I confess to being something of a late appreciator of the lectionary. That is partly because I never understood the advantages of the three year cycle Revised Common Lectionary (following, for at least the months Advent to Pentecost, the two year cycle in our NZPB instead); partly too because I did not appreciate the significance of the words "the appointed readings" in our prayer book services: "appointed" meaning "as appointed by the lectionary".
But being a late appreciator does not mean I am a zealous convert, enamoured of all the virtues of the lectionary (RCL) and blind to all its faults.
Preparing for the next two Sundays' sermons (9th and 16th May) I discover that the readings as set down are:
9th May: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22.5; John 14:23-29 or 5:1-9
16th May: Acts 16:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
The virtues are straightforward to see in this little sequence:
there is a nice sequential reading through Acts 16 across the two Sundays
there is a sequential reading through Revelation 21-22 across the Sundays
there is a sojourn in John's Gospel.
But the vices are not hard to detect either!
What is with the omitted verses in Revelation? (More below)
What explanation of the sequence of gospel readings is detectable (whether John 14 then 17 or 5 then 17)?
Why is a choice of gospel readings given for the 9th May?
Let's look a little closer at the Revelation readings:
Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22.5 and Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
The first reading does not involve omission so much as addition. The passage Revelation 21:22-22:5, concerning the new Jerusalem being without temple, sun or moon for the Lord God is its temple and its light, could do with an introduction, so Revelation 21:10 is supplied to begin the reading.
I think this is nuts, myself! An introductory verse is "nice", but it raises the question why we would not wish - being Scripture-minded - to hear Revelation 22:11-21. What are we missing out on? As a matter of fact that question is also raised by looking back to Sunday 2nd May where we find that the sequential Revelation reading is 21:1-6. Knowing that, we may also want to ask what we are missing by omitting Revelation 21:7-9.
This is what we are missing in the latter case:
" 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” "
Looks like we do not get to hear the politically incorrect stuff!
In the former case we are missing in Revelation 21:11-21 a vast amount of symbolic detail about the new Jerusalem: its cuboid shape, its encrusted jewels, etc. All potentially rich spiritual mining in the hands of a competent preacher!
Then we have our 'selected verses' in the second Revelation reading, 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. What are we missing?
First we are missing, between Sundays, Revelation 22:6-11:
"6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
7 “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”
10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.”
Then we are missing the italicised verses in this passage, 22:12-21:
"12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you a this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen."
Yep. That message is coming through loud and strong. Keep the verses speaking of reward and blessing. Jettison the verses which speak of punishment and bad consequences.
This is nuts! The lectionary "selectors" are excising from the reading of Scripture pieces of uncongenial Scripture. The uncongeniality may be for different reasons (difficult symbolism to understand, difficult "negativities" to explain) but it seems to be all uncongeniality to the selectors. Out it goes.
Do we believe Scripture comes from God or not? If we do not, let's just say so!
Perhaps we think that some passages are "not suitable for public reading". I can think of a few passages in Judges of that kind. You can think of others. Well, if something is not suitable for public reading, then omit the whole passage, please. Do not retain awkward passages and then (so to speak) cherry pick the nice cheeries and pass by the sour ones.
Who appointed the selectors of our appointed readings?
David Bentley Hart on the death penalty
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