• Old Testament Reading

    Now is the point in the worship service when we open up the Scriptures. Certainly the Scriptures have been a part of the service already. TheInvocation is taken from Matthew 28. TheConfession andAbsolution often uses phrases from 1 John. If you used theIntroit or Psalm of the Day instead of the Entrance Hymn then you've already used the Scriptures verbatim. 
    The Old Testament Reading dives into the Scriptures head first. 
    The Old Testament reading is typically chosen to pair with the Gospel reading for the day. This choice can be made in several different ways. Sometimes the Gospel quotes the Old Testament reading. Sometimes a prophecy made in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Gospel reading. Sometimes they are thematically similar. Sometimes I struggle to understand what the connection is supposed to be.
    The Old Testament reading opens our eyes further to what God is doing for His people. While the Gospel and Epistle readings can help to trace our lives of faith back to the time of Jesus, the Old Testament reading shows a tracing from thousands of years before Jesus to Jesus then to us. This reading extends our understanding of God in such a way that we see God didn't just start by sending Jesus, but rather, God had been showing mercy and compassion to His people for thousands of years before Jesus' incarnation. We are a part of a lineage that is vast and grand.
    Personally, I love preaching on the Old Testament reading because there is often opportunity to unpack a lot of theological and cultural depth and meaning. 
    Which section of the Old Testament gets read each week is determined by a lectionary.  Lectionaries are specific selections of readings that various church bodies choose to follow together. The Roman Catholics have their own. One used by many Protestant church bodies is the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Our church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), uses its own lectionary that is largely based on the RCL. Each of these follows a three-year cycle. The LCMS also offers a one-year lectionary that repeats each church year.
    Even in the three-year cycle, it's not hard to figure out that the entire Old Testament won't get covered. Even if people attend common Feast Days like Good Friday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, there are only about 60 worship services a year that use the lectionary, so only about 180 Old Testament readings to be used. 
    But wait! This number decreases as the Old Testament gives way during the Easter season to readings from the book of Acts. So we only have around 160 Old Testament readings to cover 38 Old Testament books (the Psalms get their own reading of the day).
    I've run the numbers on this. If you take both the Old Testament reading and the appointed Psalm for the day, only 9.98% of the Old Testament is covered. That means just over 90% of the Old Testament will never get read in worship.
    Nine Old Testament books do not appear in the lectionary (unless you plan to celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas on December 21 and the Feast of St. Stephen on December 26, then you'll get two more). 
    There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament and only 216 chapters are touched upon by the LCMS's three-year lectionary. If you don't use the Psalm of the Day in your worship service, then you're only getting 132 of the 929 chapters of the Old Testament.
    Admittedly, this is kind of sad. 
    I personally wish there were more narratives in the lectionary. We get quite a bit from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), but very little from Joshua, nothing from Judges, a few things from 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, but nothing from 1 and 2 Chronicles or Ezra, and one reading from Nehemiah. 
    Narratives like 1 Kings 18-19 and Elijah's journey from defeating the prophets of Baal to fleeing for his life to Beersheba to heading down to Mount Horeb to hear God's still small voice are absolute gold, but they get split up by the lectionary to match thematically. So in each case the preacher often has to give a history lesson to provide enough context for the hearers to know what is going on. 
    Overall, Isaiah gets the most coverage in the Old Testament, followed by Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. 
    No matter what book the Old Testament reading draws from, preachers and teachers are tasked with showing how each book, each chapter, each reading connects forward to Jesus and His death and resurrection for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Old Testament reading shows us how in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.
  • Psalm/Gradual

    If there's a piece of the Divine Service that gets skipped in any particular congregation, I'd bet on the Psalm/Gradual. 
    A congregation may have already used the Psalm for the Day earlier (in which case the Gradual can be used, a brief chant or spoken response), but if they chose theIntroit or Entrance Hymn for that slot, then the Psalm of the Day can be used here. 
    First Lutheran has typically chosen to use the Psalm of the Day as a preservice meditation for people to read and contemplate as they gather and wait for worship to begin.
    In all of my lectionary research, the information I gathered on the Psalms was the most disheartening to me. 
    There are 150 Psalms. There are 156 Sundays in the three-year lectionary cycle (not to mention common feast days like Christmas and Ash Wednesday). One would think the Psalms could get solid coverage through the lectionary. 
    One would think.
    Of the 150 Psalms only 84 are covered in any portion. 66 Psalms are entirely absent for most congregations. If they celebrate every minor festival and feast day, they could touch upon an additional 10, making 94 of the 150 Psalms. 
    There are 2461 verses in these 150 Psalms. Only 1003 are used in the lectionary. That's 40.76%. We have an entire reading dedicated to this book of Psalms and we are ignoring nearly 60% of it. 
    Yet all that is insignificant to a greater problem: how few congregations even use the Psalm of the Day. I don't know how many congregations use the Psalm of the Day, but if that number reaches 50%, I'd be shocked. Truthfully, those in the LCMS shouldn't be surprised. If you look at the lectionary collection in our latest hymnalLutheran Service Book, you'll find the Psalm of the Day isn't even a category listed.
    Not using the Psalm of the Day is a dangerous choice because the creators of the lectionary expect you to use this reading. They do not include the Psalms in the rotation of the Old Testament readings. This means thousands of Lutherans have never heard a sermon on the book of Psalms. I don't want to proclaim it as the most important book in the Bible or pit it against other books, but it's definitely top 10, probably top 5, maybe top 3. Remember, 11 books of the Bible get ignored by the lectionary. If you leave out the Psalm of the Day, you're relegating the Psalms to the same fate as Haggai, 2 and 3 John, Nahum, Judges, and Ezra. These books don't deserve to be ignored. How much less the Psalms.
    The Psalms have been a part of the church's life since its inception. Jesus quotes Psalm 22 and fulfills Psalm 69 from the cross. Peter quotes Psalm 16 and Psalm 110 on Pentecost. Paul quotes or alludes to more than a dozen Psalms in Romans alone. 
    Psalm 23 is requested for nearly every funeral you will ever attend, yet it isn't read on Sundays unless we use the Psalm for the Day.
    The Psalms are the church's prayer book and hymnal. 
    Imagine if someone bought the complete works of Shakespeare and they were given a selection of weekly readings from the histories, the tragedies, the comedies, and the sonnets. Do you think they'd get a full picture of Shakespeare if they left out any of these categories? 
    The Psalms can teach us how to speak to God when everything is going wrong. The Psalms can show us how to be faithful when we are in the midst of terrible suffering. The Psalms can help us confess. The Psalms always point us to Jesus.
    We need to use them. We need to use more of them.
Facebook Image

LCMS logoFirst Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a family of congregations focused on bringing Christ to the nations and sharing His unconditional saving Love within our community.

Give online to the ministry of First Lutheran Church
Simply Giving website

Go to top
JSN Boot template designed by JoomlaShine.com