Why Four Readings?

bluecrossThis past Sunday, we used not one, not two, not three, but four scripture readings in worship (the fourth was from Psalm 50 and was used as a call to worship). Why four readings? That’s a question I’ll now attempt to answer. All four of the readings came from what is known as the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary is an ancient tradition by which the church attempts to cycle through the breadth (and to a lesser extent) the depth of the entire Bible every three years. In the words of The United Methodist Book of Worship, the lectionary:

provides a systematic approach to the use of Scripture in worship…. [it] follows the outline of the Christian year. In it the Church celebrates the central mystery of our faith: the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

In all honesty, the above response answers only why we used the four scripture readings we did, not why we use four scripture readings. I could give you a long rambling explanation, but for a more concise summary, I’m going to reference Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright. In the book Simply Christian, Wright states that “telling the story, rehearsing the mighty acts of God: this is near the heart of Christian worship.” The reading of scripture is near to the heart of Christian worship because the Bible is the account of God’s mighty acts of creation, redemption, and final consummation. Wright continues:

… reading the Bible aloud is always central to Christian worship. Cutting back on this for whatever reason—trimming readings so the service doesn’t go on too long, chanting scripture passages so that they become merely part of a musical performance, or reading only the few verses the preacher intends to preach about—misses the point. The reason we read scripture in worship isn’t primarily to inform or remind the congregation about some biblical passage or theme they might have forgotten. Likewise, it’s much more than a peg to hang a sermon on, though preaching from one or more of the readings is often a wise plan. Reading scripture in worship is, first and foremost, the central way of celebrating who God is and what he’s done.

Now I’ll admit that we don’t always have four readings, sometimes we have only three or very rarely, only two, but I still believe we’re practicing what Wright preaches, namely reading scripture, significant chunks of scripture, as “the central way of celebrating who God is and what he’s done.” Earlier in the same chapter, Wright asserts that worship is the natural reaction to a glimpse of “the reality of God.” The great thing about the reading of scripture (and other aspects of worship, and indeed worship itself, taken as a whole) is that it is not only a natural way to respond to catching a glimpse of God, it is a way, a means of grace, by which we put ourselves in a place where we are more likely to catch another glimpse.