So, something cool happened–Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources for the UMC’s General Board of Discipleship, stopped by to comment on my previous post on the lectionary, the canon, and the function and role of narrative. Check out his comment here. He provides an excellent explanation of the history, role, and function of the Revised Common Lectionary. I’m posting my response here so that the broader conversation is heard. What say ye?
Thanks much for the comment on my blog post regarding the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). I appreciate your bringing your knowledge and thinking to bear on this conversation. I agree 100% about the most pronounced seasons of Advent-Christmastide and Lent-Eastertide (though I’m probably more given to think openly about the “-tide” parts of those.) I wrestle with this tension of: (a) recognizing the value of marking time distinctively, which happens in observance of the Christian Year, or at minimum in following the major seasons, plus some individual days–first, Pentecost and Baptism of the Lord, then Trinity Sunday and Christ the King Sunday, and (b) taking seriously the narrative structure of the canon and, within that, the individual books.
In that vein, you can help me with my history. You said, “Meanwhile, what we know about very early lectionaries is just how varied they were. Books were not necessarily preached through from place to place and from time to time. The Canonical Shape of scripture is not, in fact, that which emerges in those days– in large part, of course, because the exact form of that canon was not entirely set in place until literally well over a millennium later.”
What time range are you thinking of when you say, “well over a millennium later”? I’m thinking of Athanasius’ being the first to list all 27 books of the NT and only those 27 books as those that were holding authority in the churches. Perhaps the book order was not settled, and yes, no Council of the Church had yet ratified Athanasius’ designation, but there was an active effort to settle on a list/canon of Scripture early on.
Of course, I probably didn’t make it clear enough that I am not primarily referring to the order of the books, but rather to the narrative structure of each individual book, which is not something the lectionary has been particularly bound to when assigning texts to each given week, even apart from this year’s, apparently rare, awkward handling of the passages in Matthew 2. Parts are skipped and rearranged throughout the year which creates a alternative experience of the narrative structure of a particular book, say, the Gospel of Matthew, or especially in the Gospel of John, which doesn’t even have a year dedicated to it, but shows up in pieces and parts in each year.
Again, many thanks for engaging in this conversation–very enriching to get a good perspective on the RCL.