The now finalized Common Lectionary more fully converses with the lectionaries of the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches than did the 1983 edition. Readers will notice the influence of these three traditions in both calendar and readings. For example, Holy Saturday with its appropriate readings is offered for those who observe liturgically the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. At some points, this greater inclusiveness has meant embracing the selected texts in the Roman, Lutheran, or Episcopal lectionaries. In other instances, the texts of these three traditions are offered as alternate readings. In every case, it has been our decision to comment on all the texts, hoping to make this commentary useful to as wide an audience as possible and as helpful to as many pulpits as possible.
In 1989, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published. The present work follows the NRSV as its primary translation. In addition, two other widely used translations, the New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible, have been used in their new revisions. Other translations are also quoted occasionally.
This commentary series will treat all the readings for each year in a single volume. Having in one volume a full year's calendar, table of readings, and commentary gives the preacher and others who work with the liturgy a clearer sense of continuity and greater ease of reference within a year and of cross reference among the three years. A commentary is a reference book, most at home on a study desk.
As an aid for focus and direction, each of the volumes in the series will provide a brief introduction to the readings for each service.
We think it important that the reader understand the perspectives and convictions that will inform our work throughout the three volumes. We offer these under the following three headings.
The Scripture. There is no substitute for direct exposure to the biblical text, both for the preacher in preparation and for the listener in worship. The Scriptures are therefore not only studied privately but also read aloud as an act of worship in and of itself and not solely as prelude to a sermon. The sermon is an interpretation of Scripture in the sense that the preacher seeks to bring the text forward into the present in order to effect a new hearing of the Word. In this sense, the text has its future and its fulfillment in preaching. In fact, the Bible itself is the record of the continual rehearing and reinterpreting of its own traditions in new settings and for new generations of believers. New settings and new circumstances are properly as well as inescapably integral to a hearing of God's Word in and through the text. Whatever else may be said to characterize God's Word, it is always appropriate to the hearers. But the desire to be immediately relevant should not abbreviate study of the text or divorce the sermon from the biblical tradition. Such sermons are orphaned, released without memory into the world. It is the task of the preacher and teacher to see that the principle of fidelity to Scripture is not abandoned in the life and worship of the church. The endeavor to understand a text in its historical, literary, and theological contexts does create, to be sure, a sense of distance between the Bible and the congregation. The preacher may grow impatient during this period of feeling a long way from a sermon. But this time of study can be most fruitful. By holding text and parishioners apart for a while, the preacher can hear each more clearly and exegete each more honestly. Then, when the two intersect in the sermon, neither the text nor the congregation is consumed by the other. Because the Bible is an ancient book, it invites the preacher back into its world in order to understand; because the Bible is the church's Scripture, it moves forward into our world and addresses us here and now.
The Lectionary. Ever-increasing numbers of preachers are using a lectionary as a guide for preaching and worship. The intent of lectionaries is to provide for the church over a given period of time (usually three years) large units of Scripture arranged according to the seasons of the Christian year and selected because they carry the central message of the Bible. Lectionaries are not designed to limit one's message or restrict the freedom of the pulpit. On the contrary, churches that use a lectionary usually hear more Scripture in worship than those that do not. And ministers who preach from the lectionary find themselves stretched into areas of the canon into which they would not have gone had they kept to the path of personal preference. Other values of the lectionary are well known: the readings provide a common ground for discussions in ministerial peer groups; family worship can more easily join public worship through shared readings; ministers and worship committees can work with common biblical texts to prepare services that have movement and integrity; and the lectionary encourages more disciplined study and advance preparation. All these and other values are increased if churches share a common lectionary. A common lectionary could conceivably generate a communitywide Christian conversation.
However, to the nonlectionary preacher also we offer this commentary as a helpful tool in sermon preparation. An index of Scriptures on which comments are made is provided in each volume. By means of this index, any preacher or teacher will find easy access to commentary on hundreds of biblical texts.
This Book. This volume is not designed as a substitute for work with the biblical text; on the contrary, its intent is to encourage such work. Neither is it our desire to relieve the preacher of regular visits to concordances, lexicons, and commentaries; rather, it is our hope that the comments on the texts here will be sufficiently germinal to give direction and purpose to those visits to major reference works. Our commentary is an effort to be faithful to the text and to begin moving the text toward the pulpit. There are no sermons as such here, nor could there be. No one can preach long distance. Only the one who preaches can do an exegesis of the listeners and mix into sermon preparation enough local soil so as to effect an indigenous hearing of the Word. But we hope we have contributed to that end. The reader will notice that, although each of us has been aware of the other readings for each service, there has been no attempt to offer a collaborated commentary on all texts or a homogenized interpretation as though there were not four texts but one. It is assumed that the season of the year, the needs of the listeners, the preacher's own abilities, as well as the overall unity of the message of the Scriptures will prompt the preacher to find among the four readings the word for the day. Sometimes the four texts will join arm in arm; sometimes they will debate with one another; sometimes one will lead while the others follow, albeit at times reluctantly. Such is the wealth of the biblical witness.
A final word about our comments. The lections from the Psalter have been treated in the same manner as the other readings, even though some Protestant churches often omit the reading of the psalm or replace it with a hymn. We have chosen to regard the psalm as an equal among the texts, primarily for three reasons. First, there is growing interest in the use of psalms in public worship, and comments about them may help make that use more informed. Second, the psalms were a major source for worship and preaching in the early church, and they continue to inspire and inform Christian witness today. And third, comments on the psalms may make this volume helpful to preachers in those traditions that have maintained from earliest times the use of psalms in Christian services. A brief word about the relation of this commentary to our earlier work, Preaching the New Common Lectionary. From the comments above, it is already apparent why those volumes could not be given a new introduction and offered again to you. Changes in appointed texts, revised translations of the Bible, additions to the liturgical calendar, and attention tO texts appearing in Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic lectionaries necessitated much new writing. The new writing in turn called for a reappraisal of the comments on texts that remained unchanged, prompting additions, deletions, and modifications. The result is a new, larger, and, we hope, improved commentary to aid those who preach and teach. (from the Introduction)
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