This week I am bending the rules of worship and preaching ever so slightly. I am switching the gospel lesson that we normally hear on the 2nd Sunday of Easter for a different story. Instead of the story of Thomas, we will hear the Road to Emmaus – the gospel appointed for Easter Sunday Evening and the story that comes immediately after the resurrection gospel from Luke that we heard last Sunday.
I am sure you are thinking to yourself that Pastor Erik is quite the liturgical rebel… that is if you haven’t fallen asleep reading already.
Pastors often gravitate towards particular areas of ministry more than others. Some are excellent counsellors and caregivers. Others have the gift of the gab and work a room like a politician. Others are great organizers and administrators. Still others are great with seniors or youth or families or 12 step groups or other kinds of program ministry or small groups.
One of my retired predecessors revealed one of his gifts after I asked him to preach at the 60th anniversary of the congregation I was serving at the time. For the first 5 minutes of the sermon he had the congregation in stitches – clearly one of his gifts was stand-up comedy!
Anyway, I am sure you have surmised by that worship/liturgy and preaching are a couple of the areas of pastoral ministry I am quite passionate about.
When I first arrived at Sherwood Park, a change that I made right off the bat was to switch us from the Narrative Lectionary (NL) back to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The Lectionary is the schedule of appointed readings that we hear in church each Sunday.
The RCL includes the First Reading from the stories of God’s people, a Psalm from the hymnbook of Israel, the Second Reading from the letters of encouragement and exhortation of the early church and a Gospel reading from the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.
The NL was created as a response to a sense that the RCL included too many readings and that people in the pews were unfamiliar with the bible, and so the NL is usually based on one longer reading and makes it way through different books of the bible chronologically to encourage Biblical literacy.
While there is lots to debate regarding the merits of either lectionary, the RCL is designed to fit and serve the liturgical calendar whereas the NL is more suited to bible study. So if your worship is crafted around the liturgical or church year, then the RCL will serve worship better. But if worship is more about teaching and educating folks in the faith, the NL is a good alternative.
Again, you can probably see where my sensibilities lie.
Worship and therefore preaching are meant to help us walk through the story of Jesus’ life and ministry that we tell throughout the church year. Beginning in Advent and until Pentecost we hear the story of Jesus’ life. And then after Pentecost until Christ the King Sunday we hear about Jesus’ teaching and ministry.
So going all the way back to where I started… it might not seem like a big deal to change the gospel reading on a particular Sunday, but for me it is. While the RCL is technically only about 40 years old, it is based on the lectionaries and traditions of Christian worship that go back almost 2000 years (and even beyond into the Jewish tradition). The church year and stories appointed to Sundays and Feast Days have been used by Christians throughout the centuries to help tell and re-tell the content of our faith. In particular to pass on the faith to the next generation.
As we hear these stories year after year, and start to learn them by heart, like:
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Caesar Augustus…”
“This my Son My Beloved…”
“Jesus was led in the wilderness by the Spirit…”
“There they crucified him, and with him two others..”
“Early on the first day of the week”
We can start to bring these stories home, we can start telling them not just at church but in our family gatherings and holiday (Holy-Day) traditions. The biblical stories that accompany our days and years graft themselves into our lives this way, even if we don’t know exactly where to find them in the bible (Pastors and google can always help with that).
It isn’t an accident that the Gospel lesson I am borrowing from Easter Evening is the Road to Emmaus. Emmaus is a microcosm of our life of faith.
The disciples meet Jesus on the road, he opens their hearts and minds to the word, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread and then he sends them out with a story to tell the world. Gathering-Word-Meal-Sending.
The way we worship, the way we observe our days, weeks, seasons and years, and the stories we tell along the way all serve to help faith grow in us. And as these things begin to take root in us they become central in our lives. The stories of faith help us understand ourselves and God’s purposes for this world. They connect us to all the faithful who have gone before us, all the faithful on the journey with us and to those who will follow after us.
And like those disciples on road, we are not left to sort it all out on our own, rather God meets us again and again in Gathering-Word-Meal-Sending. Week after week, season after season, year after year. And God brings us into God’s story; one told by peoples and communities from time immemorial and around the globe.
A story given to us on the road and journey of faith.