Why I won’t use the Church of England lectionary


We take our second reading for Sunday morning services from the Church of England Common Worship lectionary, the main reading comes from our own sermon series. Yesterday we read Matthew 23v1 to 24v2 and the lectionary reading was Psalm 103.  Several verses were skipped in the lectionary reading and whenever there is an omission I smell a rat.  The liberalising tendencies of the lectionary committee mean the lectionary has omissions where passages mention the law of God or judgement, amongst other things like the condemnation of sodomy.  It was no surprise to find the lectionary version of psalm 103 missed the bit about God’s law and his anger, the text in green was omitted:

Psalm 103:1-12 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits–
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness and justice
for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

I asked the reader to include the missing verses and when I came to preach Matthew 23 there was an immediate link that I hadn’t seen between the omitted section and Jesus.

Psalm 103:7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

Matthew 23:2-3 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.

Jesus upholds the law of Moses but more than that, he goes on to say that he lifts the burden of guilt from our shoulders:

Matthew 23:4   They [the teachers of the law and chief priests] tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

The implication being that Christ would give us the load of the law to keep, and so we confess, “the memory of our sins weighs us down, the burden of them is too great for us to bear” but Christ does more than lift a finger to move this burden, he died on the cross to remove it.  Oh, what a Saviour, thank you Jesus, my heart is filled with love for you.

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12 Responses to Why I won’t use the Church of England lectionary

  1. Charlie says:

    Neil, much respect to you, brother, and indeed to your well made point, but the title of this post is the sort of thing that opens evangelicals to justified criticism.
    So you have detected a badly edited Psalm? (and I agree it is a very unfortunate selection, missing out the most important part of the Psalm). Are you therefore going to ignore the entire lectionary, always? Will you make a point of reading from 1 Chronicles at Christmas, and refuse on principle to read John 20 on Easter Sunday? A better approach is to use it critically, adding to readings or substituting more appropriate ones when the occasion demands.

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hello Charlie, you’ve made a very fair point. The title of my post should read “why I won’t use the Church of England lectionary without carefully checking the readings first” which would fit the content of the post but wouldn’t fit in the header. As I said, we use the lectionary readings for our second reading and so, as you suggest, we do actually use it critically. Please forgive me for the controversial headline.

  2. Richard says:

    whenever there is an omission I smell a rat

    It’s OK, the lectionary for the 7th Sunday of Easter in year C omits Revelation 22:18-19 so nothing to worry about there! Ummmm…

    Richard, a Churchwarden in Solihull

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Richard, I’ve had a quick look and notice that verse 15 is also missing from that reading! The list of omissions is clearly large and very worrying. Neil

      • Richard Huss says:

        One thing that would be quite useful is some sort of usable reverse lectionary almanac – to be able to do a straightforward lookup from a Bible reference to the relevant Sunday when it appears in the lectionary.

        e.g. Perhaps I perceive a need to preach about Holy Communion (but not on Maundy Thursday). When does the 1 Corinthians 11 passage come up, I wonder? It is possible but rather tedious to turn to the index in the back of the black book and find that there are references to verses 23-26 on pages 555 and 563. Searching through those pages in turn reveals that 1 Cor 11:23-26 is used at the principal service on Maundy Thursday every year, and at the principal service on the Thursday after Trinity (a.k.a. Corpus Christi) every year if you are so inclined – which our parish is not. It turns out not to be set for any Sunday in the three year cycle. But boy, it’s tedious working that out.

        I found some interesting comparative studies of lectionaries in different traditions on this site.

      • neilrobbie says:

        Hi Richard, helpful stuff. We go for a diet of systematic expository preaching, covering great chunks of scripture or taking our time, but missing nothing out. We do not follow the church calendar, except during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, where we go seasonal, which reduces the headache considerably.

  3. Keith says:

    Neil, your point about lectionary readings missing out anything that might suggest God has a view on our attitudes and behaviour is well made. I regularly find I have to include verses or extend readings. I don’t think it’s a reason to throw the baby out though (re your title).

    By the way:
    I’m slightly confused… Psalm 103 was the psalm for Sat 26 while for Sun 27 it was Psalm 95 (which I preached).

    Excellent blog site – keep up the good work

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Keith, thank you for your comments and welcome to TG. I’m afraid I don’t pay very close attention to the lectionary as a kind lady from the congregation puts the notice sheet together. I’ve simply asked her for the lectionary reading as the second reading for two of our three Sunday services. It’s wonderful when a connection between the two readings is established but always slightly embarrassing to say, “we’ll read the whole psalm, please ignore the break as shown on the notice sheet.”

  4. On a different note: What do people think about theTraditional lectionary, which is based upon the daily readings of the the whole Bible which are read through once a year (twice in the case of the NT) and all the psalms monthly. It means having long Matins and Evensong readings, but it does include almost everything (even the psalmist’s rather distasteful baby bashing!)

    Its main weakness is that being a One Year cycle of readings, it lacks much of the gospel material being read in church on Sundays,
    Whilst admitting to finding the CW lectionary’s sometimes laborious plod through the gospels week by week, does stretch my preaching rather, the three year lectionary does on the whole offer much more for the congregation.

    However, for the individual, especially the Priest, I think it offers a very thorough daily reading of Scripture.

    Richard Thomson

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Richard, welcome to TG and thanks for your comment. Anything which helps us discover all of the bible is good, as it overcomes the chocolate box approach of the modern lectionary. Can you state which Traditional lectionary you are referring to? Neil

  5. brucep66423 says:

    https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1172724/weekday%20lectionary%202005.pdf
    Gives the full lectionary. Wandering through the daily readings, it’s interesting to play the game of spotting what is being left out – it’s often rather clear what the bias is. For example Zech 5 is blatantly omitted – with the image of Wickedness as a woman…

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