Graduate Chapel meets each Wednesday during the semester at 11:00 a.m., in the Chapel on the Hill in the Biblical Studies Building. During the 2015-2016 academic year, Graduate Chapel will follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Everyone is welcome!
Follow the lectionary and check out Graduate Chapel Videos here.
Origins of the Lectionary
The origins of lectionaries are hidden and obscure. The custom of reading a series of biblical lessons in worship is an ancient tradition and has always played a prominent role in the Church. Jewish tradition traces the practice back to Moses (Deut. 31:10-12; 2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3) and Ezra (Neh. 8). Unfortunately, the evidence is from latter Judaism (tenth to twelfth century C.E.). All that can be said for certain is that the origin of lectionaries and the original pericope selections by the Early Church is an ancient one.
Many seek NT evidence for the practice. For example, Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). John also speaks about a single reader before an audience saying, Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it (Revelation 1:3). Luke 4:16-30 offers one of the earliest traditions of a possible lectionary use in the synagogue. Jesus opens the scroll and found the place. The text in Isaiah 61:1-2 has been argued, was a “prescribed passage” previously marked.
In Advent 1969, the Roman calendars and lectionaries for Mass (Ordo Lectionum Missae) were adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. No one could have predicted its widespread ecumenical appeal and adoption with necessary denominational revisions by various Protestant denominations including the Episcopal Church (1970), Presbyterians(1970), and Lutherans (1973). In 1974, contributing denominations (excluding Episcopalians and Lutherans) adopted both the Consultation on Common Texts (C.O.C.U.) Lectionary and a common liturgical year. This successfully brought together fifty-nine lectionary systems. This three year lectionary included readings from thirtythree books of the Old Testament and twenty-four books of the New Testament. Next, they adopted the Common Lectionary in 1983. Finally, in 1992, the Revised Common Lectionary was accepted. Each revision has made its attempts to improve the original Roman Lectionary that remains unchanged.
The Common Lectionary follows a three-year cycle that concentrates on Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C. John is used in all three years. Each of the three years has its character determined by the emphasis of the individual Evangelists. Each of the Gospels sets forth a particular theological emphasis. Preaching from only one Gospel will bring theological and thematic unity to the entire year.The Old Testament lesson is chosen to reinforce, give background, or provide contrast to the Gospel lesson. During Eastertide, Acts is substituted for the Old Testament lesson. The framers of the lectionary primarily intended the Psalms be used as a responsive reading in the worship service.
Origins of the Christian Calendar
The Liturgical Year, in its cycles and feasts, celebrates a Christian understanding of time. First, there is an “incarnational” understanding of time rooted in the mediation and disclosure of God in the world through Jesus. Second, there is an “eschatological” time which views time as moving forward to Christ's return yet aware of the past and present.
Originally every Sunday was a “little easter.” It was the week rather than the year that constituted the primary unit of time for the first Christians. The resurrection changed everything. The first believers began worshipping on the day of the week on which Jesus rose. Many of the Jewish Christians may have still observed Sabbath, they simply added “The Lord's Day” to their weekly observance. Though there were variations in local customs, the usual worship service included reading of scriptures, preaching, several kinds of prayers, singing, and the Lord's Supper.
The Liturgical Year evolved from three festivals: Epiphany (recalling the advent and baptism of Jesus); Pascha (the passion and resurrection of Jesus) and; Pentecost (which included Ascension and celebrated the gift of the Spirit). These celebrations were not reenactments of history but rather a participation in the action already accomplished by Jesus.
The Christian Year is divided into two parts. The first half begins in Advent and extends to Pentecost. The emphasis during this time should stress the life of Christ. The Year reenacts the life of Christ in the following ways: (1) Advent looks forward to the first and second coming of the Messiah; (2) At Christmas we join the shepherds in worship and adoration; (3) During Epiphany we bring our treasures with the Magi; (4) Throughout Lent we join our Lord for forty days and nights in the wilderness; (5) Holy Week and Eastertide brings us into fellowship with the sufferings of Christ in full assurance of the glory to be revealed. This reenactment of the life of Christ is not simply a biography of Jesus or a celebration of past events but an opening up of the Church itself to the memory of the Jesus story in such a way that the risen Christ is disclosed even now.
The second half of the Year is the long season of Pentecost (twenty-seven Sundays) that stresses the teachings of Jesus. This emphasis balances the earlier seasons that emphasized Jesus' life. These teachings cause the Church to look at the earthly Christians and see what the Spirit-filled community began to do and teach as they responded to the life of Jesus. The response of these early Christians is reflected in Acts and the Epistles. The question is asked, “What is God's Spirit saying to us today.”
Easter was the first great event to be celebrated by the Early Church. All the imagery of the Jewish Passover was brought into the rite, namely, the Exodus, the Passover, and the entrance into the Promised Land. The Church does not delimit the celebration of the Lord's resurrection to Easter Sunday but continues it until the day the Lord sends the Spirit.
Whether the formal celebration of Easter began in the apostolic period or in the second century is uncertain, but from the beginning it was a commemoration in a single feast of both the death and the resurrection of Christ. Hippolytus gives a description of the ceremony indicating that the celebration originated in Rome before 215 C.E.
The Easter liturgy, following a day of fasting, consisted of a vigil of readings and prayer throughout Saturday night, with the celebration of baptism and the Eucharist at dawn on Easter Day. The Church used this time to bring new initiates into the fellowship. Baptism, symbolizing the death, burial and resurrection, has had long historical and theological roots connecting it to Easter.
The Easter story brings continuity to the entire Christian Year. The early Christians celebrated Easter every Sunday, at every baptism, and at every Eucharist. The Easter story is not merely a recounting of past events, but it also celebrates the present reality in the hearts of faithful believers and anticipates their future consummation.
The historical approach to the liturgies of Holy Week was also applied to the Great Fifty Days before Pentecost. The Sundays following Easter continue the same Easter proclamation. On Easter Sunday, the congregation “proclaims and declares” the truth of resurrection. The Sundays that follow are opportunities for the preacher to deepen the congregation's understanding of the resurrection's meaning and significance. The preacher can show how the resurrection fits into God's plan for our redemption.
Pentecost is the season of the Church Year when preaching explores what it means to live as members of Christ's body. The season celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and reflects on how God's people live under the guidance of the Spirit. What does it mean to be members of God's new covenant people in Christ? The preacher will need to focus on a realistic attitude of Christian living. Ascension Day emerged as a separate celebration around the fourth century.
From Easter, the period of discipline developed known as Lent. This was a time to strengthen one's devotion. The earliest celebration began around the period of the Council of Nicaea (325 C. E.). Its origin probably lies in the formal and final period of preparation of candidates for baptism at Easter, with which those undergoing penance rapidly became associated. It slowly developed into a preparation for Easter by all. The season of Lent consists of forty weekdays. The six Sundays during Lent are exempt from the fasting and penance because they were to remain days of celebration of resurrection. This season begins on Ash Wednesday and continues to Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday). Lent is a mixed season of mourning for sin and anticipated joy of the triumph over the grave. It is a preparatory time to move the community toward Easter, therefore, Lent is an annual renewal that is not to be bogged down in penance. The themes during Lent are: (1) Temptation; (2) Repentance—renewal not remorse; (3) Sin; and (4) The offer of forgiveness. Lent has a movement toward Holy Week. The preacher needs to help the congregation bridge that gap.
Christmas and Epiphany emerged about the fourth century. The origin of these two seasons is clouded in mystery. Many hold to the opinion that the celebrations of Epiphany and later of Christmas were attempts to counter the pagan festivals surrounding winter. December 25 was a day set aside for the pagan celebration of the birthday of the sun, Natalis solis invicti, in 274 C. E. The Roman Chronograph of 354 C.E. indicates that the city acknowledged Christmas just sixty-two years later. Epiphany is a season marking the manifestation and revelation of God's gift of himself to all. The Epiphany season begins in January and extends to Ash Wednesday (four to nine Sundays depending on the year). The traditions of Christmas first developed independently of one another (Epiphany in the East and Christmas in the West). Although Epiphany began as a tradition to celebrate the Lord's birth on January 6 and his baptism, due to the overshadowing of January 6 by December 25, Epiphany is now a celebration of his baptism and the visit of the Magi.
Advent was the last season to take shape around the fifth or sixth century in Gaul and originally modeled after Lent. It is intended to be a period of preparation for Christmas and Epiphany. Originally Advent contained six Sundays but today that number has been reduced to four Sundays before Christmas. It developed from the period of fasting and worship prescribed for those who were candidates for baptism on Epiphany. The Christian calendar today begins in Advent. Advent speaks of the promise of God coming into the world. Believers are expectant that God would reveal Godself both in the incarnation and the second coming. The second advent points to our future expectation and hope for the coming revelation of God.
Liturgical preaching, although rooted in historic faith, is not content with mere description of the way things were. Liturgical preaching addresses the present reality of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers.
—Excerpts from Tim Sensing, “Strange Encounters of the Lectionary Kind.” Restoration Quarterly 37 (Fourth Quarter 1995): 227-46. See also, “Wholly Bible.” Leaven 12 (First Quarter 2004): 35-40.