A liturgical thought for Unitarian Universalists and, by extension, not a small number of Christians.
Why do we have long readings -- often two, sometimes three -- in our services?
- Almost everone in worship is literate; that is, worshippers can read long passages for themselves.
- These books are in print, Bibles or otherwise. The Mary Jones days are behind us.
- Too often, they have no other purpose than to source a sermon. Why not embed the important parts -- that will like be repeated anyway -- in the sermon?
- A long reading, not to mention plural readings, are hard to remember and are rarely a delight, even when declamed well, which is rare. And in many Unitarian Universalist congregations they function as a spoken anthem, or a pre-sermon.
Perhaps that's a side effect -- both on the Unitarian and Universalist side -- of publishing sermons and commending them to be read in mission churches where a preacher could not go, or go regularly. (Unitarians tended towards pamphlets; Universalists, in newspapers.) On the other hand, Protestant responses to the Liturgical Movement -- to which Unitarian Universalists are not immune; stoles, anyone? -- have tended towards longer and more readings, a tendency I think of as the cod liver oil approach. (Get as much down their throats as they can bear.)
So it may shock some of you -- I use the Revised Common Lectionary for preaching texts after all -- but I'm about ready to suggest we dispense with the reading of the lessons, unless some reason can be found to maintain them where they are.