The three-year lectionary was developed as a result of the Second Vatican Council, initially appearing in 1969. Within a few years, a number of Protestant denominations in North America adopted this lectionary with a variety of revisions. The three-year lectionary was introduced to Lutherans in North America in 1973 with the publication of Contemporary Worship 6. This lectionary was later included in Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and, with minor revisions, Lutheran Worship (1982).
In 1983, the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT), a North American ecumenical consultation on liturgical texts, published the Common Lectionary. This lectionary attempted to harmonize the varying editions of the three-year lectionary that had sprung up. In 1992 the CCT published the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Currently, a number of Protestant churches in North America use the RCL, though the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches do not.
While the Lectionary Committee was mindful of the value of having a lectionary in common with other Christians, it has decided to produce a revision of the LW lectionary rather than to accept the RCL outright. In the course of its study, the committee identified a number of important biblical texts that have been omitted from the RCL, such as Eph. 5:22–33; Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Cor. 10:16–17; 11:27–32; Gal. 2:11–14; 6:1–6; Phil. 4:10–20; Heb. 12:4–13; 1 John 4:1–6; and Luke 13:22–30. While a lectionary cannot include the entire Bible, it was the committee’s opinion that a Lutheran lectionary needed to include such theologically important texts, even if some of the RCL selections were not incorporated.
Though the RCL was not been adopted in its entirety, the three-year lectionary for Lutheran Service Book is in agreement with the RCL the vast majority of the time. This includes the method by which the Sundays after Pentecost are determined. Unlike our current system, where the extra Sundays after Pentecost (as determined by the date of Easter) are skipped prior to the last three Sundays of the church year, the revised lectionary locates the skip at the beginning of the season. In other words, after Trinity Sunday one skips the appropriate number of weeks and then follows the lectionary without interruption until the last Sunday of the church year.
In its revisions, the committee gave special attention to the Old Testament readings. The goal was to choose readings that best relate to the Holy Gospel for the day. In addition, careful attention has been paid to the types of Old Testament readings, with the goal being to include a larger number of the great stories of the faith.
In LW, only one set of propers was provided for each Sunday and festival. The likelihood of these propers fitting well with three different sets of readings was obviously quite low. (The original intention of the editors of LW was to include separate propers for each series, but space limitations forced them to abandon that goal.) The Lectionary Committee prepared propers that will provide much tighter relationships between the readings and the propers. During the festival half of the year, the propers are shared when there are parallel readings across the three series. During the non-festival half, there are different propers for all three years, including different Collects of the Day.
Other features of Lutheran Service Book lectionary include the following:
- New readings and propers for a specific New Year’s Eve observance are available. This is in addition to the observance of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.
- The series of five readings in Series B from John 6 was reduced from five Sundays to three, with other, unique readings from Mark taking their place. (Five Sundays of consecutive readings from John 6 were a frequent complaint in the LW lectionary.)
- In order to highlight the missional nature of the church, nearly all of Acts 1–2 is read each year according to the following schema:
- Ascension Day — Acts 1:1–11
- Easter 7 —Acts 1:12–26
- Pentecost —Acts 2:1–21
- Holy Trinity — Acts 2:14a, 22–36
- Flexibility has been provided on Maundy Thursday, allowing one to focus either on the institution of the Lord’s Supper (reading from one of the Synoptic Gospels) or on the traditional foot washing narrative (from John 13).