“True godliness always appears lifeless in worship.” [Martin Luther, AE, XVII, pg. 378]
Why do we use the same readings in church every year?
Johann Gerhard on the Gospel Readings:
Whatever the reason may be for why and when the readings have been arranged the way they are, we still maintain the practice of interpreting certain Gospel texts on a particular Sunday. We do not do this for the sake of a faithful and venerable antiquity; instead, we do it because of the extraordinary benefit of this practice. It is undeniable that this practice of using the readings helps develop the ability of the simple people, who make up the majority in the Church, to understand. A servant of the Church does not hesitate to confess openly with Paul: “I am a debtor… both to wise and unwise;” [Romans 1:14 NJK] and “It is no trouble to write the same things to you, and it is necessary for your safety” [Philippians 3:1 AAT]. The ability of the simple to remember and understand will be thrown into confusion if every year they hear new texts from the Holy Scripture being explained. However, if every year they hear the same Gospel texts on the same Sundays, then they know which parts of doctrine to expect and it becomes more deeply impressed on their minds and it sticks even more as they hear the same interpretations on numerous occasions. To be sure, variety delights but it is of little use to the weak and simple. Experience shows that by the time they finally come to the end of the book of the Bible that is being explained, most have already forgotten the beginning.
In addition, the arrangement is so appropriate. In its wisdom antiquity arranged it so that by treating an appropriate theme the hearts of the hearers would be prepared for a godly celebration of the main festivals of the year and would be awakened from the earthly affairs that they are engaged in throughout the whole year and brought to a recognition of the divine blessings and to a godly reflection on the divine mysteries.
Thus before Christmas [Advent] those texts that deal with the various ways of Christ’s coming are explained; specifically, that the Son of God did not just come once, in the fullness of time in the flesh, but that He also still daily comes to us by the preaching of the word and the distribution of the sacraments and that He will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.
Before Easter [Lent], the Gospels treat Christ’s suffering and temptation, as well as His entry into the city of Jerusalem. By this we learn that Christ entered into His glory by suffering (Luke 24:26), and we recognize that we, too, by many tribulations and through the door of death shall enter the glory of eternal life (Acts 14:22).
Before Pentecost, the Gospels deal with the promised sending of the Holy Spirit to the apostles; the cross of the godly in which they especially need the comfort of the Holy Spirit; and of prayer through which the most gracious indwelling of the Holy Spirit is attained.
The time between Pentecost and Advent deals with Christ’s various miracles and preaching. A diligent and careful reflection shows that even here a certain order appropriate for the time is observed.
After Christmas the Gospels treat Christ’s circumcision, His presentation in the temple, His flight into Egypt, of what happened to Him in the temple in Jerusalem when He was 12 years old, and His first miracle of turning water into wine. No one can deny that all this follows, one after the other, in the most beautifully appropriate order.
Even if there were no other reason to keep the arrangement of the Sunday Gospels in the Church, it would still make sense to retain it for the sake of the clear testimony that it contains. That clear testimony preserved the Church…
Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was a champion of Lutheran orthodoxy as Lutheranism was becoming established. Although firm in what he believed and taught, he had mild and irenic disposition.