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Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary and/or the Narrative Lectionary

See older posts from 2006 to 2014 on the blog archive site at blogarchive.kairosucc.org

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
Easter Vigil: Genesis 1:1-2:4a AND Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26, Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18 AND Psalm 46:1-11, Genesis 22:1-18 AND Psalm 16:1-11, Exodus 14:10-21; 15:20-21 AND Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18, Isaiah 55:1-11 AND Isaiah 12:2-6, Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 OR Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 AND Psalm 19:1-14, Ezekiel 36:24-28 AND Psalms AND Psalm 98:1-9, Romans 6:3-11 AND Psalm 114:1=8, Matthew 27:1-10
Resurrection of the Lord: Act 10:34-43 OR Jeremiah 31:1-6, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-18 OR Matthew 28:1-10
Easter Evening: Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 114:1-8, I Corinthians 5:6b-8, Luke 24:13-49

You can see that we have a ton of scriptures for Easter Sunday. The reasons are buried in the workings of church traditions which have many “set” services for Holy Week and Easter, including something called “Easter Vigil.” Easter Vigil was/is a long service in darkness that usually includes baptism. Think of it, maybe, as an Easter sunrise services, but more. Some traditions have a midnight service as Saturday turns to Sunday. Today, I’m just taking all these readings as a variety of scriptures that shed some light on our understanding of Easter, and I’m not even looking at the Easter Vigil text.

Both my memory and the internet fail me at times. Two memories came to mind that I would like to have included in my writing today---a song, Go to Galilee, by Rev. Al Carmines, and a joke about a child’s image of what it meant for Jesus to live inside him. I couldn’t remember either nor could I find them on the internet. I have the song on an old cassette tape, but I can’t get it to play on the only machine I own that is equipped to play such things. (If you want to know who Al Carmines is, you will find extensive information about him online.)

Easter discussions sometime get bogged down in how the resurrection happened, trying to describe, or debunk, the physical details. More power to you wherever you want to go with that. I won’t argue with you one way or another. What remains important to me is where we look for Jesus today and what we should look for?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
For Palm Sunday: Psalm 118:1-2, 18-29, Matthew 21:1-11
For Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66

It’s all about the authority which we allow to guide our lives, and about the kind of “king” that is worthy of that kind of obedience.

I came of age in an era when the term “counterculture” came into widespread use. Intentional communities (some called them “communes”) grew up where people attempted to live by values which challenged those prevailing in the wider and dominant culture. I was enamored with these communities and maintained contact with a number of them, although I never fully moved into one. In my adult years, I did spend a three-month sabbatical at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study and retreat center which functioned as an “alternative” residential community.

The churches of my early years were alternative communities of sorts. They refused to accept the cultural norms for the use of makeup, entertainment (no movies or dancing, for example), alcohol, etc. I remember refusing to participate when physical education included dancing. One may disagree with these particular restrictions, but there is no question that there was a bit of a countercultural attitude at work here.

Counterculturalism sometimes walks a fine line, leading to conspiracy theories and snipers, but, to this day, I find myself feeling a bit (and sometimes more than a bit) of dis-ease (and disease) with the values that seem to drive so much of society. My focus (and my denominational affiliation) have shifted to a concern for justice and peace. I look for alternatives to greed and reliance upon power and force. I look for compassion and cooperation rather than selfishness and competitiveness and conflict.

One of the ways scripture approaches such issues is by putting before us the choice of a “king,” calling us to think about what king, and what kind of king, we are ready to follow. The prophets, and Jesus, and the early church were often seen as a threat to the loyalty earthly kings demanded.

We see the threat coming to a climax in this week’s lectionary readings.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130:1-8, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

Ezekiel 37:8, part of one of the two long stories the lectionary gives us this week, is my starting point. It is a story that stirs childhood memories for me. Quartets from what was then called Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University) used to visit the church I was attending. They actually stayed in our home. Their program was rich in Bible stories, often with a lot of acting while they were singing.

Singing about “Dem Bones,” they herky-jerked around as the bones flopped about and came together. The words? “Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel connected dem dry bones, Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, Now hear the word of the Lord.”

“Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.”

“Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around. Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around. Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around. Now hear the word of the Lord.”

It turns out, though, that it’s about a lot more than bones getting connected. Here's what Ezekiel says (Ezekiel 37:8) after the bones he saw in that valley were reconnected: “I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them, but there was no breath in them.”

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
Annunciation Day: Isaiah 7:10-14, Psalm 45:1-17 OR Psalm 40:5-10, Hebrews 10:4-10, Luke 1:26-38
Fourth Sunday in Lent: I Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23:1-6, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

I’m a theme sort of guy. I like to find common threads and see connections across lots of scriptures, including the sometimes seemingly random weekly selections from The Revised Common Lectionary. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to come to me.

This is such a week. Perhaps it is because we got back late Tuesday from celebrating our son’s wedding and our granddaughter’s playing Ursula in The Little Mermaid---both in Hawaii where they live---to find a message on our answering machine that Margie, my wife, was to start chemo on Thursday morning. It wasn’t unexpected, but seven hours at the oncology center made a long day. We have to go back this afternoon (Friday).

All that’s not to dismiss this week’s readings. In fact, I found them particularly rich. I just didn’t find an integrating theme. There are some references to light and seeing. “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light---for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true . . . (E)verything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-9, 13-14) Then there are the words are spoken by Jesus as he is dealing with questions of blindness and sight in the presence of “a man blind from birth.”  "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1 & 5)  After restoring the blind man’s sight, Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind,” prompting the Pharisees to ask, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (vss. 39-40)

 Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95:1-11, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

All did not go well with the Israelites when they escaped from Egypt. They got hungry and thirsty and began to complain. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3) After all, we can’t live very long without water. I suppose there’s nothing much more panic-inducing than extreme thirst. I really (really!) can’t imagine it. And then to have to watch your children suffering. How much worse can it get?

It still goes on in parts of the world. Experts tell us that the most critical geopolitical issue in the coming years is probably water and its distribution, and attempts to control it by various political and tribal and national entities. So, water and suffering are related.

Then there’s the issue of suffering, in and of itself. Why me? Why? Why? Why? It’s a question that has plagued humanity since the beginning of time. How can a good and loving God allow such pain and suffering and conflict and destruction? Rabbi Harold Kushner’s 1981 book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is still widely read. For many, it was one of the most helpful attempts to answer a question that has no fully satisfactory answer. Notice that the title talks about “When,” not “Why.” Kushner, and I believe much of the Bible, assumes that bad things will happen to everyone. The critical question is, perhaps, how we respond when they do. It can be relatively easy to live “by faith” when we are comfortable and things are going well. Sooner or later, though, some challenges are going to come our way.

 Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121:1-8, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17 OR Matthew 17:1-9

This week’s lectionary readings got me to thinking about how human beings choose up sides, often dividing life into “us” and “them.” Over the years people have also had very definite ideas about whose side God is on, or whether or not “we” are on God’s side.

During the years of my childhood and youth, we used to sing, with great enthusiasm, “Who is on the Lord’s Side?” by Frances R. Havergal. “Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King? Who will be His helpers other lives to bring? Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe? Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?  By Thy call of mercy, By Thy grace divine, We are on the Lord’s side, Savior, we are Thine.” I’ve since come to see it as more than a bit arrogant. We were trying to declare our faith, but a little humility mixed in wouldn’t have hurt!

In my early life, playground games and sports used to involve “Choosing Up Sides.” The “alphas” in the group were always the team captains, the ones doing the choosing. They took turns calling out the names of those each wanted on his or her team. I knew I was going to be one of the last, because most of my genes didn’t contribute to athletic prowess. Today, I believe this method of choosing teams has been largely abandoned, but what if we didn’t have to choose up teams at all?

Both the tendency toward exclusivity and nationalism and the sensitivity to a God who is all inclusive are present in the Bible, and we still are deeply influenced by a sense of tribalism.

 Revised Common Lectionary Readings:

Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 OR Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-7, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
First Sunday in Lent: Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7, Psalm 32:1-11, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

I write this on Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten season. What am I supposed to do with this plethora of texts, since I’ve included the Ash Wednesday reading along with the readings for the coming Sunday?

I decided it was time to do a little research into the origins of Lent. The most common association many probably make with Lent is the nation of “giving something up” for the duration, say sweets or TV or Facebook. Our breakfast meets on Tuesday, this week Mardi Gras (i.e., Fat Tuesday). It’s a day marked by pancake feasts in many of the communities where I served as pastor, a day to indulge a feast before the fasting.

As a seasonal observation, Lent did not get established until the 4th century, although there were a gradually lengthening fasting period (starting with a day or two), usually before Easter. Many believe that the practice originated as a way of preparing for baptism, which frequently occurred at sunrise on Easter morning. Even this, of course, is disputed by some historians, but I’m content to hang my thoughts this week on that understanding of Lenten origins.

Lent can be a season for reflecting and focusing upon the meaning of our baptism. It is a time for bringing one’s life into focus, for discovering what is “the one important reality” of our lives. I think of it as a time of introspection, of self-examination, a time to ask what are the foundations upon which our lives have been built, are built, and are being built.

Our lives, our thoughts, our actions, our world, become so cluttered. Can we, during the season of Lent, peel through some of the things that are less essential, some of the distractions, and move to a place where we can celebrate what truly gives meaning?

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