We spent quite a bit of time on "Application 7a," which says:
The use of ELCA-approved lectionaries serves the unity of the Church, the hearing of the breadth of the Scriptures, and the evangelical meaning of the church year. The Revised Common Lectionary and the lectionaries in the Lutheran Book of Worship make three readings and a psalm available for every Sunday and festival.Discussing these words with our class, we observed, somewhat wistfully, that the proposition that lectionaries serve Christian unity was true only insofar as the same lectionaries were used. The ELCA's authorized and widely-sued worship books actually offer quite a number of lectionary choices. The Sunday lectionaries of LBW and ELW are only a little different, but the use of the semi-continuous Old Testament series can increase that difference. The daily lectionaries presented in the two books are entirely different. This divides, on one hand, all those who pray the Daily Office using the 2-year lectionary in LBW, ALPB's For All the Saints, or the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, from those who pray it using the ELW's 3-year daily lectionary. The present lectionary arrangement is a very fragile sign of unity, if it is a sign at all.
Of course, the old one-year lectionary still has its enthusiasts, although they seem to be principally Missourian. As always, they demand "unity" on their own backward-looking terms.
And, as we observed to our class, the geniuses at "Luther" Seminary have also spent quite a bit of time promoting their Narrative Lectionary. This is a four-year cycle of readings for the "green" season, which attempts to sketch out the arc of the Biblical narrative, beginning to end, in nine months. It is aimed at a culture which no longer grasps that arc naturally from childhood.
The Narrative Lectionary is not an intrinsically bad idea. As pedagogy, it is just fine, even admirable. As liturgical theology, it is, obviously, a disaster. If the use of a common lectionary serves as a sign and symbol of unity, then the introduction of a radically different one seeks to shatter that symbol, and supplant it with one which means something else entirely.
Frankly, it just like Luther Sem --the faculty of which led the fight against full communion with the Episcopal Church -- to find a new way to weaken the fragile unity of the English-speaking Church. At a time when preachers in Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Methodist and Roman congregations are likely to preach on the same texts from week to week -- thus achieving a remarkable degree of formal unity -- our friends in St Paul have struck a blow for division and disunity. That they have done it in the name of "cultural relevance," or even that they have done it with innocent intentions, is beside the point. They have attacked a symbol of the 20th-century Church's greatest achievement, the move toward reconciliation.
And symbols matter. They do not merely indicate, they also participate in the reality toward which they point. Just this morning, we learned that one of our old Bible study groups has ceased to meet. One group of pastors uses the RCL, while another has adopted the Narrative Lectionary. They are still friends and neighbors, but their week-to-week unity has been broken.