This year, feeling a bit burnt out on the Gospel of John, and really excited about the opportunities this late Easter provides for preparation for the Three Days, we decided to depart from the lectionary on lenten Sundays. The jury is still out, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot to learn from our actual execution of the idea, but it has been enormously energizing to use this time to focus on the “big stories” of Easter Vigil in our Sunday morning worship. How often do you get to preach on Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego? (Answer, if you never stray from the RCL: never.)
There are four elements to the plan:
1. On Sundays, we read or tell the “big story” – always a Hebrew Bible story – as part of the children’s sermon. This gives us license to use a children’s Bible, or give people speaking parts on the fly, or add motions, all as means of preventing the zone-out that so often happens with long readings.
2. We’ve been intentional about trying to have the Sunday School kids also prepare in this season for Vigil. They are learning songs that will be used during Vigil for each story, and one week we had an guest speaker (the incomparable Earl Schwartz) talk to older youth and adults about the Passover during education hour.
3. In sermons, we try to give adults some elements to grab onto that go beyond the knowledge of the story itself. So many people get hung up on the historicity of the Bible these days, and miss the richness of the literature itself. These stories of deliverance are so full of human nature they almost have their own scent – and that’s a great place to start preaching deliverance with adults.
4. Each week on Monday we publish (on the website, and link in our e-newsletter) a “page-turner” devotion designed to get people thinking about the text ahead of time.
Liturgically we’ve made a few other adjustments. We read a psalm instead of a New Testament lesson as the 2nd reading. We rewrote the Eucharistic prayer so that these stories are reflected as part of salvation history. Some weeks, due to the length of the service, we have shortened up hymns or other elements in the interest of time. (But seriously, those John lessons were LONG anyway!)
So here it is folks, in all its complicated and messy glory. Though I miss the connection to what other congregations are doing with the common lectionary, I think the opportunity for drawing the paschal season together as a whole, especially in this year when most families will not be on spring break over Holy Week, is too good to pass up. As Vigil gets closer I'll post again about our thoughts for making that event truly the liturgical highlight of the year.
(Note: we switched around the chronological order of Noah and the Exodus because we had a guest speaker who could only come on Lent 1. This also worked great for still reading the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness – but you could easily switch Lent 1 and 2 and work in biblical order).
Lent 1: The crossing of the Red Sea (I used the Spark picture Bible from Augsburg Fortress, which has a nice recitation of the plagues with a refrain that kids can join in).
Lent 2: Noah (Genesis 6, 7, 8)
Lent 3: Daniel 3; the Three Men and the Fiery Furnace
(This story is remarkably absent from many Children’s Bibles, including Spark. However it makes a great participatory reading, if you hand out “instruments” and have people join in each time you say “Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego”. Try reading it with a tone of Dr. Seuss.)
Song of the Three (Benedicite Omnia Opera)
Lent 4: Jonah
Lent 5: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (which happens to also be the RCL assigned first lesson)
- songs from Justin Roberts’ Why Not Sea Monsters? CD of Songs from the Hebrew Bible. Justin has great theological instincts and kid-friendly melodies.
- Paul Andress (one of ECLC’s musicians) has a lovely rendition of Isaiah 43: “Fear Not for I have Redeemed You”) Contact ECLC for permissions information.
- David’s Lose’s offered Confession from www.workingpreacher.org for Lent 1 works very well with all of these texts, as we seek to move from fear to freedom.