Appearing in 2009, Sunday by Sunday II is nearly unique. “Nearly” only because it is the sequel to a work of the same design entitled Sunday by Sunday I — A Spiritual Journal published in 2008. These works can best be described as “serial novels related to the life and faith of the Christian church as set forth in the three year cycle of The Revised Common Lectionary.” If the four words immediately preceding this sentence make no sense to you, the book may still have great meaning, but only after you read and absorb the next paragraph. (If you know what those four words mean, you may skip the next paragraph.)
A lectionary is an agreed upon program of scripture readings for use in an orderly fashion across time. For each Sunday or special weekday occasion (such as Christmas Day, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, or the Ascension) in this lectionary there are provided (1) a reading from the Hebrew Bible [Old Testament], except during the Easter season, when the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is used instead; (2) a psalm or portion thereof, (3) a passage from one of the twenty-three New Testament books that come after the four Gospels, and (4) a reading from one of the Gospels. In the span of three years a great deal of scriptural study is intended. If you do not worship in a lectionary-based congregation, you can nevertheless make sense of it all by studying the four passages from the Bible each week before reading Cristy Fossum’s commentary and reflections.
For each designated day Fossum offers us insightful stories and brings the practical truth of the Bible readings into our lives and times. If her mythical town of Shippensforge is not immediately adjacent to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, it certainly can’t be far away!
I describe this as a “serial novel” because it is intended that you read for each occasion only short passages from the book. The sections to be read week by week are four to five pages long, on average. The material is alternatively light-hearted and poignant, familiar or distressing, as the author deals with all kinds of political, religious, and moral issues that confront us. This may be a novel; it has about it the ring of deep truth that characterizes any good novel. I found particularly gripping the material related to the church’s observance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day. That section alone brings issues of saying farewell to a pastoral family that is transferring to another parish, the frustrating behavior of a runaway young woman, the dismissal of a female pastor for behavior that may or may not be characterized by church people as immoral, the residual grief of a number of persons who have lost those dear to them, and much more. Even the village atheist puts his oar in, much to his later chagrin.
If you regard scripture readings to be something to be heard on Sunday morning and then forgotten for the rest of the week, prepare to change your opinion, and in turn expect to be changed by the gifts of grace the author relentlessly offers in the name of Christ.
LAURENCE HULL STOOKEY
Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Worship
Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC