Okay, I preached today on Matthew 1:18-25, and felt emboldened to explain at the beginning why we were having this reading on the Sunday before Christmas rather than Christmas Eve or Day itself - thank you Bosco Peters for that explanation in a comment on my post below.
I appreciate what I have been learning from the discussion on that thread. In summary:
(1) It is a difficult to draw up any scheme for systematically reading the Bible, and I could be more appreciative of the work which goes into various lectionaries adopted by our church (including the RCL), including the fact of the great lectionary tradition which lies behind (and is included within) current lectionaries.
(2) Where readings are omitted from lectionaries (as in a 2:1, 7-9, 15-16 type reading) the reasons may have nothing to do with an ecclesial version of political correctness, and may have everything to do with the lectioners (is that the right term?) determining that, within congregational worship, that reading may be smoother, occasion less puzzlement and, obviously, be shorter, than if 2:1-16 were set down as the reading.
(3) Not a new learning, but reinforced here, the great achievement of lectionaries, and a special achievement in our era through the RCL for Sunday and daily eucharists is the uniting of Christians around the globe in reading together from the one Scripture.
I remain, however, a questioner if not a critic! Take the (hypothetical) example above or the real RCL example of Sundays 10, 17 and 24 July 2011 where successively the gospel readings are Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, 13:24-30, 36-43 and 13:31-33, 44-52. The first choice is logical inasmuch as it runs the Parable of the Sower and the interpretation of the parable together; ditto the second with the Parable of the Weeds and its interpretation. Likewise the second set: a sequence of four parables plus Jesus lovely saying about scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven. But notice two things. First, this is not what Matthew himself has done in laying out the sequence of his parabolic material in Matthew 13. Secondly, omitted in this set of three Sunday readings is Matthew 13:10-17, and 13:34-35. The first is a difficult reading in any preacher's estimation, and the second is a kind of footnote. Have they been omitted from the whole year? (Sorry, dear readers, no time today to look through the other 49 Sundays to see if it occurs). It looks like preachers and readers of Matthew throughout the world are being given a pass on confronting Matthew 13:10-17. Even if a reader tells me this reading (or 13:34-35) is found on another Sunday at another part of the year, there is still a question about why these passages, crucial to our understanding of Jesus' teaching through parables, are not found in their natural Matthean context.
Naturally a question arises about what it means to be in a church such as my own which specifies in Sunday prayer book services that 'the appointed readings follow', that is, that the readings set down for the day according to the lectionary ought to be read (albeit several legitimated possibilities then could apply). Would it be disobedience to add in Matthew 13:10-17 on one of these Sundays?
More seriously, my reflections at this point on the lectionary are focused on 'the appointed readings', and include these questions (for the whole of ACANZP to consider):
(a) Should we have a church requirement which does not conform to widely practiced reality, or should reality be made to conform to requirement? Please note here that I am not talking about how most in our church follow the lectionary (to some degree) and a few do not. I am raising the question about the fact that (in my experience, across more than one diocese) parish churches following the lectionary (i.e. to one degree or another) mostly do not have four readings (psalm, OT, Ep, Gospel). Most (in my experience) have the OT or Ep and the Gospel: two readings! Some, perhaps with a handy choir to help, will have three readings: psalm and OT or Ep, and the Gospel, or OT, Ep and the Gospel. Rare is the quadrilection (is that a word?).
A further note: I observe these things about the lectionary not being followed with a great deal of sympathy, not as some kind of liturgical 'policeman'. In my experience of being Anglican in Kiwiland I cannot think of one church which actually follows the lectionary as prescribed in every service. All may be well, for instance, with the morning eucharist, but the evening readings are shortened. Usually the readings are followed but, today there is a baptism - something has to give, and it is one of the readings. All such decisions by vicars are understandable, but strictly speaking they are not according to 'the appointed readings follow'! Hence my next question:
(b) Is it more helpful to have a prescriptive rule (i.e. the literal force of the blunt words, 'the appointed readings follow') or a permissive rule (i.e. the effective manner in which the rule is treated in practice in many parishes)? I am sympathetic to a permissive interpretation because getting parish worship 'right' is very, very complicated these days, and flexibility around a fixed framework is needed according to the challenges of the moment.
(Final note: I acknowledge that when we raise the question of 'appointed readings' we have an additional problem in our church of 'which appointed readings?' as there are so many of them. Let that one alone for now: the questions framed above would remain even if we had only one lectionary to follow).