Introduction to the Narrative Lectionary

The narrative lectionary is a set of readings for Christian worship, which moves through the overarching biblical story in a ninth-month period.

Psalm 23
"Psalm 23," John August Swanson. Used by permission from the artist. Image © by John August Swanson.  Artwork held in the Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

September 4, 2011

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Commentary on Introduction

The narrative lectionary is a set of readings for Christian worship, which moves through the overarching biblical story in a ninth-month period.

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 school year or program year, which influence the program lives of many congregations.

  • In the fall of each year, the narrative lectionary moves rapidly through the Old Testament story — beginning in Genesis around the start of September and culminating with the promise of the Messiah during December (Advent).
  • In the winter of each year, the narrative lectionary moves in order through one Gospel — tracing the story of Jesus in canonical order from birth, through ministry, passion, and culminating with the story of the resurrection at Easter.
  • In the spring of each year, the narrative lectionary engages part of the story of the early church, as told in Acts and other New Testament writings.
  • The narrative lectionary for 2012-2013 runs from Sept. 9, 2012, to May 19, 2013.
  • View the 2012-2013 schedule or read the latest commentary.

The narrative lectionary is an experimental partnership that includes Profs. Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester 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 only one “assigned” reading each week. Congregations are free, however, to continue 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 not abandoned — the birth of Christ Jesus is still celebrated at Christmas, the resurrection of Christ is still celebrated at Easter. 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. But most Christian preaching assume that worshippers 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,’s Narrative Lectionary section provides commentary and a podcast on each passage, connecting the weekly reading to the broader biblical story.

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.

  • Subscribe to the Narrative Lectionary podcast via RSS reader or iTunes (search on “Narrative Lectionary”).

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:

  • The Bible as the story of belonging — One narrative thread that we are pulling through the story this year is the idea of the belonging. God created a creation that would belong to God, where everything within the creation would belong to everything else. Sin is the reality that our relationships with God, each other, and the creation are broken. God’s gracious activity includes reknitting the relationships of belonging.
  • The Bible as the story of creation and re-creation — A second narrative thread we will trace is that of creation and recreation. God’s act of creation was a past event and is also ongoing. God created the world in such a way that creation renews itself. But God has graciously intervened to bring about re-creation and the Bible ends with the promises that one day all creation will be brought to consummation.
  • The Bible as the story of God working through deeply flawed people and institutions — A third narrative thread concerns God’s choice to work through broken people (Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, David) and broken institutions (nations, monarchy) to bring mercy and love to creation.
  • The importance of the Old Testament for Christian faith — A fourth theme that we will be tracing is the role that the Old Testament plays in Christian faith. This is less a narrative thread than a perennial concern. In 2011, we conducted surveys and interviews with 11 congregations and 1,500 people. One clear issue that arose was a lack of understanding of how the Old Testament is Christian scripture and what role the Old Testament plays in mature Christian faith.

We hope you’ll find these resources useful in your ministry context. If you have questions about the narrative lectionary, please contact