Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Thematic lectionary. . .
While it might seem to be a vast improvement over the three year lectionary, I am not so sure about this direction. In essence, the proposal is to remove every vestige of the lectio continua and to choose readings that coordinate more obviously. In other words, the Gospel will drive the choices of the lessons, the revision of the collects, and all the other propers. It is not hard to see the benefit of structuring the propers in this way. After all, we live in a sound bite world in which everything important can be said in 140 characters. Why not revise the lectionary so that all three readings can be summarized by a single tweet, the theme reduced to a common thread so blunt and clear that nearly everyone can figure it out. If only it were possible to control the preacher and the sermon in this way so that the whole of the changeable parts of the Divine Service could be said in one short, pithy phrase.
The WELS blog updating the state of the new hymnal put it this way: Thematic Sundays are a chief feature of the new lectionary. For example, rather than a series of continual readings through an epistle, the second reading will fit the theme for each Sunday. Again, I get the point and can even see some justification for it all but in the end I find it all a little too neat and tidy -- a little too controlling. It is as if we want to tame God's Word by giving it a thematic structure, sort of a modern version of the old Nave's Topical Bible for the lectionary crowd. It will certainly make for easy work in preparing the homily when the pericopes all speak with one voice a common and obvious theme.
Perhaps the next thing will be to work up a thematic treatment of the hymnody.as well.
Perhaps you are surprised that I should be so concerned since I do believe that the lectionary ought to be driven by the Gospel reading and I do see the value in seamless approach to Sunday morning. But I fear we have taken it too far and taken the work away from those preparing the sermon and planning the service as if they were inept or unconcerned about it. The truth is that while there is a thematic thread already (and in the historic series that preceded the changes), there is not one exclusive theme. Indeed, there is a richness of options inherent in the structure of the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings that cannot be reduced to a simple thematic phrase -- nor should it be. So I am concerned about what this penchant for unity will do to the church at worship and to the faithful as they head home from Sunday morning. I am inclined to say that it should not be so easy or so obvious. I am not trying to be smug about the efforts of our relatives in Wisconsin. I am raising a larger question about the direction of this liturgical progress and the shape of our future as revision and change come to the lectionary. I wonder if there are others who agree.