Saturday, 30 June 2012

On organised scripture reading

Today was really hot - 30 degrees again - I walked to the nearest shop, washed some clothes, took a few photos of a beach I discovered nearby, but otherwise stayed out of the heat and prepared the selection of liturgical readings for next three months. My philosophy is, if you have time on your hands, find a task that consumes time and patience. Doing fiddly detailed stuff, consuming little energy if you're not under pressure to meet deadlines, may not be a pleasure, but it's satisfying when completed.

In the days of my youth we had a set liturgy, few options for readings and prayers, and that was dull to a generation hungry for new experiences and insights into Christian tradition. First the CofE's 2 year ASB lectionary, plus the allure of the new R.C. lectionary offered us a whole new world of systematic public scripture reading and preaching. The thinking behind the R.C. lectionary proved influential for an international pan Protestant group of biblical scholars and liturgists, whose published work in the mid- 1990's, with the subsequent authorisation for use of their work in Anglican, Methodist, United Reform and Presbyterian Churches across the globe, has brought about a change in liturgical usage, to my mind,  more radical and sweeping in scope than anything else since the Reformation.

The lectionary is a practical statement about the value of 'sacred seasons' - the idea that Christians, like their Jewish forebears use the time of year as a cue for remembering significant events in the story of relationships between God ad humankind. The three year cycle of readings acknowledges the riches of biblical material to sustain a re-visiting of the same significant events from a different angle of approach, determined by the narrative of the first three Gospels. John's Gospel is so radically different in its art of expression and affirmations about Jesus, its content is threaded equally through all three years.

Rome deserves credit for its creativity in setting the framework and essential content.  The rest of the churches have tinkered and adapted the scheme to local need and context, without making fundamental changes to content or interpretation. This is a positive statement about ecumenical consensus on the essentials of Christian faith - the valuable richness of the Word of God in holy scripture, which all are prepared to work with and apply to their lives. Albeit over three years, more variety of scripture is read publicly when worshippers are most likely to listen to it nowadays, that at any other time in history.

The freedom for which Christ set us free doesn't grant us permission to enforce the universal use of any such scheme of readings. Churches which don't see the need to use it, or never discuss with preachers how they make their scripture reading choices, maybe owe others a decent explanation for rejecting such a helpful resource. It may be a little difficult to use on times, but that makes you think hard, and work on the whole question of what you want to say about the things of God to those who are still prepared to listen to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment