1662 BCP Holy Week Lectionary Explained
If you've never followed holy week in the 1662 BCP, you are in for an incredible experience--so many different angles from which to see our Savior's death for us. The rhythms are different than in Liturgical Renewal Movement texts, so you're in for some surprises.
". . . so many different angles from which to see our Savior's death for us."
The Sunday Next Before Easter
The historic gospel for the Sunday next before Easter (Palm Sunday) is Matthew 26 & 27. That's why Bach's St. Matthew Passion for this day is both chapters. The 1662 preserved that today with Matthew 26 as the second lesson at Mattins (Morning Prayer-J.F.), and Matthew 27:1-54 as the gospel. The other propers for today: Exodus 9 and 10 as the Sunday first lessons (carrying on with Exodus, leading up to Easter); and Philippians 2:5-11 as the epistle and Hebrews 5:1-10 as the Evensong (Evening Prayer-J.F.) second lesson (both as theological meditations on the passion).
Monday Before Easter
Monday has a proper epistle and gospel: Isaiah 63 ("Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?") and Mark 14. The reading in course for Morning and Evening Prayer is not disrupted (1 Sam. 25; Acts 8; 1 Sam. 26; Heb. 13).
Tuesday Before Easter
Tuesday also has a proper epistle and gospel: Isaiah 50:5-11 ("I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed") and Mark 15:1-39. Again the reading in course for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer is not disrupted (1 Sam. 27; Acts 9; 1 Sam. 28; Jas. 1). To this point, the 1662 lectionary has given you two full passion readings (Matthew and Mark), NT reflection on the passion (from Philippians 2 and Hebrews 5), and two of the great prophecies of Isaiah. And these are read every year--the wisdom of the one-year lectionary.
Wednesday Before Easter
On Wednesday the proper lessons begin: Hosea 13 and John 11:45-57 for Morning Prayer and Hosea 14 in the evening. From Hosea we have prophecies of resurrection and healing amid judgment. From John we have the high priest's prophecy that one man should die for the people. The fact that there's not a proper second lesson for Evensong (Evening Prayer-J.F.) on Wednesday means it varies from year to year with the reading in course. This year it's James 2, which will be an incredible juxtaposition: "Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?” The epistle for Wednesday turns us from the OT to the NT, and specifically the necessity of Christ's death: Hebrews 9:16-28. The gospel is Luke 22, so we are now turning to the passion in the one remaining synoptic gospel.
Thursday Before Easter
For Thursday the proper lessons are Daniel 9 and John 13 for MP, and Jeremiah 31 at Evening Prayer. Again no proper second lesson for Evensong (Evening Prayer-J.F.), so the reading in course continues: James 3, with the example of Jesus' heavenly wisdom firmly before us (v. 17). The Thursday propers continue a greatest hits of Old Testament prophecy, including the end of Daniel 9. But we also are beginning to have a new theme: the right response to the passion: repentance (Daniel 9), a new heart (Jeremiah 31), and love (John 13). This new theme resonates strongly with the collects of the day: both "Create and make in us new and contrite hearts" and "that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility.” This turn to response is intensified with Thursday's epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. (Note carefully what gets cut from this passage in later BCPs, like the 1928, 1979, and 2019.) And the gospel for Thursday is the completion of Luke's passion account: 23:1-49.
Now we come to Good Friday. For today there are proper lessons, proper psalms, and an epistle and gospel (not to mention *four* collects of the day). The epistle is Hebrews 10:1-25. The obvious theme is the one perfect sacrifice of Christ. But note two connections with the preceding day. First, the epistle twice quotes Jeremiah 31, which was the preceding night's first lesson. Second, the prayer of consecration in the Holy Communion service draws heavily on the Thursday epistle and the Friday epistle. In the other words, the Holy Communion service is in at this climax connecting to *both* Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. There are also connections with both in the Communion exhortations. Both are great days to receive Communion!
The first lesson for Mattins (Morning Prayer-J.F.) is Genesis 22:1-19, obviously understood typologically. The second lesson is John 18, which works in tandem with the gospel for the day, John 19:1-37, so the entire passion narrative of John is read on Good Friday. At this point the entire passion in all four gospels (essentially 8 chapters) has been read, along with the greatest hits of OT prophecies of the cross and NT reflections on the cross. But you might be surprised at one omission--where is Isaiah 53? It is read as the first lesson at Evensong (Evening Prayer) on Good Friday. No other words can bear the weight of this moment. But note the final verses of the chapter. We end not in sorrow but in hope. We call this Friday good. The second lesson at Evensong (Evening Prayer-J.F.) on Good Friday is also striking, and it continues the theme of response: 1 Peter 2. It is about the ethical implications of the cross, especially as we suffer. The proper psalms for Good Friday are 22, 40, and 54 for Morning Prayer, and 69 and 88 for Evening Prayer.
Easter Even (Holy Saturday)
For Easter Even we have proper lessons: Zechariah 9 and Luke 23:50-56 for Morning Prayer; and Exodus 13 and Hebrews 5 for Evening Prayer. Again typology and theological meditation are there, but again we have a strong appeal to respond rightly (especially at Evensong). The choice of Exodus 13 is interesting, because it is not quite the next one is in the sequence of Sunday first lessons. The previous Sunday, Exodus 9 and 10 were read. Tomorrow, Easter Day, Exodus 12 and 14 will be read: the Passover and the deliverance in the Red Sea. But Exodus 13 works as a stand-alone chapter because it pulls in some themes from 12 (Passover) and some from 14 (deliverance). And it also has an amazing verse about Israel carrying the bones of Joseph! On Easter Even! Finally, the epistle and gospel for Easter Even are important. The epistle is 1 Peter 3:17-22, which as assigned for this day suggests the harrowing of hell. The gospel is Matthew 27:57-66, which is the preparation of the tomb and the setting of the guard.
"All week the focus is on the cross. . ."
All is now ready. All week the focus is on the cross--all 4 passion accounts, major OT prophecies, theology and ethics. Easter Even has short readings--a moment of quiet stillness. Then Easter! "Where the paschal blood is poured, death's dread angel sheathes the sword ... Alleluia!"
HT: Henry Jansma
Note: For further reading, see Philip Jensen's article, "The Sunday Next Before Easter"