If you’ve been paying attention in worship (and who could doubt that you have?) or following sermons on the website (okay, our web host provides statistics on this one), you may have noticed an unexpected richness of context and continuity among the scripture readings we use each week. If you’re wondering how that happened, you’re reading the right pastor’s letter. If you haven’t noticed anything in particular, you’re probably still reading the right pastor’s letter. (If you’re not aware that we read scripture together on a weekly basis, then maybe I should have started at an earlier stage of this conversation.) I’ve been choosing scripture readings this year to move sequentially through Luke’s gospel, from birth to resurrection.

This isn’t the only way to choose scriptures for worship. Some pastors select readings by theme or topic, jumping back and forth through scripture to find a word that is on point for their particular congregation and the particular Sunday or season. Others use a lectionary, which appoints texts for particular days according to a pre-determined calendar. In general, I prefer the discipline of following a lectionary, because it forces me to engage many different parts of God’s story. Presbyterians usually follow the ecumenical Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle that begins each Advent and emphasizes a particular gospel throughout the year.

Beginning in January, I rearranged the lectionary to keep our readings from Luke’s gospel in order from Epiphany to the day of Pentecost. My decision to rearrange things was triggered by a relatively early date of Easter and readings in Lent that were mostly drawn from John rather than Luke. It felt like these two factors would have prevented us from building much narrative momentum during the first three months of the year. Therefore, remembering that Luke meant for his gospel to provide an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:3), I adjusted the lectionary so we could hear the story in the order in which it was set down. (This adjustment was similar to the approach taken by the Narrative Lectionary project at Luther Seminary in St Paul, but I modified things independently.) My goal was to let the story guide our worship and to let us more easily see the context of what is happening.

Scripture readings for April

April 7: Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 24:13-35
April 14: Luke 24:36b-48
April 21: 1 John 3:1-3; Luke 24:44-49
April 28: Ephesians 1:8b-14; Acts 1:1-5

During April and May, this approach means that we will make slow progress through Luke’s final chapter and the beginning of Acts (also written by Luke). The secondary readings that accompany these passages are drawn from other parts of the lectionary cycle. This rearrangement means that we will arrive at the Ascension a week earlier than other churches in town, but Pentecost will still agree with everyone else’s calendar (May 19, also Confirmation Sunday).

This deliberate reading will give us time to explore how Luke understands Jesus’ resurrection. He sees it as a physical reality, like the incarnation, but also as an event that takes shape in the habits of the church community. The ongoing presence of Christ in the world is of course the work of the Holy Spirit, even more explicitly than was the incarnation. The resurrection becomes present when the church is gathered – it is fundamentally a shared event. The church prepares for the resurrected Christ through practices of prayer, testimony (telling each other about their experience of Christ), and table fellowship. Significantly, appearances of the Risen One are hard to hang on to. They demand our attentiveness and patience. At the same time, Christ’s coming tends to change lives and communities in permanent ways.

I am grateful for the ways we at HCPC practice these habits of the resurrection. We gather in groups simply to share time together, both under official church auspices and just because we like each other. Our shared worship and prayer life has a deep relational dimension that recognizes God in the fabric of our community. We nurture each other’s awareness with activities like this month’s spirituality retreat. We pray, privately and sometimes together, for everyday and unusual needs. Significantly, we open ourselves to new ideas and offer hospitality to others in need. My prayer is that we might continue to share our lives, individually and together, in ways that even more intentionally break down the barriers between us and others.

Our consciously self-critical faith tradition understands that we’ll never have a lock on the risen Christ. The Holy Spirit will never be pinned down to one form of life in the world. So as we live and explore, may we learn, discover, and experience more of Jesus’ ongoing life in our world.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

PS: I’m looking forward to worship on April 14, when we will celebrate Ben’s baptism. My father, Rev. Lynn Williams, will again officiate at the sacrament so I can participate fully as Ben’s dad. Before that, on April 9, we will appear in court for the official adoption hearing. Thanks as always for all the love, support, and prayer you have offered our family during this long transition period.

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