Friday, May 15, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Reflections on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Sometimes Known as Rogation Sunday

Back Again!

Over the past few weeks other responsibilities have crowded out some of the pleasant tasks I assign myself, not the least of which are these little notes, and I apologize for their absence. Last week I reached the point of having so little time to attend to the Sunday readings that I dug up a nine-year-old sermon, dusted it off and hoped for the best Things are a little more settled now, and here are a few notes. As I come back to a broken routine it is clear to me that there is no hope to make a useful comment on the whole lectionary. This week, I will only provide a few comments on points that struck me with some force as I read through the texts and attended to the commentaries.

Rogation Sunday

Back when this was the fifth Sunday after Easter, it was commonly called Rogation Sunday because of the old tradition of outdoor litanies in procession. The first three weekdays were known as the Rogation Days, on which prayers were offered for agriculture and the like. This year it is nice that the Victoria Day Holiday falls on Rogation Monday.

The Collect

is a version of the Prayer Book Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity [page 226]. The sense of the prayer is substantially unchanged, but it might be worth while to compare “you have prepared for those who love you riches beyond imagination” and “who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding”. There is no question but that the term “man’s” is expendable; but what of the difference between “understanding” and “imagination”. Is this just a question of taste?

The First Reading.

In the final weeks of Easter, the readings from Acts tell of the beginning of the Gospel’s expansion beyond the limts of Israel. Last week we heard of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, this week we hear how the Holy Spirit fell on the household of the Roman centurion Cornelius as St Peter preached. It would be helpful to read all of Acts 10 and the opening 18 verses of Acts 11 before Sunday in order to hear this passage in context. In Acts 11 we hear how Peter recounted his experience in order to meet the objections of “the circumcision party”; the passage ends with “the apostles and brethren glorifying God and saying, .”Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life”.
All through this section it is made clear that the call of the Gentiles is God’s doing and God’s decision: the meeting of Peter and Cornelius was managed by dreams (10: 3-6; 10-16), and in this passage not only does the verb “fall upon” show the Spirit’s free action, the later verb “pour out” echoes the prophecy of Joel 3:1-3 which Peter had applied to the Pentecost in the first Christian sermon: see 2:17-18, 33.

The Holy Gospel: John 15.9-16

In the Gospel reading for today, the Lord’s teaching is centred around “my love”, “my joy” and “my commandment”. This is the last part of the discourse on the Vine and the branches which we began to read last Sunday, and is part of the larger “farewell discourse” in which Christ prepared his disciples for hi sdeparture from them.
In his Readings in St John’s Gospel, William Temple brings out a nuance in the Greek that is not captured in our English version. In verse 9 he gives “the love that is mine”, in verse11 “the joy that is mine” and in verse 12 “the commandment which is mine”. In each case in the Greek both the noun and the pronoun have the definite article, as ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐμῇ, whereas verse 10 Temple gives “in my love”, as in the original only the noun has the article—ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ μου. This is not simply a bit of gramatical nit-picking. There is a real emphasis on the pronoun which it seems a shame to lose in the translation. In the first case Temple comments:

The words mean much more than ‘continue in the shelter of my love for you (Bernard). The divine love, which is the Holy Ghost, is much more than a sheltering protection, it is a pervasive atmosphere in which we may dwell, and which we may breather, so that it becomes the breath of our lives (cf 20.22). We are to let that love wrap us about, enfolding us in its embrace.

Similarly Temple comments of “the joy that is Christ’s”:

“The promise and hope is not only that we may be joyful as our Master is joyful—(my joy)—but that joy of the same substance and quality as His —the joy that is mine—may be in us.”

The new commandment (John 13.34) is repeated in this discourse, with the same reference to Christ’s own death: —as I have loved you. It cannot be stressed too much that, as Temple puts it: “This is not a command to all the world, as will appear soon (v. 18); nor is it a command concerning the relation of Christians to non-Christians. It is the command to the Christian felowship.” The life of the fellowship is fouinded on, indeed it exists because of, this love. That we do not feel so close and deep a bond with our fellow-Christians, that this fellowship is not “a reality more profound and effective than our membership of our earthly fellowships” shows “that we do not truly abide in Him”.
“Friends” in verse 18 should not be overstressed; it does not represent those who love Christ but those whom he loves, whether or not they return his love. In the next verse we discover what it is to be true friends of Christ, who respond to the love He showed in his self-giving death.
No more on this now: the passage goes on to what are clearly some of the most important words of the whole Gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you”. But that will be the burden of Sunday’s sermon, I suspect, and I need to give it more thought than can allow me to comment on it here and now..

It is probably better to make thse notes available in good time than to try to say too much. So that’s all we’ll have this week.

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