Getting on the same page – a totally unexpected development

Why use the Lectionary? Who compiled it? Why are there variations and alternative readings, so the Church sometimes is and sometimes isn’t on the same page? Why does my own church, the Church of England, have a different set of readings from the Revised Common lectionary at this time of year? I have just found that some answers are offered by Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Here they are:

Q: How similar is the ecumenical system to the original Roman scheme?
A: The three-year, three-reading plan is exactly the same. The calendar is virtually the same. The Gospel readings are almost always the same, as are the second-lesson selections, drawn from the Epistles and (after Easter) the books of Acts and Revelation. The only serious divergence is at the point of the Hebrew Bible lessons after Pentecost, where we laid aside the Roman typological choices in favor of a broader kind of linkage that uses the Patriarchal/Mosaic narrative for Year A (Matthew), The Davidic narrative for Year B (Mark), and the Elijah/Elisha/Minor Prophets series for Year C (Luke).
Q: What is the rationale for that?
A: In our initial survey of Protestant use of the denominational variants of the Roman table, we discovered that there was unhappiness at the absence of the Old Testament’s narrative and historical literature, as well as a deficiency of Wisdom texts. So we have tried to remedy that with our more expansive kind of linkage, but for the purposes of ecumenical acceptability we continue to publish an alternative Old Testament set that is closer to the Roman, Episcopal and Lutheran tables in this regard for the Sundays after Pentecost.
Q: How widely is the Revised Common Lectionary now being used?
A: The information we gathered is compelling. Throughout the English-speaking world, most churches that have anything like a tradition of lectionary use are recommending our work.
Q: What is the ecumenical significance of this development?
A: In the first place, it is a totally unexpected development in that after all these centuries since the 16th-century reformation, many of the churches that divided at that time are now committed to reading the scriptures together Sunday by Sunday. This is a kind of ecumenism nobody anticipated, least of all the Roman See. And it makes possible wonderful weekly clergy gatherings all over the world for the purpose of mutual work on sermons and homilies.
Q: The question keeps recurring from just such groups as to why on so many Sundays there seems to be no clear theological or thematic relationship among the readings. Can you explain this?
A: The thematic situation is different depending on whether you are in the core liturgical seasons of Advent through to Lent and Lent through to the Day of Pentecost, or in that long stretch of Sundays between Pentecost and Advent, known in Roman terminology as Ordinary Time. In the festival liturgical seasons there always will be an obvious (we hope) unity that is governed by the Gospel lesson for the day. In post-Pentecost Ordinary Time, however, the situation is quite different, and not even the most sophisticated guides to lectionary preaching seem always to be aware of this. On those Sundays, we cut loose the Old Testament reading from the Gospel on a Sunday-by-Sunday basis, even though we chose those readings from First Testament books that the Gospel author (of- the year) seems most interested in – i.e., Matthew/Patriarchs and Moses, Mark/David, and Luke/Prophets.
In that same time, preacher should notice that the second (New Testament) reading proceeds from week to week on a continuous chapter-by-chapter course, and so there will be no obvious correlation between that lesson and the Gospel or the Old Testament. So on those Sundays the three readings, which have deliberately no thematic interrelationship, are all proceeding on a continuous or semi-continuous track.. If this were thought curious or troublesome, it should be remembered that such an in course sequence of reading is borrowed directly from the synagogue’s use of the Torah and the subsequent practice of the churches of the first several centuries. That is to say, the public reading of the scriptures was never originally conceived simply as source texts for preaching, but rather as the only possible way to acquaint the congregation with as much of the scriptures as possible. And that of course is the expressed intention of the Vatican Council’s desired revision of the Roman lectionary, and therefore of all systems derived from it.
Q: What does that mean for sermon preparation, particularly in those Ordinary Time Sundays after Pentecost?
A: That question regularly comes when someone says that they use the lectionary sometimes, meaning that they avoid it in Ordinary Time. It misses the point of the continuous principle altogether. That is to say, during that time the preacher who is serious about the lectionary must decide which track (Gospel, New Testament or Old Testament) to use Sunday by Sunday. Certainly there should be no attempt to force a thematic unity on all three readings where none in fact exists. Much less should the preacher hop, skip and jump around among three sets of readings that are organized on a week-to-week basis. The radical shift that this system requires is for the preacher to think about weekly preaching as sequential rather than thematic.

You can read more over at Consultation on Common Texts

reality

Here is a thought. The Church service is making its participants holy. More ontologically, it is bringing its participants into being, which is to say being-in-relationship with God, and through him, with one another. In that service the Christians are let in on the reality of things. Much of what we presently take to be real, may turn out not to be. In the church service we are given a glimpse of the future, in which some of what the weekday world takes to be real, turns out to be without reality. In that service we are woken from that weekday dream world, though we can only very slowly be brought round. Only when everybody is brought round, the mass hallucination will be over and gone, and we will live in reality, able to see and acknowledge everyone, all those whose reality we were in denial about. We will be able to name every other person and so to call every other person into being, and sustain them in being, and thus we will all be raised and finally become real. The resurrection and reality of each one of us depends on the resurrection into reality of the very last.

Two sons

The Lord God said to Adam ‘Come with me into the world I am making and I will show you how to look after it.’ Adam went along, and watched what his Lord was doing, and began to learn the skills of cultivating the world. But after a bit he stopped working, and just watched. But after just watching he grew first bored and lazy and tired until he was overtaken by sleep. So the Lord called again. Out from the sleeping body of Adam stepped Israel. Israel answered the Lord, ‘I will learn how to work with you’. Israel went back to work in the garden. The Lord taught him how to garden, and he was content. But after a while Israel thought ‘I am the favourite son of the Lord, this work is beneath me.’ But though Israel stopped working, others didn’t, and as these others cultivated, they grew stronger. Because he hadn’t worked or grown, Israel he became afraid of the other workers, who were by now bigger than he was. Rather than leading them, they led him. He did what they were doing, and was ashamed. The others made Israel join in their games of ‘who is top dog’. Israel paid their forfeits and carried their bags and burdens. Unwilling to admit this, even to himself, Israel was increasingly unwilling to keep in touch with the Lord. With embarrassment grew estrangement, while others filled the gap, effectively becoming Israel’s masters. Finally the Lord called, but Israel did not come. But from where Israel was hiding stepped one single Israelite, Jesus. And the Lord said to Jesus, ‘You have been here with me since the beginning of the day, for you were in Adam, and when all of Adam gave up and there was nothing of him left but Israel, you were in Israel, and now there is no one here from Israel except you. All day we have sown and planted and watered, and now the harvest is here. Let us go out again to harvest.’ And the Son went out with the Lord and harvested. And what he had sowed produced a crop, so as the result of his labour he has enough for the world, and so the whole world has become his world.
In this account the Son worked and the result was that the world became his, or he became lord. This is a Christology from below, adoptionist even. We need it in order to show that something changed, something happened. Between God and man an event occurred, and man was finally a real actor in that event. Man was joined to God and not afterward abandoned. Any christological account that starts from above, must show that having defeated sin, the Son does not simply return where he came from, divinity returning to God, humanity returning to us. They must show that the Son stays with us, and the incarnation is ongoing, so everything is different now. They must show that Jesus Christ brings into being what did not exist before him, and he holds in being, without limit. We must show the Son of God becomes real man and remains with us. Jesus Christ is the first man, the real man, the future criterion of man-who-is-with-God. The Son endured discipline and by perseverance and without protest, demonstrated that he was a true son of his Father. No hired hand, he regarded the work he was given not as someone else’s work, but as his Father’s, and therefore also as his. Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

Mihail on theology and religious studies

Dear Mihail, Thanks for your news and photos – I envy you that snow, no sign of a real winter here. We are still in London as before. N is back at work part-time while I alternate between book and baby. That was a great paper and a good read too.
You say that Christian theologians do not read enough religious studies and that this makes them poor conversation partners in the university. But I think that Christian theologians should engage, not with religious studies, but with all studies. Religious studies has no greater claim on our attention than any other discipline. I think that the university is most basically a conversation between
Plato and Christ, so Christian theologians should therefore engage with Plato – and through him with the whole wonderful array of sciences and human sciences. In my view, the discipline we have most to do with is politics (and its history). Religious studies is just a form of politics that denies it is political.
I think we should cut
Kant out and speak straight to Plato, the master. Why? Because Kant is not honest: he wants to have two roles at once. He wants to be our interlocutor, which is the same status that we and everybody else has round the table, and a member of the university, the round table of knowledge. But he also wants to be chairman and referee, so he can blow his little whistle and rule certain speeches and certain discourse out. So one question we have to ask Kant is: are you in this discourse and dialogue, or are you above it? Do you concede the discipline of this discourse, with the rest of us, or are you certain that you have nothing to learn, that your knowledge is uniquely from some source of your own, so that you are above us? Kant believes that he has no need to submit himself to the university, in which theology is one among many disciplines. He denies that his views are a tradition, one tradition amongst others, that they have a history, which might have been, and could still be, different.
You don’t query what
Kant has done, Mihail. He has disguised from us that these are all decisions that someone (the political philosophical tradition) has taken for us, and they are political (ie open to our revision and change), not religious (above challenge). ‘Religion’ can only be politics that is not honest about being political. ‘Religion’ is just that politics which the elite has decided is stupid and unacceptable. Kant, Hobbes, Spinoza and company are trying to get the proles to shut up, by ruling out all their rights to participate in the discussion of what is true and good.
So I think that the real ‘other’ and dialogue partner of Christianity is not the ‘religion’ of some ethnicity from some other continent (
Asia or Africa), but our very own secular-worldly tradition, which we must examine through its pagan, Greek, Roman history. It is we whom the Christian tradition is addressing, us with all our Greco-Roman baggage. You have not queried the secular-sacred distinction at all. The Christian gospel is addressing our total, and that means our everyday and secular, being. Christianity does not observe the sacred-secular distinction on which religious studies is premised: it refuses this secular distinction, because it claims the world and this present age (saeculum) as every other age.
But you are right. Theologians don’t read widely enough, and so are poor conversation-partners in the university. But theologians shouldn’t just read Eliade and disciplines ancillary to religious studies (anthropology, psychology), but politics and economics, and history and literature – all your own favourites. But that is small beer beside the real criticism which must be made of us, that we are Scripturally-illiterate, hard of hearing and ourselves hardly receive the gospel we have to pass on. Anyway a great paper. Send us another.

Epiphany

Epiphany means appearance (See, I told you this is about stating the obvious). Epiphany means revelation and the mystery (secret) now revealed. That God’s appearing, his arrival, here, with us. He, the Lord, has come to us, man. So we can call him Immanuel, God with us. He said he would, his coming and arrival has been forecast and looked forward to for weeks, the weeks of Advent (=coming). So we could regard the Feast of Christ, Christmas, as the first part of Epiphany. Epiphany is a matter of stages. Who God is for us, in Jesus, is revealed to us bit by bit, week by week as it were.

So we are in the season of Epiphany. Last week was the naming and circumcision of Christ – the first stage.

This week, Epiphany itself, all the kings of the earth come to worship Jesus as king of Israel, and as their own king. Even these gentiles come, while the present puppet king of Israel, Herod, does not recognise or worship him. So this week we had Isaiah 60: 1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away… They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Then we had Psalm 72.

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

We replied with: ALL KINGS BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM; NATIONS ALL ADORE

Then we had Ephesians 3: 1-12 spelling out this epiphany-appearance. What is appearing now is what (though long trailed and previewed to Israel) was quite unknown to the world, a secret the existence of which the world never suspected.

The mystery was made known by revelation.. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel… to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (In other words, it is not so much that we bring him gold and gifts, but that he represents the wealth of God that is now to be given to us).

Then the gospel is read. Matthew 2: 1-12.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage… When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These are the readings set down by the Lectionary which, together with Common Worship, determines the course of each service in our Church.

So you see, in the next few weeks, through demonstrations (miracles) and instruction, we are taught who Jesus is, and we thereby learn who God is, and we are taught this by God, through these specific Scriptures and the rest of the service. More anon.

Zizioulas on Church and eucharist

In order to find the deeper roots of this coincidence between Church and Eucharist we must again go back to the question of the relation between Christology and Pneumatology. All the biblical accounts of Christology seem to speak of Christ as being constituted by the Holy Spirit and in this sense as a corporate personality, the Servant of God or the Son of Man. The Person of Christ is automatically linked with the Holy Spirit, which means with a community. This community is the eschatological company of the Saints who surround Christ in this kingdom. This Church is part of the definition of Christ. The body of Christ is not first the body of the individual Christ and then a community of ‘many’, but simultaneously both together. Thus you cannot have the body of the individual Christ (the One) without having simultaneously the community of the Church (The Many). The Eucharist is the only occasion in history when these two coincide. In the Eucharist the expression ‘body of Christ’ means simultaneously the body of Jesus and the body of the Church.

[John Zizioulas The ecclesiological presuppositions of the holy Eucharist]