Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why I Love the Lectionary

Yesterday was one of those days when I remembered how close joy and sorrow can be. Some of the reasons I won't go into here, but maybe a "big picture" view will be enough to share what I mean.

My niece in Minnesota gave birth night before last to a precious baby girl. Mom, baby, and whole family are beautifully well, and there was great rejoicing throughout our extended family.

And yesterday's lectionary gave us the readings for Holy Innocents Day (transferred this year, because of 1st Sunday of Christmas falling on what would normally be St. Stephen's Day).

Rejoicing over a new baby....

Sorrowing over Herod's slaughter of the innocents in and around Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth.

It would seem that those two things are miles and miles apart. And yet...

This is one of the many reasons why I love the lectionary, love the scaffolding it provides for my life and my daily leaning deeper into God.

Left on my own, I am pretty sure I would gravitate to certain passages in the Scriptures again and again. In fact, I do -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing, as I think the Lord draws us, by His Holy Spirit, to certain places in the Word that speak to our deepest needs. It's why some of us have "life verses" or have memorized certain sections of Scripture or feel a deep affinity for certain figures in the Bible, the ones whose stories seem to connect with our own stories in startling ways, and so we go back to their stories often to mine them for riches.

But I still need the lectionary. I need it in is four-fold messiness, its imperfections, and its sometimes seeming arbitrariness about what to read and what not to read. I need it to pull me to passages I'd rather skip, thank you, and would probably not go near if I were given the choice for the day. I need it for the way it disciplines me to listen to snippets of the Story, and to hunt for the gold thread that binds that particular snippet to the wonderful whole tapestry of God's unfolding narrative.

I need it for the way it tempers my high ecstatic joys with reminders of the suffering that still exists, with reminders of the "now and not yet" nature of the kingdom.

I need it for the way it tempers my deepest, darkest despondences with real hope and light -- not sprinkled on top of the despondency like sugar on a cookie, but hope and light stirred deep into the batter of my soul, even on days when I really struggle with despair and frustration.

I need it for the way the voices in the daily passages sing, not just to me, but across the centuries to each other. Think of robed choirs on opposite sides of a chancel, or monks chanting Psalms in a darkened chapel in the early morning. Or friends at a table drinking coffee and sharing their hearts. Do you hear the way the words dance together, then apart, then together again?

The song across time this morning came from Isaiah 25 and Revelation 1. Isaiah and John sang together, a duet whose harmonies were painfully rich and beautiful. You could hardly tell where one voice started and the other stopped.

Jesus holds the keys of death and hades.
He died, and behold, he is alive forevermore!
He will swallow up death forever -- the covering, the veil spread out over all the peoples.
He will wipe away tears from all faces.
He will take away the reproach of his people.
He is a stronghold for the poor and needy, a shelter from the storm, a shade from the heat.
His voice is like the roar of many waters.
His face is like the sun shining in full strength.

To which we cry: YES! And we see and know, deep in our hearts, that who and what Isaiah and John saw and knew, across the many years that separated them, was one and the same Lord and God, one and the same kingdom vision. The seamless Story told in different pieces, different patches, different pictures and voices. If only we have eyes to see. If only we have ears to listen.

Praying that God will give me those eyes and ears more and more in the coming year.


Erin said...

An excellent post, Beth. And I love that notion of a duet between Biblical authors. Dad's got a sermon coming up in a few weeks and is trying to decide which lesson to preach on; it's always interesting to draw connections among them!

Beth said...

Thanks, Erin. I hear a lot of folks complain about the lectionary, and I know it has its quirks, but I find it a useful (and refreshing and helpful) tool in my own spiritual life.

Hope your dad's sermon goes well!