Believing Christians Pray in Time of Widespread Sickness: An Exhortation and Prayer Adapted from Starck’s Prayerbook


This morning’s devotion is adapted from The Revised Concordia Edition of Starck’s Prayer Book. Johann Friedrich Starck was a Lutheran pastor and favorite author of evangelical Germany in the early 1700s.

Exhortation

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.—Deuteronomy 28:15, 20-21

When wrath, tribulation, and anguish come upon those that do evil (Romans 2:8­–9), contagious diseases and pestilence must certainly be included in that anguish. To a large extent this plague comes when people put no faith in the word of warning and admonition (Numbers 14:12); when they serve God only outwardly and not with the heart (Jeremiah 24:10; 27:9); when they despise the servants of God (Jeremiah 29:17); when the people become bold and unruly (Ezekiel 14:19); when fornication and murder are rampant (Ezekiel 33:26–27); when no admonition to repentance is any longer heeded (Amos 4:10); on account of adultery (2 Kings 19:35); on account of pride (2 Samuel 24:15); and also on account of other sins. Now when God inflicts this chastisement, it is necessary that people repent because the Lord allows Himself to be entreated according to His mercy.

So far, Pastor Starck.

Why do you suppose we view situations so differently—between us and Stark’s time? I must admit some reluctance to directly assign the COVID–19 Coronavirus pandemic to God’s anger, not because I don’t believe He would do such a thing but rather, but rather, how can I tell that He is directly behind this specific instance—same as any natural disaster or why a particular accident happens? Today, when there is trouble, people seem more apt to believe that there is a problem with God, rather than a problem with sinful humanity. Such was not the case with the ancients. Martin Luther in his day, and Johann Starck some two-hundred years later, and Christians until about the era of the World Wars[*], believed that God is real and that He interacts with this world in real, tangible ways. They didn’t trust the sciences for their salvation. There was no higher authority than God, so if man didn’t orchestrate the disaster, than God must have since man clearly deserves it.

Today, we don’t believe God is real and active in this world (or at least we don’t behave like we do). We are empiricists. We need to see the proof before we believe. We trust science and our behavior to cure us. God isn’t the highest authority, therefore God wouldn’t have done anything to us since we really are not that bad.

In his Preface to the Revised Concordia Edition of Starck’s Prayer Book, editor Pastor Will Weedon writes: “I didn’t like it. Not at first. I do not think I am alone. Starck’s prayers are meat for the soul in an age accustomed to devotional cotton candy.” Has our “Jesus is a nice guy” culture fundamentally altered our own view of God in ways we haven’t recognized?  Have we become so accustomed to “the Law only lasts for 7.5 minutes before the Gospel in the sermon overcomes it” that we have lost our ability to rightly ponder and fear the holy wrath of God? Do we trust more in twenty-second hand washing than we do in the water and the Word of our Baptism?

When bad things happen, we are not privy to the reason or the mechanics behind it. We will certainly acknowledge that nothing happens apart from the divine will of God. Yet we are not given the wisdom to even begin to understand the ways of God. Ultimately, all things are assigned to the divine work of God. We can be certain that, of all that work of God, we deserve nothing good. So, if bad happens to us, we deserve it. If good happens, we rejoice in His great mercy. We also rejoice because God uses all things, good or bad, to our good.

Prayer

{Starck:) O strong and mighty God, great is Your wrath against willful sinners who will not permit Your kindness to lead them to repentance. For a time You deal with people like a loving father, who seeks with much patience to draw back his disobedient children to himself, but then, when people willfully abuse Your grace, You manifest Yourself as a stern judge. We, too, are experiencing this now, O just God. We hear that in many places a contagious disease has appeared, devouring many thousands of people, so that death is a guest in many homes and there are not enough hands to bury the dead. We are consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are troubled. Have we not strong reasons to fear that You will send this spreading contagion also into our borders and our city? O jealous God, we need not think that those on whom Your heavy rod is now descending are worse sinners than the rest; rather, we confess that we all deserve to perish like them. There is found among us security in our sinfulness, contempt of Your Holy Word, stubbornness, wastefulness, fornication, unrighteousness, worldliness, and pride. Yes, there is scarcely any fear of God in our land; the godly ceases and the faithful fail among the children of men. If You, O Lord, kept a record of iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?

O Lord, when You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8). You have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his way and live. Therefore, we abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes. Do not look upon our countless sins; graciously pronounce us not guilty. Comfort us in our distress and remove all punishments from us. We have sinned with our ancestors; we have committed iniquity and done wickedly. Command the destroying angel who is wielding the sword of vengeance to cease, and say to him, “It is enough.” Let us live, and we will glorify Your name. Although we do not deserve any mercy, we are in need of it. Although we are all children of death, You have promised the penitent that You would exercise mercy instead of justice toward them.

Oh, grant us Your grace and life, for Jesus’ sake, our only mediator and advocate. Have mercy, have mercy upon us, O God of mercy! Be gracious to us; spare us, good Lord! Be gracious to us; help us, good Lord, our God! Have mercy on the poor and afflicted who have been seized with this violent pestilence, who must suffer hunger and grief, who are destitute of all nursing care, and forsaken by others. Lead them to the knowledge of Your grace in Christ, Your dear Son. Aid them with Your comfort and let Your Spirit witness to their spirit that they are God’s children, though they have to die of this plague. O Lord, hear our prayer! Protect our country, and we shall say: The Lord has done great things for us. Yes, You can deliver all who come to You. Amen.

Hymn

LSB 726 Evening and Morning

Evening and morning,

Sunset and dawning,

    Wealth, peace, and gladness,

    Comfort in sadness:

These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine!

Times without number,

Awake or in slumber,

    Thine eye observes us,

    From danger preserves us,

Causing Thy mercy upon us to shine.

 

Father, O hear me,

Pardon and spare me;

    Calm all my terrors,

    Blot out my errors

That by Thine eyes they may no more be scanned.

Order my goings,

Direct all my doings;

    As it may please Thee,

    Retain or release me;

All I commit to Thy fatherly hand.

 

Ills that still grieve me

Soon are to leave me;

    Though billows tower,

    And winds gain power,

After the storm the fair sun shows its face.

Joys e’er increasing

And peace never ceasing:

    These shall I treasure

    And share in full measure

When in His mansions God grants me a place.

 

To God in heaven

All praise be given!

    Come, let us offer

    And gladly proffer

To the Creator the gifts He doth prize.

He well receiveth

A heart that believeth;

    Hymns that adore Him

    Are precious before Him

And to His throne like sweet incense arise.

 

[*] Take a look at The Lutheran Liturgy‘s prayer for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer, pp. pp. 366-68. It is unsettling for quite a number of folk with words like, “… We have seen Thy judgments abroad in the earth, but have not learned righteousness…” The Lutheran Liturgy ©CPH 1947.

 

Understanding the Historic (One-Year) Lectionary


The lectionary is a set of readings that establish the various seasons of the Christian Church Year. The Historic Lectionary follows a one-year cycle that retains the traditional order of Epistle and Gospel readings used by Lutherans before the adoption of the newer three-year lectionaries. This lectionary is “historic” in that it has been used by many Lutherans since the sixteenth century and that it reflects much of what was common in the medieval practice inherited by the Lutheran reformers. The Latin names are retained for many of the Sundays. This post is designed to be an aid in understanding the Sunday-names used in the Historic Lectionary. Continue reading

The Discipline of Lent


As we approach the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday is March 1st this year), I am beginning to mention the history of Lent and referring to it as a season of repentance, fasting, prayer, and works of love (almsgiving). I’m also starting to hear the old-saw response from some Lutherans. Here’s a note from Bill as an example:

This is in no way Lutheran!!!!!!!!! We are saved by God’s GRACE not WORKS of discipline. We cannot cleanse our own hearts.
I would like to know who is responsible for this error so that I can speak to them.
I’ll post my response to Bill as an open letter.
Dear Mr. Lindeman,
You are correct. Lent is not about our giving up something to somehow please God by our good work.  Lent is about what Jesus Christ gave up to pay the penalty for the sins of the world — His holy and innocent life. This is the message of the Gospel.
 
If during Lent Christians choose to give up something or rededicate themselves to helping those in need as a way to proclaim the salvation Christ has won for all by His suffering and death, then such activities are sacrifices that glorify God. Yet as you say in your note, nothing we do through discipline, self-denial, or good works can ever earn the Lord’s forgiveness or repay Him for what He accomplished for us.  We are saved by grace.
 
Though the Scriptures do not mention Lent, it has a longstanding tradition in the Church. Though we are not certain how it developed, by A.D. 350 the forty-day fast that we now have was already part of the Church’s practice in most places. Many identify the Second Festal letter of Athanasius in A.D. 330 as the earliest reference to a forty-day day fast leading up to Easter. 
 
For Christians living in the Fourth Century Lent had two major emphases: First, it was seen as a time of repentance and denial of self. All Christians were to examine their lives according to the Ten Commandments and other Christian ethical precepts and repent where necessary. They were to remember what it cost their Savior to save them, The second emphasis of Lent was as a time of instruction and preparation for those who wanted to become members of the Christian Church, i.e., the catechumens. During Lent they learned the Christian doctrine by studying the Creed. They were led step by step through prayer and special rites toward baptism. The instruction of the catechumen led to baptism and receiving the Lord’s Supper in the service on Easter.
 
At the time of the Reformation, some Christians wanted to eliminate Lent since Scripture didn’t command it. Luther, however, urged that it be kept, for he saw Lent as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith. “Lent, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week shall be retained, not to force anyone to fast, but to preserve the Passion history and the Gospels appointed for that season” (Luther’s Works AE, 53:90). Here Luther instructs that Lent should be preserved, in part, because it reminded Christians of the Passion (suffering and death) of Jesus and encouraged them to meditate upon it. However, no one should be forced to participate. It should be voluntary.
 
Lutherans retain Lent to this day, because we see it as a salutary outward discipline that gives Christians a wonderful opportunity for spiritual renewal. As Lent begins, we are invited to struggle against everything that leads us away from love of God and love of neighbor by exercising the discipline of Lent: repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love (almsgiving). These may become specific occasions and opportunities for spiritual renewal during this season of renewal as we come face to face with the sin that hinders our walk with Christ. Living out a discipline takes our Lord’s words about self-denial seriously (Matthew 16:24). In the Lenten discipline, we come face to face with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we focus (or refocus) on His self-sacrificing passion, death and resurrection, which has brought us acceptance, forgiveness and redemption by God. Through that same discipline, we make a loving response to God who gives us the power to live anew.
Blessed Lent,
Pastor Scot Kinnaman
And to you too, dear blog reader, my prayer is that you have a blessed Lent and a joyous Easter celebration.

Katherine von Bora Luther


The First Lady of the Reformation by Gaylin Schmeling. This originally appeared in Lutheran Synod Quarterly published by Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, however, the link to the archive was broken, so I no longer know which issue of LSQ .

Katherine von Bora is the best known woman of the Reformation because she was Luther’s wife. While Katherine has been eclipsed in history by the great fame of her husband, she was far from a wallflower. She was a rock of support at her husband’s side throughout their married life.Katherine was born in January of 1499, and at the age of ten she was placed in the nunnery at Nimschen near Grimma when her father remarried.

In the 1520s the writings of Luther began to infiltrate the nunnery. The message of salvation through faith alone in Christ brought comfort and peace to the sisters’ hearts. A number of them turned to Luther for advice and he counseled escape, which was shortly accomplished. On April 7, 1523, Katherine and the other sisters reached Wittenberg. Luther felt responsible for finding suitable mates for the former nuns and managed for the most part, but this was not the case in Katherine’s situation. This may be due to the fact that she had her eye on Luther. In any event Luther and Katie were married in June of 1525. Their relationship probably was not the most romantic at the start, yet years later Luther would declare, “I would not exchange Katie for France or Venice, because God has given her to me, and other women have worse faults.”

With this marriage the Black Cloister of Wittenberg became the first Lutheran parsonage. With marriage came also an entirely different lifestyle for Luther. Katherine brought order out of chaos at the Black Cloister. Not only did she provide a clean house and a made bed, which were an unknown luxury for the unmarried Luther, but she also brought about financial responsibility. She kept Luther from giving away everything they had and she put the household on a budget. Katherine helped support the household by managing a farm and a brewery. It was not long before Martin and Katherine had still more responsibility. Within eight years they became the parents of six children. Three sons and three daughters were born to this union. They also raised a number of orphaned relatives.

Katherine was a faithful wife to Luther. In times of sickness she was his compassionate nurse. In Lutherís dark periods burdened down by the struggles of life, Katie was able to comfort him with that same long hidden Gospel treasure that God through Luther had restored to the world. Katie was indeed Luther’s faithful rib. Katherine saw the death of her beloved husband in 1546 and outlived him by six years. In the summer of 1552 the plague broke out in Wittenberg. By fall Katie decided they had to leave. On the way the horses became frightened and bolted. Katie jumped from the wagon and was seriously injured. For months she lay suffering and finally died in the Lord on December 20, 1552.

One of the greatest legacies the church has received from the marriage of Martin and Katherine Luther is the Lutheran parsonage. The Luther home became the example for future Lutheran parsonages and Lutheran homes in general. The Luther house was given to hospitality. It was filled with children, students, and relatives. There was always a place for those in need. It was a place of culture and music and of joy and happiness.

This heritage continued even in the Lutheran Church in America. The early Lutheran parsonages were shelters for the needy, inns for travelers, and centers of culture. Frontier parsonages such as the home of Elisabeth and Ulrik Koren were a great blessing to the Lutheran Church. May the Lutheran home and parsonage always be a place of hospitality. This is the legacy of Katie Luther, the first lady of the Reformation.

What is a Lectionary?


In Brief

Someone asked, “Why do we use the pericopes that we do; who chooses them?” An interesting question that gave me the opportunity to dig into some documents. This post doesn’t go too deep, but gives a brief summary of how the Church’s lectionary developed and the choices that were made that has led to the lectionary now being used by the majority of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

 A lectionary gives the Church a framework for the most important task she has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

First, let me explain what a “lectionary” is. It is a set of appointed readings from Holy Scripture used in congregational worship. There are lectionaries appointed for use on Sundays, as well as appointed readings to be read on the major feast and festival days of the Church Year.

A lectionary permits the preacher to preach through the counsel of God in an orderly manner, in a way that is both instructive and thematic. The entire thematic structure of the Church Year itself is reflected in the lectionary reading choices as well. Liturgical churches that use a lectionary often take it totally for granted, but it comes as quite a revelation for those who know nothing about it and learn of it for the first time.

Generally, used in Lutheran and other liturgical churches include a reading from the Holy Gospels, a reading from some other book in the New Testament, generally the Epistles, a reading from the Old Testament, and a Psalm. The Gospel reading is considered the main reading and sets the theme for the worship service. In the majority of Lutheran  lectionaries, the other readings (especially the Old Testament) are intended to support the preaching on, and explanation of, the content of the Gospel reading.

Origins of the Lectionary

St. Jerome

St. Jerome

It is generally accepted that what we know today as the historic lectionary was first established by Jerome (lived c. A.D. 342–420). Having the name of Jerome attached to the lectionary made it influential on its own, but when it was later included in the Leonine Sacramentary, it became a standard text for the Western Church. At this time, the lectionary only provided assigned readings for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, with the rest of the year covered by optional Propers or by the choice of the local bishop or pastor.

Three hundred years later, when Charlemagne decided to standardize liturgical practices in his domain, his religious adviser, Alcuin (c. 735–804), prepared a revision of Jerome’s work. This standardized worship in the Western Church and put everyone on the same page, at least for the festival part of the year.

The next major change to the lectionary would not come until the thirteenth century with the establishment of Holy Trinity as a major festival in the Church. Holy Trinity soon came to dominate the second half of the Church Year, and with that came the establishment of assigned Propers for the entire year. By the end of the thirteenth century, the liturgical practice of the Western Church, year round, was governed by the historic lectionary, though it wouldn’t be until the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that the Roman Church actually enforced and stabilized its use.

Johannes Bugenhagen

Johannes Bugenhagen

During the Reformation the question wasn’t, “Should the lectionary be changed?” only whether it should be used at all. While Zwingli and others abolished the use of lectionaries along with the observation of the Church Year, Calvin substituted a continuous reading through the Bible, called a lectio continuo, in place of the historic lectionary, since he saw homiletic value in having some sort of assigned reading.

The Lutherans, on the other hand, judged that the lectionary did not promote false doctrine, and so they retained the historic lectionary with only slight revisions—the most notable being the added propers for Trinity 25 and 26. Additionally, they moved Transfiguration from August 6 to the last Sunday after Epiphany, though the date to observe Transfiguration was retained by some Lutherans, most notably, the Church of Sweden.

Luther prescribed the use of the historic lectionary in both the Formula Missae and Deutsche Messe (LW vol. 53 p. 23ff), and all Lutheran altar books continued in their use of it. Even the Augsburg Confession and the Apology testify to its official use in Lutheran congregations (Article XXVI and Apology XXIV.1). For the next four hundred years, Lutheran retained this common historic lectionary, along with Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It served as the basis for preaching and devotional books, hymnody and church music, and even until the mid-twentieth century was the index for every Lutheran hymnal.

There certainly is a history of other lectionaries being prepared. Even in Luther’s day, it is recorded that among the Lutherans there were different lectionaries beginning to be used. It is important and useful to note that these were not individual undertakings, but that all the churches in a district or area would be using the same “variation.” In 1896 the Eisenach Conference churches of the Prussian Union produced a lectionary, popularized in the United States by Lenski and his notes on the series. The Synodical Conference produced a series that was adopted in 1912 and included by the framers of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) as a “Second Series” available for use on Sundays (TLH p. 159ff). In 1868 the Scandinavian Lutheran Church produced a Three-Year Lectionary for their use. Most often these alternate lectionaries were produced, not to supplant the historic lectionary, but to supplement it, often adding Old Testament Readings or offering alternate texts for preaching. For the most part, the patterns and themes of the historic lectionary were maintained.

Already fifteen years after the release of The Lutheran Hymnal in 1941, American Lutheran church bodies were seeking a revision. In 1965 the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod resolved to appoint a commission that would work with other Lutheran church bodies to produce a new common hymnal. In February 1966 representatives of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church in America met in Chicago and formed what would become the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW). Later, representatives of the Slovak Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) joined the Commission. Among other issues, the ILCW dealt with the Church Year calendar and proposed a multi-year lectionary, citing a “widespread restiveness with the appointed readings, a great deal of experimentation, and a desire for either reform of the pericopes or a completely new lectionary,” resulting from “a variety of influences in current theology, social-ethical involvements, developments in worship practice, and especially the influential biblical theology movement of recent decades” (Contemporary Worship 6: The Church Year Calendar and Lectionary. Prepared by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House; Philadelphia: Board of Publications of the Lutheran Church in America; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973. p. 13).

Rembrandt's Mother reading a lectionary

Rembrandt’s Mother reading a lectionary

These sentiments were heavily influenced by the same changes going on in the Roman Catholic Church, leading to the decision by Vatican II to publish a new lectionary system, the Ordo Lectionum Missae, released in 1969. This new  three-year series that supplanted the Historic (ONe-Year) Lectionary throughout much of the Roman Catholic Church. The next year the Protestant Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, and United Church of Christ adopted the Ordo as a basis for new lectionaries in their churches. Having already set aside concern for loyalty to the received heritage and reverence for Western tradition, the ILCW simply followed suit when, in 1973, the ILCW published its version of the Three-Year Roman Ordo. The ILCW Three-Year Series established a lectio continua of synoptic Gospel assigned to each year: “Year A” focuses on Matthew, “Year B” on Mark, and “Year C” on Luke. John is featured in all three Series during the Sundays after Easter, and appears extensively along with Mark in Year B, especially in Advent, Christmas, and Lent. The Three-Year Series assigned a First Lesson, usually the Old Testament, to coordinate with the Gospel Reading. A lectio continua Reading of the Epistles was assigned to each year with no special effort to coordinate the Epistle with the Gospel selection.

Contemporary Lectionaries, Especially Lutheran

With the inclusion of the ILCW Three-Year Series in the LCMS’s Lutheran Worship, the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship, WELS’s Christian Worship, and the ELS’s Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, this Series quickly became popular in Lutheran circles. Even though the ILCW had offered a revision of the historic (one-year) lectionary to be included with the three-year series, within fifteen years its use had sharply fallen.

However common and widely used it was among Lutherans, the ILCW Three-Year Series become one of the most short-lived lectionary series. Two years after the formation of the ILCW, representatives of the ELCA, ELCIC, and LCMS had joined an ecumenical group called the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Composed of biblical, linguistic, and liturgical scholars from various Christian denominations, their purpose was to prepare worship texts and materials for use in North America, including lectionaries. In 1978 they sponsored a meeting in Washington DC whose purpose was to form a committee that would reconcile the differences between the various denominational uses of the Three-Year Series. Ultimately the LCMS withdrew from this group. In 1983 the remaining members published the Common Lectionary.

The biggest change in the Common Lectionary over its ILCW predecessor was the revision of Old Testament Lessons. The framers of the ILCW lectionaries had selected texts with reference to their New Testament fulfillment (typological approach). The CCT questioned the validity of imposed typology on the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, the Common Lectionary used a pattern of semi-continuous readings, which were essentially independent from the Gospel. This change reflects the liberal view of  Scriptures and purposely moves away from the belief that the Old Testament is directly predictive of the events in the life of Christ, etc. The CCT also included an appointed Psalm in the Sunday Readings. Another notable change was the adoption of the Episcopal Church’s practice of replacing the “Sundays after Pentecost” with “Propers” keyed to the civil calendar.

The Common Lectionary was first used on a trial basis by a number of Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. The first to officially adopt it for use in their congregations was the Anglican Church of Canada in 1985. Early on, the Common Lectionary received a number of criticisms. These criticisms were directed especially from Lutheran, Episcopal, and RomanRCL Catholic sources. Ultimately, and in response to those criticisms, the CCT published the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) in 1992. In addition, three versions of the RLC were framed in response to the criticism of the Old Testament selections. There is a Roman Catholic version, which at times used readings from the Apocrypha for the Old Testament Lesson. And then there are two Protestant versions, one in which the typological approach to assigning the Old Testament Lesson matched to the Gospel is used, and the other where the semi-continuous Old Testament Readings of the Common Lectionary are mostly retained. The increasing influence of social issues on the selection of texts is seen in the revisions of the RCL, as more stories of women of faith are added, and texts deemed to appear anti-Semitic when taken out of their cultural and religious context of the Ancient Near East are eliminated.

The RCL has become the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and ELCIC. It is the official lectionary of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ. The LCMS did not adopt the RCL.

The Lectionary for Lutheran Service Book

Beginning in 1999, seventeen years after the introduction of Lutheran Worship, the LCMS Commission on Worship began work toward a new hymnal. In the 2006 Guide to Introducing Lutheran Service Book (p. 49, 50), the Commission’s Lectionary Committee summarizes the approach taken toward the lectionaries to be included in the new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book (LSB):

From the beginning of the development of LSB, the Lectionary Committee determined that both the three and one-year lectionaries would be included in LSB. Since the introduction of the three-year lectionary in the Lutheran Church in the early 1970s, the great majority of congregations have made use of it. Though the number of congregations currently using the one-year lectionary is relatively small, the committee believed it essential to retain this historic lectionary, though with some modifications.

 Three-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xiv–xix)

The committee’s work concerning the three-year lectionary centered on the extent to which it would make use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was published in 1992. The committee studied the issue carefully and, at the direction of the Commission on Worship, endeavored to bring considerable commonality with the RCL, especially during the Sundays after Pentecost. During festivals such as Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, however, the lectionary reflects greater commonality with the one-year lectionary.

Among some of the features of the revised three-year lectionary are the following:

  • Some Old Testament readings have been changed so that they are more closely connected to the Gospel for the day.
  • Most of Acts 1–2 is read consecutively every year according to the following schedule:

Ascension Day Acts 1:1–11 (First Reading)

Easter 7 Acts 1:12–26 (First Reading)

Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1–21 (Second Reading)

Holy Trinity Acts 2:14a, 22–36 (Second Reading)

  • Following the original intentions of the three-year lectionary, the Psalm of the Day is not understood to be a separate reading but rather a response to the Old Testament/First Reading. With the inclusion of 107 psalms in the Pew Edition, the selections for Psalm of the Day have been completely revised. Every effort has been made to use whole psalms. When a portion of a longer psalm is appointed, the committee endeavored to make the selection of verses as straightforward as possible to avoid causing confusion for the worshiper.

lectionaryAs explained above, the Sundays after Pentecost follow the system that is used in the RCL. In this system, specific propers are assigned to a period of seven consecutive days, each being given the designation “Proper” with a number following. Unlike the current system in Lutheran Worship, where Sundays are skipped at the end of the church year, the new calendar places the “skip” at the beginning, right after the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. The designation “__________ Sunday after Pentecost” is retained as a more churchly way of identifying the Sunday, rather than by the “Proper” number. Though a bit different than our current practice, this new calendar is quite easy to use, partly because it is so logically conceived.

One-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xx–xxi)

The committee quickly determined that the historic one-year lectionary, together with its calendar, would be retained. Benefits of using this lectionary include an annual repetition of key biblical texts and the ability to consult historic resources, such as Martin Luther’s various series of sermons on the Gospels and Epistles. Among the features of the LSB one-year lectionary are the following:

  • The traditional Gospels and Epistles are retained. In a few cases an alternate Gospel is provided. More frequently, an alternate Epistle is also included.
  • The Old Testament readings were completely revised with the goal of providing readings that are closely related to the Holy Gospel for each day.
  • The pre-Lent season, also known as the “gesima” Sundays, is retained.
  • A minor adjustment from the historic calendar occurs in the weeks following Easter. Whereas the earlier calendar referred to these as the Sundays “after” Easter, the revised calendar mirrors the three-year lectionary in designating them as the Sundays “of Easter. The traditional Latin names for the Sundays have been retained, as have the appointed readings.

At the time Lutheran Service Book was being planned, the Lectionary Committee acknowledge a small but loyal following for the historic liturgy. In reality there is increasing interest in the older historic (one-year) lectionary. For the first time since The Lutheran Hymnal, there is again support for the historic lectionary, with a separate LSB One-Year Lectionary book being published.

Concluding Thoughts

There never has been, nor ever will be a “perfect lectionary.” Yet even the worst of them is probably better than no lectionary at all. What is hugely obvious is that just as there is no such thing as a theologically neutral translation of the Scriptures, so, too, there is no such thing as a theologically neutral lectionary. The RCL lectionary(s) often display an agenda that at many points finds itself at cross-purposes not only with confessional Lutheranism, but with historic, orthodox Christianity.

While the question of which lectionary we use (or whether we use a lectionary at all, for that matter) is certainly a matter of Christian freedom, this does not make it an unimportant matter. In choosing a lectionary for use in the Divine Service, we should remember that we are choosing a catechetical tool. A lectionary is to be more than a means to dole out little parcels of Scripture, it gives a framework for the most important task the Church has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is a path toward understanding the purpose and meaning of Holy Scripture and  a guide for both pastor and congregation through the whole counsel of God.

Understanding the history behind the lectionaries is important, especially for pastors called to these tasks of preaching and teaching God’s people.

In preparing this post, I learned much from the paper, The Path of Understanding:The Development of Lectionaries and their use in the Lutheran Church, presented to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod General Pastoral Conference, Bloomington, MN, January 6­8, 1998, by Rev. Alexander Ring. It was later published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol 38, #2, 90–124. Substantial portions of this post are condensation and gloss of his work, and  appears here with Rev. Ring’s knowledge and consent.

Originally published on Blog My Soul June 12, 2012; edited for readability December 30, 2014. –ScotK

What is the Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism?


Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH

Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, CPH

Luther’s Small Catechism consists of the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine (Section 1): the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers (Section 2), a table of duties for Christians (Section 3), and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion (Section 4).

This is sometimes referred to as the Enchiridion. When we confess “the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know if from the Small Catechism to be faithful and true” (Rite of Confirmation, LSB Agenda, p. 29), it is only to this that we are subscribing.

An explanation section has regularly accompanied editions of Luther’s Small Catechism since the early days of Lutheranism. Luther was not the author of this explanation, instead, others wrote it while commenting on Luther’s catechism. Ultimately, the root of most current forms of the “Explanation” can be traced back to the work of  Johann Konrad Dietrich in his Institutiones catecheticae, published in the 17th century. That foundational work has been updated over the generations to meet the needs of Christian educators who use the “Explanation” as the basis for catechetical training. Due to the number of contributors and to the constant editing of the text over the centuries, the work cannot be attributed to one or even a few contributors. However, on page 45 of the current edition offered by Concordia Publishing House, you will find,

This explanation has been based upon and largely includes the work of Johann Konrad Dietrich (1575–1639), Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811–1887), Heinrich Christian Schwann (1819–1905), and the committee that prepared the synodical catechism of 1943.

Concordia Publishing House has updated the catechism in cooperation with the LCMS since at least 1943.