Scripture Readings

The Scripture readings appear after the Prayer of the Day, which I wrote about in March.  They are the most specific Word-centric part of the Service of Holy Communion, consisting of four Scripture readings plus the proclamation of God’s Word in the sermon.

Scriptures are read from the lectern, and in my congregation, they are read by a lay person.  As a reader myself, I make sure that I’ve read through the scriptures several times before I read them in our church service, so I can do some sort of justice to God’s word, and not stumble over unfamiliar words in the passages. 

The formula today is to read from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms (which we read responsively between the reader and the congregation), and a reading from the Epistles.  An epistle was a letter written on a scroll most often dictated by an author to a scribe and then reviewed by the author before being delivered by a trustworthy messenger. Epistles in the Scriptures are only found in the New Testament, which contains 21 such letters extending from Romans to Jude.  Finally, just before the sermon, the pastor reads the appointed Gospel lesson for that Sunday.  The sermon is most often based on the Gospel reading.

The readings preceding the Gospel reading are related and/or amplify the Gospel readings in some fashion; they are not chosen at random.  All of the readings for any given Sunday and special feast days come from the three-year lectionary called the Revised Common Lectionary (1994).  This is the most common lectionary now used within Protestantism, and therefore the three-year cycle is the most common type of lectionary in Western Christianity.  It is used by a variety of Protestant groups including Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians, among others. 

In the earliest records regarding Christianity, Christians have emphasized the reading of Scripture in worship.  This focus doesn’t originate with Christianity though; Jewish worshipers read scripture during their synagogue worship.  The New Testament epistles themselves were written to be read in front of congregations. 

In the earliest Christian settings, the Old Testament had a prominent position as the New Testament books were being written and circulated.  Eventually, the New Testament readings became more prominent than the Old.  The Old Testament readings were omitted during the Middle Ages, and reappeared later on as the church grew and developed a systematic way of planning the readings in an organized way.  What is important to note is that the Revised Common Lectionary does not contain all of the Bible divided up over the course of 3 years; that would make for some very long readings on most Sundays!  All Christians should make reading their Bible a daily routine, to make sure they cover ALL of the Word of God.  Attending bible studies can also provide more information about readings that are not in the lectionary cycle. 

All of the readings in the Evangelical Lutheran Church are available in front of the Evangelical Lutheran Worship.  There are also other resources that produce a calendar of the readings for an entire cycle, and this information is also readily available on the internet.  I think it’s wonderful that I can prepare myself for any given Sunday by reading the appointed scriptures, to pray over and meditate upon, before I attend Sunday services.  There are also devotional books that are organized by the appointed scripture readings throughout the week, such as “Christ in Our Home”, that offer a chance to prepare ourselves spiritually before Sunday morning. 

If you are not currently in the habit of reading scripture daily, I heartily encourage you to do so.  There are countless resources today that can get you started, whether it’s a small daily devotional, or a focused schedule on reading through the entire Bible in a specific amount of time.  I personally love the Moravian Church’s “Moravian Daily Texts” series, which guides you through reading the entire Bible in two years.  For a person with a day job, I find this is the right rhythm to incorporate in my own daily routine, preferably in the morning.  I’m on the second half of my third time through the whole Bible, and I am definitely hooked – this is a spiritual habit that I never want to lose!  I hope to be able to invite all the members of my congregation to join me starting January 2024 for another 2-year Bible reading journey, if they don’t have a regular Bible-reading plan already in place. 

May grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love!  Amen.


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