In my wonderings around the interweb last night, I stumbled across the Narrative Lectionary. My curiosity was peaked and so I started to research this new Lectionary. Up until last night, I had never heard of the Narrative Lectionary (NL) before and was surprised to learn it was put together in 2010 by Luther Seminary, an ELCA Seminary. This surprised me because I’m a Lutheran of the ELCA variety. The NL is being put forth as an alternative lectionary to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).
In all honesty, if I knew about this back in 2010 or even 2014, I would have been all over it. I was very much into Shane Claiborne, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber and the like. But as I’ve gotten older and have become more mature as a Christian, I’ve changed. And taking a year off of church has really put some things into perspective (This is a long story and best told at another time).
I’m going to be up front. I love the RCL. The RCL does have its issues; but, the RCL is used in churches all over the world, across denomination. I can go into a Roman Catholic Church, a Moravian Church, an Episcopal Church, or any number of churches that use the RCL and hear (more or less) the same texts. In my opinion, the widespread usage of the RCL speaks to the unity of the church.
So, why did the creators of the Narrative Lectionary feel that is was necessary?
Though the Revised Common Lectionary has united the church in its reading of scripture and has given much-needed structure, it doesn’t present scripture — especially the Old Testament — in a way that helps people to become fluent in the first language of faith. The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to take nine months to do just that.
So how do they go about doing this? It’s probably easier to compare the RCL to the NL. Below is a list of reading for the next three weeks in the Church year.
|Week||Revised Common Lectionary||Narrative Lectionary|
|Ascension of The Lord||Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47 or 93, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53||1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57 or Mark 12:26-27a|
|Pentecost||Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, (25-27)||Acts 2:1-4, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, or Mark 1:4-8|
|Trinity Sunday||Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15||Start of Summer Sermon Series|
I’ve emphasized the “or” in the NL reading because the Gospel isn’t always the primary text.
When the primary text is not from a Gospel, there is an accompanying Gospel text suggested. So during the fall when the primary readings are taken from the Old Testament, and in the spring when primary readings come from the Epistles, a Gospel reading is provided in the schedule. When the primary reading is from the Gospel, the accompanying reading is taken from the Psalms.
To be fair, the text chosen to preach from in the RCL may not necessarily be the Gospel, but the Gospel is alway there. In fact, where there is an “or” in the RCL, it’s between non-Gospel texts. But this does bring to light my first concern, the NL does not appear to be focused on the Gospel. The entire Bible is the story of Salvation history, that culminates in the Gospel and continues to today. This site does an excellent job of summing up the lectionary and how the readings are centered around the Gospel.
I’ve already alluded to my second concern, that the NL doesn’t foster unity. Like I said, the nice thing about worshipping in a church that uses the RCL is knowing that I am united in my brothers and sisters in Christ through the reading as well as the Eucharist. I am hearing the same texts that they are. The same can’t be said for the NL.
One might also make the claim that the NL is attempting to turn the sermon into something that it’s not meant to be: a Bible study. Why proclaim the mystery of scripture through four texts when an intensive look can be done at one? Now I’m being facetious here. But yes, I think that the NL does, to some degree, water down the mystery of the faith by limiting the pastor to one to two texts each week.
My final concern is that, on first look, the NL tends to emphasize and validate the shrinking attention span that seems to be afflicting the church today. I have no problem sitting through four readings. But throughout the years, starting with my internship during seminary, the four became two. And now, we dropped into the one to two range. In essence, we are catering to the lowest common denominator and boring the rest of us. We are dumbing down worship instead lifting up the lowest common denominator in their journey of faith. We are stifling the growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of challenging them to grow beyond their current understanding of Scripture.
I have to say, as a Lutheran, I’m disappointed that some at Luther Seminary even felt the need for the NL. I do not think the church needs a new lectionary. I also think more discernment is needed concerning the NL. Maybe I’m missing something or misinterpreted something I’ve read.