The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is a commonly used three-year table of readings for Sunday services (and other major days on which services are held). It finds its roots in the Roman Catholic “Ordo Lectionum Missae” of 1969, but does differ in content at various points. I’m generally in favour of lectionaries, in that it is important that Christians hear from the full range of Scripture. It is a valuable guard against a minister picking only passages which support his errant teachings, and skipping those which would expose them as error. On the other hand, I don’t think the RCL is a good lectionary. I’ll give you another reason for this in today’s post.
Defenders of the RCL will tell you that you just can’t read everything, and hard decisions do need to be made as to what gets left out. Now, if this is really the struggle the compilers had, we’d see them doing their best to cover as much as they could within the parameters of length and reading count they have determined reasonable.
Take a look at this graph:
It’s compiled from the excellent When Will It Be Read page and associated spreadsheet. The slices show you how many times a given reading is read in the course of Sundays and major services – so, if John 15:18-25 is read three times, then those three readings go under slice ’3′ (in fact, that passage isn’t ever read, so doesn’t figure at all). The figures around the edge show you how many total readings fall into that class.
So, looking at slice ’4′, you see that 308 of the slots over the three years are filled by readings which are heard four times.
What the graph shows is that 40.6% of all lectionary slots are given to readings heard four or more times. An important reading that the compilers think must be heard every year would only score 3 (being a 3 year lectionary) … we see over 40% of slots filled by stuff heard even more frequently!
Now, there are surely ‘reasons’ for many of these, and doubtless there will be minor errors in the source data, yet – even given this – it is clear that the priority was not to cover as much Scripture as possible in the time assigned.
I have no problem with hearing the same reading 4, 5, or even 15 times – but not if it comes at the cost of never hearing other parts of Scripture. Philippians 2:1-13 is an important text; but is it so important that we need to hear it seven times – at the cost of never hearing Philippians 2:14-3:4?
I again submit the suggestion of adopting a seven year lectionary designed to include every word of Scripture. Of course, if we could find a way to bring the majority of Christians together around the Word on a daily basis, we’d cover much much more Scripture through the daily readings (2 year) cycle… but that’s a much harder task than compiling a seven year lectionary!