26 December 2008

Three in One and One in Three

Having moved from the somber joy of Advent to the holy days of Christmas, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the lectionary. I am unapologetically a three-year preacher. I heard it in the pews since the advent of Lutheran Worship. I learned to preach from it at the sem where I also studied its history and theology from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum concilium. I’ve used LW’s revised common three-year lectionary for 16 years of preaching in Holy Trinity’s pulpit.

I appreciate the annual cycles through a particular synoptic Gospel, giving attention to the subtle nuances of each evangelist which inevitably get lost in harmonization. I like the broad variety of texts during “ordinary time,” the green seasons of Pentecost and to a lesser extent Epiphanytide. I like the way the Epiphany season is constructed, beginning with Jesus’ Baptism and ending with His Transfiguration. I like the continuous readings through various epistles in ordinary time, allowing the preacher to examine an epistle in some detail from the pulpit. All of these I consider strengths of the three-year lectionary.

I don’t care for the seemingly endless stream of Sundays in John 6 that the old 3-year series had (apologies to Frank Senn for this). How many “Bread of LIfe” sermons can one preach in a row? I also don’t care for the variation of readings at the major festivals, the most notorious being Pentecost. The revised 3-year series in LSB has improved this somewhat. But it is in the festival cycle that the genius of the one-year lectionary stands out, providing a solid foundation of texts for the major festivals of our Lord.

I sincerely wish that we had adopted the hybrid lectionary initially proposed by the Lectionary Committee. Yes, it was a little complicated, at times resembling an NFL playbook, but the idea was, in my opinion, a stroke of genius. During the festival part of the church year, it was a one-year series in line with the “historic” series. Each year, the same set of readings would be heard from Advent through Pentecost. But during “ordinary time,” Pentecost- and Epiphanytides, it became a three-year series, providing different readings in a three year cycle.

The time of the festivals had a reliably repetitive series of texts. Festivals don’t change in their content and meaning. The preacher can link back to all the great (and not so great) sermons preached on those feasts from the past. The time of teaching had a broader exposure to the whole counsel of God, allowing the preacher to expound on more words and works of Jesus. Plus, it respected the unique viewpoint of each synoptic writer, something that is completely lost when one harmonizes Matthew, Mark, and Luke not to mention John.

It would have been the best of both worlds , but sadly it was not to be. I suppose one could rig one’s own hybrid vehicle out of the current three- and one-year series, but it’s more fun to have others in the sandbox with you. Maybe next time.


Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

And then, there's always Nesper's Biblical Texts.

Rev. Jacob Sutton said...

Pastor Cwirla,
I've often had the same thought, to have the 1-year series for the Festival half of the Church Year, and the 3-year rotation for the non-Festival half. I did not realize this was a proposal of the LSB committee.

I suppose the only drawback to going off on your own and following through with such an idea is that one is going off on one's own... but truthfully, one is not being totally sectarian, because no matter what, one is with brothers in the Church whatever half of the year one is in if one were to follow such a plan.

Are there other negative drawbacks to such an idea? Other than that it is not "officially" sanctioned?

wmc said...

I hadn't thought of that when I wrote this. You can play in both sandboxes this way. 1-year for festivals; 3-year for ordinary time. Both/and - I like it!

wmc said...

And then, there's always Nesper's Biblical Texts.

And the Eisenach lectionary.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

The proposal of a "hybrid" lectionary, combining aspects and characteristics of both the traditional and three-year lectionaries, was one that I offered in the initial stages of the hymnal project. It was the topic that I was "assigned" to present at the colloquium of young scholars convened by the Commission on Worship in February 1998. When I was later appointed to serve on the Lectionary Committee, my colleagues in that work did me the courtesy of considering the proposal I had made, but it never went any where. The consensus was that it was a compromise approach that would ultimately not satisfy anyone, but would probably irritate everyone. Coming up with such things seems to be my forte.

I probably jinxed the idea by making it too complicated too soon. I combined too many different "features" in what I attempted to present, which is why it seemed complex at some points. When we then considered the idea in committee, it was difficult for my colleagues to separate the basic concept from the particulars I had bandied about. My bad.

Nevertheless, it's not quite as simple as one might expect; which is a large part of the reason that I ended up overworking it in the first place. You can't simply use the historic lectionary through Holy Trinity and then switch to the three-year lectionary for the remainder of the Church Year. Various readings included in the historic lectionary during Epiphany, Lent and Easter are assigned to the Sundays post-Pentecost in the three-year lectionary. That's the main bugaboo.

There were some other ways in which I attempted to integrate the two lectionaries, which resulted in something new altogether; and that was the thing, I think, that killed any possibility of pursuing it for the Lutheran Service Book. As things turned out, I don't believe the Commission on Worship would have permitted anything along these lines, no matter how gently and conservatively it might have been done.

Some vestiges of my original proposal and the underlying idea did manage to survive in the LSB version of the three-year lectionary. The contours of Advent, for example, follow more closely those of the historic lectionary. Also, the lections and propers orbitting the several major feasts of the Church Year are as similar as possible between the historic and three-year lectionaries. Eastertide in Series C approximates the historic lectionary, as well, though there are divergences there, obviously.

Interestingly, for several years after my initial proposal was published in a volume of essays coinciding with the beginning of the hymnal project, I received comments from colleagues around the Synod similar to those that Pastor Cwirla has offered here. More than once, I've wondered if we might have been able to accomplish something that would have been broadly well-received. But I suspect that, ultimately, it would not have been accepted.

If the muse strikes me, I might dig out my reams of notes from back in the day, and see how easily one might adjust the Sundays post-Pentecost, so as to integrate with the historic festival half of the Church Year. It would be interesting to see the results.

Pr. H. R. said...

My experience is rather the mirror opposite of Pr. Cwirla: too young to remember growing up with anything but the three year, I went through synodical college, seminary, and my first call without the one-year lectionary even being a real option, let alone competitor. But then I tried it and converted for all the reasons one can read elsewhere.

But for those who want a taste of each, it seems that there is an easier method. Simply run a six or four year cycle (giving the 1 year lectionary either equal or quarter time with the three year).

The six year would look like this:
Year 1: A
Year 2: 1yr
Year 3: C
Year 4: 1yr
Year 5: B
Year 6: 1yr

So you'd always be in step with somebody, year to year, and it would be much easier than the season by season approach. . .


wmc said...

Of all the men I know in the ministry, only our brother Rick has the patience and attention to textual detail to deal with issues of lectionary. The hybrid idea always intrigued me when I was on the LSB committee. I do appreciate where the influences have found their way into the revised 3-year lectionary.

wmc said...

The six year plan has much to commend. It's an even-handed 3 years with each; the best of both worlds. I may very well try this over the next six years and see how it goes. Does this mean I have to do those -gesima Sundays next year?

Pr. H. R. said...

The Gesimas are great - just rolls of the tongue like a fine wine - plus, they form a nice Reformation trio of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura.

I'd recommend two things for anybody who wants to tackle the historic lectionary:

1. Read through Luther's sermons each week as you go: best (and cheapest!) homiletics class you'll ever take.
2. Find a used copy of Pious Parsch's The Church's Year of Grace. Parsch is an evangelical-tongued Papist (a German Augustinian, even!) writing in the mid-20th century. His comments on the week's liturgy and "drama" are fantastic.


wmc said...

Even us three-year men read Luther's sermons. Always sound advice. We'll have to check out Pious Parsch the Papist. German Augustinians can't be all bad.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I've also appreciated Parsch's work. I was able to get a nice set of his volumes, used but in great condition, via Amazon or some such online "bookstore." It is one of the resources that I find most helpful and tend to use most frequently.

And I spent years reading Luther's sermons every week. Good stuff, and not only for those using the historic lectionary.

I've considered the sort of six-year cycle of alternation between the historic and three-year lectionaries, but I don't think it provides a satisfactory compromise. I don't think it's a bad thing to do, but I do think you end up losing more than you gain. The greatest strength of the historic lectionary is its annual repetition of the same texts. Interposing something different every other year robs that strength considerably. As far as the three-year lectionary is concerned, lengthening the cycle from three to six years in between repetitions would not be so helpful, in my opinion. The slight differences in the shape of the year (the Gesimas, for example) would also be unnerving, if one were switching back and forth from one year to the next (like those congregations that tried to alternate between TLH and LW Divine Service ONE from one week to the next!). It's like picking the scab off a wound every day, so that it never can heal.

I think there is more potential benefit to the possibility of using the historic lections for the festival half of the year, and the three-year cycle of semi-continuous lections during the Time of the Church. In fact, that sort of arrangement would end up looking a lot like the way the lectionary developed to begin with. The Eastern lectionary is still basically a lectio continua of Matthew and Luke between Pentecost and the beginning of their Great Lent.

I've done a little looking at the overlap between the historic festival half and the three-year post-Pentecost half, and it's not as great as thought it was. Even counting parallel texts as repeats, there appear to be less than ten places where a Gospel in the three-year lectionary would need to be replaced with something else, in order to avoid repetition with the same year.

Reading through Matthew, Mark and Luke in successive years after Pentecost, while returning to the same historic cycle of texts from Advent through Holy Trinity every year, has much to commend it. I'm going to continue looking at the possibilities, and, who knows?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Okay, for anyone who may be interested, I've offered my comments and suggestions for a "Three-and-One Lectionary" on my blog:


I actually think that it might work fairly well and rather easily.

William Weedon said...

Something that I picked up from Pr. Asburry, I think, is to use the Historic series for Sundays and at the midweek Eucharist to use the 3 year series.

wmc said...

Not a bad idea, provided you a) have a midweek Eucharist, and b) if more than a handful attend it.