selected and grouped together to build thematic seasons into our year: the expectancy of Advent, the mourning of Lent, the celebration of Easter, the beauty of the Ordinary.

The lectionary builds meditation and festival into our lives and it does it using only a dusty little book hidden on our shelf. Bible-roulette may have shot holes in our fledging faith, we turn now to the tradition of Christ for some restoration and guidance.

[Written by Jonny Seefeldt]