Description of the project
What is a lectionary?
A lectionary is a schedule of Bible passages to be read out loud during Christian worship services. Normally, four lessons are appointed for each Sunday: one from the Gospels, one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Psalms. Thousands of these schedules survive from ancient times, and are a primary source for our knowledge of the actual text of the Bible.
The lectionary in most widespread use in the English-speaking world today is the Revised Common Lectionary, used in various forms by Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodist, Presbyterian and Reformed denominations.
There are also lectionaries designed to guide a student’s Bible reading from day to day, but these do not coordinate at all with the Sunday readings.
The Daily Lessons, or McElderry Park Lectionary (named for the community around my church) will provide an all-in-one approach, coordinating the student’s daily Bible study with the Sunday lessons. When used by a community or congregation, it will put every student “on the same page,” literally, with her or his Bible study every day — and those will be the lessons read on Sundays. Students will read each book of the Bible the whole way through, and complete the process once every five years.
Limitations of the Revised Common Lectionary (“RCL”) include these:
A. It has little usefulness as a Bible education tool.
1. It does not cover the entire Bible.
2. Even as to the portions it does cover, many lessons feature interlinear deletions that arguably leave a misleading impression of the passage as a whole. This also affects its usefulness in public worship.
3. It does not lend itself to daily private worship. Even in the “lectuo continuo” strands, where for example Ephesians 3 and Ephesians 4 may be appointed for consecutive Sundays — 7 days is a long time for a student to wait to progress from one chapter to the next.
4. The text choices are slavishly subservient to the seasons of the liturgical year, which, except for Advent and Lent, no one but clergy pay any attention to.
B. It is less than optimal for use in public worship.
1. It’s not “common.” At least four different versions are in use, two within the Lutheran movement alone.
2. Rarely does any thematic connection appear among the four texts for a given Sunday.
3. See item #2 above.
4. The RCL shows no regard for worshippers’ attention spans or the length of the service, in the occasional appointing of exceptionally long lessons; such as the whole of John 11 or the whole of 1 Kings 19.
Popular booklet devotionals like The Upper Room and Our Daily Bread don’t solve the problem, either. From day to day the texts are chosen from different books throughout the Bible; the student never reads any entire book whole.
Several years after I began producing MPL, I learned about the Jewish lectionary, the siddur, and was immensely gratified to learn that here, for centuries, Jews have already had in place a tool very similar to what I wanted to produce.
In the appointed Scripture lessons for each Shabbot, Jews read through the entire Torah (Pentateuch) from beginning to end, once every (Jewish) year. There are built-in accommodations for the different lengths of different years. Each weekly “Torah portion” or parashah is further subdivided into seven parts, one for each week day.
As a result, in their devotional Scripture study, all Jews the world over are continually “on the same page” — literally. The benefit of such laser-like coherence must be profound.
The primary limitation of the McElderry Park Lectionary (“MPL”) as compared to the RCL is that clergy in denominations that use the latter invest tremendous goodwill in Bible studies with their peers that focus on those lessons. Unless similar communities can be established around any successor to the RCL, clergy using such successor will really miss the former.
The McElderry Park Lectionary provides for a straight-through reading of every book in the Bible, in portions small enough each to serve for one day’s devotional Bible study.
A minimal presentation of the MPL would include a list of dates, a Scripture citation for each date, and a pertinent guide question to — to be blunt — give the student a reason to read the text. For example:
Monday, April 9, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
A full-blown presentation could include, in addition, these features:
● A memory verse for each week, taken preferably from that week’s texts
● A glossary of terms unfamiliar to 21st century Americans, e.g.:
shekel — a silver coin the size of a half dollar. This was the normal pay for a common laborer for two days’ work. Also, the weight of that coin, namely ½ ounce.
● “Points to Ponder,” being brief notes e.g. tracking appearances of Abiathar in Samuel/Kings, or wondering how Elijah came by all that water on Mt. Carmel — during a severe drought.
● Brief articles, e.g. “Babies Making Babies,” which explained that Samaria in Nehemiah’s time was one vast ghetto little different from McElderry Park.
Using the MPL, a student reads through the entire Bible once every five years. A breakdown is as follows:
Year 1 — the Gospels
Lent each year is devoted to Psalms and Proverbs.
The year begins on Easter Monday, because Americans are more likely to begin a new project at that time, than in November or December. For the MPL’s purposes, each week begins on Monday.
The plan year by year. The number of weeks from one Easter to the next varies, being in any year 50, 51, 54 or 55. Thus each year can be broken down as follows:
Regular readings — first 43 weeks
Highlights. Not all passages of Scripture are created equal. Some deserve more study than others. As to Years 2, 3, 4 and 5, while one is in the process of dividing the texts, one needs to identify 35 days’ texts to be re-read as highlights. These need to be further sorted into three groups: the 7 most important, to be used in years of 51 weeks; the 21 next-most important, which will be used along with the former in weeks of 54 weeks; and the remainder, which will be used along with the rest in years of 55 weeks. All highlights in any year will be read in their Scriptural sequence. Year 1 will be handled differently, as will be discussed below.
Sunday texts. For each Sunday in a given year, four lessons will be chosen, one each from the Old Testament, the Epistles, the Gospels and the Psalms. The sermon text will be chosen from the daily readings assigned for the period from the preceding Monday through the succeeding Saturday. Thus no matter what day of the week Psalm 23, John 1 or 1 Corinthians 13 may be assigned, it can still be assigned as a Sunday sermon text.
Remaining lessons for each Sunday will be chosen first for thematic pertinence to the sermon text — which will enable the planning of thematic worship practically every week. Texts that allude to one another — such as Genesis 21 and Galatians 4, or Genesis 15 and Romans 4 — will be assigned to the same Sundays.
Tim Wright has not yet begun this work.
Special considerations re: the Gospels. A once-through reading of the Gospels in portions small enough for daily private worship, will be complete in about 37 weeks rather than 43. The remaining six weeks are to be combined with the weeks of highlights for a comparative study of the Synoptics. In any given year, the approach used for that study will depend on the number of weeks in that year. The work of assigning texts to dates need be done only once for each different length of year — 50, 51, 54 or 55 weeks.
Tim Wright has not yet begun this work, either.
(LAST REV.: 08/26/20)