Preaching from Matthew’s Gospel: The Shape of the Readings for Year A in 2007-2008

Year A in 2007-2008 has some special features to which the preacher needs to give attention, since they have a bearing on how the Gospel of Matthew will be read.  These features can be summarized as follows:

1. Easter is very early in 2008–in fact, it could hardly arrive earlier, since Easter is on “the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.” It arrives already on March 23, 2008, and that has implications for the length of the Season of Epiphany and the number of Sundays after Pentecost.

2. The Epiphany Season will be shorter than usual. One of the consequences is that there will be fewer readings from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29). The lectionary provides for up to as many as nine Sundays after the Epiphany, and on six of those Sundays the readings are from the Sermon on the Mount. But during the coming year there will be only four Sundays after the Epiphany (including the Transfiguration), curtailing the use of readings from that portion of the gospel. One advantage this year is that the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), read on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany and also on All Saints, will not be read twice this coming year. The Beatitudes will not be read during the Epiphany Season. The congregation that celebrates All Saints during 2008 on Sunday, November 2 (November 1, All Saints, is a Saturday) will hear the Beatitudes on that day only.

3. The number of Sundays after Pentecost maxes out. There are 28 Sundays for that time, beginning with Trinity Sunday (May 18) and concluding with Christ the King (November 23). The length of that time period allows for more readings from the Gospel of Matthew, making up for its lack of use in the Epiphany Season, but it does not make up for the lack of readings from the Sermon on the Mount. On all those Sundays, possibly minus one, the Gospel reading is from the Gospel of Matthew. The possible exception would be for the congregation that celebrates Reformation Sunday, which would be October 26, 2008. Then the Gospel reading would be John 8:31-36 instead of the text otherwise appointed for that day, Matthew 22:34-46 (Lectioary 25).

4. A peculiarity for Year A in 2007-08 is the reading for Sunday, May 25, 2008,(Lectionary 3). The following rubric becomes operative: “If the Sunday between May 24 and 28 inclusive follows Trinity Sunday, the Proper for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost [8] is used” (The Revised Common Lectionary [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992], 33).

5. Christmas Eve is on a Monday in 2007. The Fourth Sunday in Advent is the day before. That means that the story of Jesus’ birth according to Matthew (1:18-25) will be heard one day, and that from Luke (2:1-14) the next.

The Gospel of Matthew has been the primary base for lectionary readings through the history of the church. Many members of churches that use a lectionary can recall the traditional one-year lectionary in use prior to the introduction of the three-year lectionary. On most Sundays in those days, the Gospel readings were from the Gospel of Matthew. That gospel has had a favored place in lectionaries, and that is probably because it is–in some ways at least–the most “preachable” gospel. As one reads the texts, using a bit of imagination, it becomes apparent that they speak to a gathered community, giving it shape, since so many of the texts have to do with our life together as Christians.

Matthew’s Gospel contains both narratives and teachings from Jesus’ ministry, but of these two the teaching material predominates. That feature is exhibited in quite obvious ways in the lectionary readings for Year A. In regard to the narrative materials, the usual items are there, such as the Nativity, the Visit of the Magi (on Epiphany), the Transfiguration, the Passion, and the Resurrection. But in regard to other narrative elements there is proportionately less in the lectionary than in the gospel itself. For example, there are nineteen miracle stories in the gospel, but only five of them appear in lectionary readings on four Sundays (the two miracle stories of 9:18-26 on June 8 [Lectionary 5]; and the three miracle stories of 14:15-21, 14:22-33, and 15:21-28 on August 3, 10, and 17 [Lectionary 13-15]).

There is more in the way of teaching materials. As indicated above, much of the Sermon on the Mount is included for the Sundays after the Epiphany, but due to the shortness of that season in 2007-2008, not much appears. Material from there is not totally lacking, however. Portions will be heard on Ash Wednesday (February 6, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21) and on two Sundays: May 25 (6:25-34 [Lectionary 3]) and June 1 (7:21-29 [Lectionary 4]).

The most prolific use of teaching materials consists of the parables of Jesus. By one count, there are twenty parables in the Gospel of Matthew. Of these, thirteen appear among the lectionary readings in Year A. Five of them appear in the three Sundays running from July 13 through July 27 (Lectionary 10-12); five more over the five Sundays running from September 14 through October 12 (Lectionary 19-23); and three more at the end of the year, November 9 through 23 (Lectionary 27-Christ the King). For further comment on these, see the essay on “Preaching from Matthew’s Gospel: Major Themes and Forms of Teaching.”