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Looking ahead to ‘A Year with Matthew for a Matthew 25 Church’

Resource for the 2022-23 Revised Common Lectionary Year A is for preachers and musicians planning worship in light of the Matthew 25 vision

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Every three years, the Revised Common Lectionary immerses churches in the Gospel of Matthew. This can also be an excellent opportunity to engage the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 vision of building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary’s three-year cycle, which begins November 27 this year, highlights readings from Matthew. And in the last three weeks of the Christian year, the lectionary devotes three Sundays to Matthew 25, culminating on Christ the King (or the Reign of Christ) Sunday with the passage where the nations ask: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked, or sick or in prison?” And Jesus replies: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

According to the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the PC(USA’s) Office of Theology and Worship, in the literary structure of Matthew, this passage has a pivotal place at the conclusion of its five “books” of the stories and sayings of Jesus.

“It’s no accident that the Revised Common Lectionary chooses this passage as the culmination of Year A,” Gambrell said. “This is the passage that marks the transition between Jesus’ whole life and ministry and teaching, and the account of his suffering, death and resurrection.”

For Gambrell, the vision of God’s reign of righteousness and justice in Matthew 25 is the threshold or doorway to the conclusion of the Gospel. So, it’s fitting that the Revised Common Lectionary places it at the threshold or doorway to a new liturgical year, on that Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s sovereignty and anticipate Jesus’ coming in glory.

Three years ago, as the denomination’s Matthew 25 vision was ramping up, Gambrell noticed this synchronicity between the pattern of the Revised Common Lectionary and the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). So, he prepared a set of resources for congregations to use in engaging the Matthew 25 themes of poverty, racism and congregational vitality as they made their way through Matthew’s Gospel and Revised Common Lectionary Year A.

Along with a brief introduction to the Gospel of Matthew are theological, pastoral, and liturgical guidance on highlighting Matthew 25 themes throughout the Christian year. There’s also preaching and music suggestions for every Sunday to help worship leaders make connections with the church’s mission to build vitality, dismantle racism and eradicate poverty.

“Art in the Christian Tradition,” Vanderbilt Divinity Library (library.vanderbilt.edu/divinity), Nashville, Tennessee. Original Source: Librairie de l’Emmanuel (librairie-emmanuel.fr), Paray-le-Monial, France. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The “Year with Matthew” resource also includes a variety of reading plans, educational events, hymn festivals and patterns for daily prayer with the Gospel of Matthew.

The resource was published in the fall of 2019, prior to the beginning of Year A. But just as the year with Matthew was getting underway, the pandemic in the spring of 2020 shut down in-person worship and shifted worship to online and hybrid services.

“We got good feedback from congregations and leaders that made use of these resources, but I worry that it got lost in the shuffle,” Gambrell said. “Worship planners had a few other things on their minds, to say the least.”

‘My prayer is that worshipers will come to know and trust the radical hospitality, justice and compassion of Jesus reflected in Matthew’s Gospel’ — The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell

Three years later, Gambrell has updated the resources. “We’ve added content related to the intersecting mission priorities of peacemaking, gender justice and the care of Creation,” Gambrell said. “As we prepare to move into this next year with Matthew, we plan to supplement these resources with webinars and discussions of the weekly readings on social media.”

Gambrell’s hope is that these updated lectionary resources, which are being released now during the time after Pentecost, will help worship planners reintroduce worshipers to Jesus Christ, God with Us, through the Gospel of Matthew. He also hopes the Office of Theology and Worship will hear from congregations using these materials so that that their Matthew 25 stories can be shared with the wider church.

“My prayer is that worshipers will come to know and trust the radical hospitality, justice and compassion of Jesus reflected in Matthew’s Gospel,” he said, “and that they will be inspired and equipped to join the work of the Spirit in building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.”

Worship planners looking ahead to the next year can find “A Year with Matthew for a Matthew 25 Church” a resource on the Revised Common Lectionary Year A, November 27, 2022 through November 26, 2023, by going here.  As it gets closer to year A and Advent, Presbyterian News Service will publish another story looking more closely at the resource.


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