A lectionary is a book of Bible readings or list of references to be read from Scripture on certain days of the year. Historically, a lectionary took one year to go through; some modern lectionaries, such as the Revised Common Lectionary, are on a three-year rotation. They typically follow the liturgical calendar. Some Christian denominations use lectionaries, and some do not. There have been many different lectionaries used throughout church history, at least since the fourth or fifth century.
There are also Jewish lectionaries, which have roots in the Torah and God’s commands to regularly remember certain times in history. Jesus took part in these readings during His ministry, such as in Luke 4:14–21, where He reads from Isaiah. Such readings probably also set the pattern for similar readings in the early church.
A few of the more well-known Christian lectionaries include those from the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. There is also the Protestant Book of Common Prayer, which is set up in a similar fashion.
The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is a three-year lectionary originally designed for Protestant churches in the United States and Canada. It is the product of the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT), which was organized by nineteen different denominations to discuss and consult about worship in North America. In 1983, the group published the Revised Common Lectionary. It was revised to its current form in 1992 and is available for download at the CCT website.
Most Sunday readings include a text from the Old Testament, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel. For major feast days, such as Easter and Christmas, different readings are included. Each year focuses on a different Synoptic Gospel; the book of John is read through every year.
The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are meant to coordinate with one another as well as with the Christian calendar, giving church congregations an understanding of the greater context of the Bible and God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Today, the RCL is used worldwide in 24 different countries across several denominations.
A lectionary can also be used for personal or small group study to coordinate with a church’s teaching schedule. If an entire church denomination uses the same lectionary, it unites the entire body in worship and Scripture study from Sunday to Sunday.
The readings in a lectionary will not cover the whole of Scripture; lectionaries were never meant to replace reading the Bible through from cover to cover. In the RCL, each liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent. We are currently in Year C. Year A will start on the first Sunday of Advent in 2022, which is November 27. The first Sunday’s readings will look like this:
Year B, which begins December 3, 2023, has the following readings scheduled for the first Sunday:
Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19
1 Corinthians 1:3–9
In 2024, the cycle will return to Year C.
If you, your church, or small group are looking for a structured way to engage Scripture, a lectionary might be a good resource. A lectionary does not provide commentary or devotions, simply an organized way to move through Scripture in time with the Christian calendar and the seasons that shape our lives.
God gave the Israelites an annual pattern to follow, too. Starting with Passover, He gave them regular times and seasons to remember what He had done for His people in their history (Exodus 12:14).
Following a routine and pattern such as a lectionary maps out can be healthy for us, especially in our modern, distracted world. Having a daily time with God in His Word is important to our spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.