Having concluded the opening, gathering stuff and said a prayer, we move into the Liturgy of the Word of God. In other words, we’re going to read some Bible and talk about it. Jewish worship included the public reading of Scripture. Christians kept this practice and over time added readings from the writings of Paul [and other apostles] and the Gospels to readings from the Hebrew Scriptures. What these lessons, read at worship, should be seems to have become standardized among churches somewhere in the fifth-sixth centuries.
Originally, there was one cycle of lessons, read throughout the year and repeated every year. Generally speaking, churches that followed a lectionary [which includes Lutheran churches] kept this yearly cycle from approximately the early seventh century until the mid-1960’s [nearly 1,300 years]. This newly revised lectionary consists of a three-year cycle of readings whose foundation is a reading from one of the Synoptic [Mathew/Mark/Luke] Gospels with portions of John’s Gospel interspersed in various places.
The First Lesson is, except for the Easter season, from the Old Testament. This lesson usually connects to the day’s Gospel in a direct [and occasionally not so direct] way. In recent years, there have been some Sundays, particularly in the summer months, where a semi-continuous telling of an Old Testament story takes place.
The Second Lesson comes from the writings [not Gospels] of the New Testament. It can, occasionally, be hard to see the connection between this lesson and the Gospel. The general sense, though, is that there is to be for the church a balance in seeing the work of God displayed in Hebrew Scriptures and writings of the New Testament.
The Gospel Lesson follows a [somewhat] discernable pattern. We begin with stories of preparation for the birth of Jesus [or, his second coming] followed by Christmas/Nativity stories and the visit of the Wise Men on Epiphany. We enter Lent, learn about Jesus’s suffering and teaching about the challenge of being his disciple, the events of Holy Week, Easter and the time after Easter and then the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. The other half of the year tells stories of Jesus’s teaching.
There is one additional piece to the church’s reading and that is the Psalmody. In the singing [or, reading] of one of the Psalms we are drawn into the worship of God by the Hebrew people, uniting us with them in their hopes and dreams of God’s work in this world.