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Lectionary Basics

by Tim Isbell


"Like a great waterwheel, the liturgical (Christian calendar) year goes on relentlessly irrigating our should, softening the ground of our hearts, nourishing the soil of our lives until the seed of the word of God itself begins to grow in us, comes to fruit in us, ripens us in the spiritual journey of a lifetime." -- Joan Chittister

On this website are many references to Lectionary, which all refer to the Revised Common Lectionary. This is a set of scriptures for each Sunday and Holy Day over a 3-year period, which guides a church through all the major themes of Christian faith. Here's an illustration that helps visualize the lectionary and its connection to the Christian Calendar.

For every Sunday and Holy Day the lectionary provides a robust set of at least 4 readings:

For every Sunday and Holy Day the lectionary provides a robust set of at least 4 readings:

  • Old Testament reading - For about the first half of the Christian year, this is typological (meaning it compliments or contrasts to the gospel in some way). For the second half, the lectionary adds a stream of semi-continuous readings that lend themselves to reading through a book or books in sequence.
  • Wisdom Literature reading - These are mostly from the Psalms.
  • Gospel reading - Year A features Matthew; Year B features Mark; Year C features Luke. John is scattered throughout the year but is especially prevalent around Easter.
  • Epistle reading - This virtually always connects with the gospel.

A few years ago Gloria and Larry Wall, parishioners in New Life Nazarene Church, developed a great lectionary website. Gloria's Webpage gathers a wide range of conventional lectionary information in one place. It also includes something that I have not seen anywhere else: a daily Bible reading plan that guides readers through the entire biblical text in 3 years. Every day's reading connects with the following Sunday's lectionary scriptures!

When you go to Gloria's Webpage, be sure to take a look at Gloria's Frequently Asked Questions. There you will find a delightful description of the lectionary and its use at New Life.

The New Life Nazarene Church web page has a great gadget to access the daily readings. It's in the lower left-hand corner. Just click on "Today" or any date and it displays that day's scripture set. Click on the scripture and it opens the passage in a new window.

Especially if you are new to reading the Bible, check out Bible Reading Strategies, and especially look at the part subtitled "Lectionary Reading Plan."

Finally, if you are a preaching pastor, please be sure to check out the Revised Common Lectionary preaching resources found at Lectionary Preaching.

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