Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Word of the Lord endures forever. . .

Interesting. . .   A cursory pursuit of the lectionary in use by Luther and the Tridentine Lectionary provide a conundrum of sorts.  The 1570 lectionary from Trent has a most interesting juxtaposition of readings.  On the last Sunday of the Church Year the Gospel is Matthew 24:15-35 and the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent is Luke 21:25-33.  Apparently the lectionary Luther used has the Matthean text as the 25th Sunday after Trinity and the Lukan text appointed for the Second Sunday in Advent (taken from Luther's sermons, anyway).  I have not spent much time trying to discern what exactly the lectionary was in use at the time of Luther, how differently this varied from place to place, or the rationale for the liturgical change, if there was one, following the Council of Trent.

What I found most interesting is that both the Gospel for the last Sunday of the Church Year and the Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent (at least the Tridentine lectionary) end with the exact same words:  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Cælum et terra transíbunt, verba autem mea non præteríbunt ).

According to information from Father Felix Just, SJ, the Tridentine lectionary had a marvelous tie between the final Sunday of one church year and the beginning of another.  Though we make much of the end of a church year and its start up again in Advent, I suspect that the distinction might have been much less for Luther or those of his era.  In fact, the tie between the Gospel readings for the two Sundays seems to connect the two in ways we normally do not today.  It has made me think a bit more about our typical practice, especially in light of the grand end given by the designation of that final Sunday of the Church Year as Christ the King.  However, even there the tie between the final Sunday of the Church Year (A had Jesus speaking of the King who assembles His people in judgment) and the Gospel for Advent 1 (B wherein the King rides in on a donkey while coats and palms are laid before Him) is also unmistakable.

The end of the Gospels at the final Sunday in one church year and the manner in which we begin the next Church Year in Advent form a seamless fabric that seems to belie the idea that something is ending or something else is beginning.  In fact, what we have here is a solemn continuity between time as it rushes to its end  (culmination) and the now of eternity (already thrusting into this day and time).  In this way, we are encouraged to see how the Church at prayer and Word of God through which the Kingdom is proclaimed are united in the blessed moment of this day and in the anticipation of the eternal day.

Pastorally, this means that we should not make too much of the break as one Church Year ends and one begins but rather help our people see the tie between the two as the Church, in but not of the world, awaits the end of the world and the beginning of the eternity long promised.  It is a seamless connection that is made more distinct by the traditions that have attempted to build a wall between them but it is worth our attention as we preach and teach.  I write this now so that you have something to ponder as you may approach the last November Sunday of this current year and the beginning of Advent.  Though a bit of this is retained in the three year lectionary, the distinct overlap is missing in it.  And, in fact, the wonderful tie in the promise of Jesus makes the connection even more profound in the Tridentine lectionary and its absence more telling for other lectionaries.

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