The narrative lectionary is a set of readings for Christian worship that moves through the overarching biblical story in a nine-month period.
Watch a video with Rolf Jacobson on Introducing the Narrative Lectionary.
The narrative lectionary respects the traditional Christian church year, with its principal festivals and seasons — Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. It also respects the rhythms of the American school year, which influences the program lives of many congregations.
Watch a video with Kathryn Schifferdecker on Preaching the Old Testament as Narrative.
The narrative lectionary is a partnership that includes Prof. Rolf Jacobson, Craig Koester, and Kathryn Schifferdecker of Luther Seminary and many congregations across North America. The experiment began in 2010 and continues to grow.
What makes the narrative lectionary different?
This lectionary is not simply a series of stories; rather, it is a series of stories that facilitate an understanding of and appreciation for the broader biblical story. It is different than the Revised Common Lectionary in several ways. First, the narrative lectionary seeks to tell the biblical story in canonical order, in a ninth-month cycle. It tries to move rapidly through the biblical narrative, in canonical order. The lectionary also features mainly narrative passages.
Second, the narrative lectionary has two readings each week:
Congregations are free, however, to continue to read other lessons in addition to the assigned reading — especially to read a Gospel lesson and a psalm all year. We have discovered that each congregation is different and that what works best depends on context. Some congregations have found it most helpful to read just the assigned narrative lectionary text on a given Sunday. Others have found it helpful to find complementary texts to use with the assigned reading.
Because the lectionary is shaped this way, the church calendar is accentuated — the rhythm of the Narrative Lectionary emphasizes the three festivals of the year: the birth of Christ Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament story, the resurrection of Christ as the culmination of the Gospel stories, and the festival of Pentecost as the outflowing of God’s mission to all the nations. The time of Advent is kept by focusing on the promise of the Messiah. Appropriate readings have been chosen for church commemorations, such as Reformation, All Saints, and Ash Wednesday.
Why the Narrative Lectionary?
But why try the narrative lectionary?
The shortest answer is simply this: Because knowledge of the biblical story is crucial to mature Christian faith.
In spite of this, most Christian preaching assume that worshipers already know the basic biblical story — and thus most Christian preaching does not seek to equip people to know the biblical story. This conclusion has been established in recent research by Dr. Joy Moore of Duke Divinity School. In her study, Narrating a Canonical Witness, Dr. Moore writes: “The varieties of approaches preachers employ to communicate with contemporary audiences have abandoned the particular story Christians have to tell.” She adds that her research shows that “despite the increasing employment of narrative analysis in biblical and theological studies, homiletic consideration of narrative has thus far not adequately enabled preachers to convey to listeners the overarching story depicted in Christian Scripture as narrated from Genesis through Revelation.”
The narrative lectionary seeks to be one part of an approach that seeks to equip people to know God’s story — to find themselves in God’s story and to find in that story the love of the God in Christ.
What resources are available?
Preachers have asked for some specific help in terms of pulling the narrative thread through the stories. In that spirit, WorkingPreacher.org’s Narrative Lectionary section provides commentary and a podcast on each passage, connecting the weekly reading to the broader biblical story. You can find the latest commentary at www.narrativelectionary.org.
The podcast, called “I Love to Tell the Story,” is fun, informative, and creative — and it’s designed to help you and your congregation to become fluent in the first language of faith.
The written commentary includes both exegetical interpretation of narrative and also meaning within the broader canonical story in one or more of the following four ways:
We hope you’ll find these resources useful in your ministry context. If you have questions about the narrative lectionary, please contact email@example.com.