18 November 2014

More on the RCL

This week, as the liturgical year winds down, Anglicans, Lutherans, Orthodox, Catholics, and some Protestants heard the story of Noah. That is not really a part of the Exodus story we have been following, it just sort of appears. It does the same thing in Scripture. There really are no obvious reasons in the text for the story to appear where it does.

The Noah story is almost certainly an insertion. Documents older than the Biblical texts, in "cuniform" the clay tablet writing of the Babylonian and Persian periods, have been found with the story incised into their surfaces. It is fairly clear that the story was added as a result of the period most of the Hebrew elite spent in captivity. We do not know who added it or their motivation.

Suddenly, the story simply appears in Scripture. And so too, with no to me at least, obvious reason, it appears in the Lectionary. This was its Sunday.

It is odd the way some of the readings affect people. Noah is perhaps a good example of unexpected consequences. Most people read it as the story of God saving a remnant. Others (among them one of my regular readers) read it as the story of God executing entire populations, including children for the manner of life of their parents.

Musically, there are a fair number of songs, mostly children's, that concentrate on the saving of the animals. Frequently they get the details wrong. The animals were not, for instance, loaded, "two by two." I recall asking my mom why it would be "two by two" and being told I would understand later. (Ah the post war German Lutheran sense of propriety!)

Others see the story of those dead, drowned, children.

I consider the story, inserted as it was, a fiction. I suppose one might cast it as a parable, but I do not see how that works. it is not at all clear how the story can be read to carry the attributes of a parable.

In any event, it is there. It gets read, and most preachers in my memory immediately turn to the Epistle and Gospel readings for their sermons. I wonder how much of the Scripture that suffers a similar fate? I can think of several passages.

In a sense, the reading of Noah is a great reason not to be a fundamentalist. That alone may be the best reason it is in the lectionary. The speed with which we move to sermons about the RCL's other lessons perhaps leaves us with the cute, "two by two" view and not enough critical thought. The lectionary is perhaps not designed to answer questions, but to raise them.

I think I may consider building an "I hate the RCL" website.

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