Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lectionary Notes


In the old calendar this was the Fifth Sunday after Easter and commonly called Rogation Sunday, which name comes from the following Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day. About the year 470, Bishop Mamertus of Vienne in Southern Gaul ordered Litanies to be sung in procession outdoors on these days to avert some natural disaster. The custom became universal in the western church and in later years the prayers came to be for agriculture and the fruits of the earth (see page 199 in the BCP). It might be argued that this would have been a far better occasion for ‘Earth Sunday’ than the one chosen.
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 16.9-15
The First Convert in Europe
In the Roman lectionary, as in the version of the lectionary that appeared in the first edition of the BAS, the first reading for this Sunday was Acts 15.1-2, 22-29, in which the issue of the Gentile converts was settled by a meeting of the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem. The reading sets the stage (15.1-2) and reports the conclusion of this meeting, a letter to the Gentile converts in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (22-29). Of particular importance is the phrase in the Apostles’ letter announcing their decision, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” [28}. The account of this ‘Apostolic Council’ (as it is often called) is of great importance to our understanding of the Church’s authority in matters of doctrine, and it seems strange that we should not read it, especially as it comes so naturally after the reading last Sunday. It is also a commentary on the Lord’s promise in today’s Gospel.
Hawever, from the information available it appears that this important passage in Acts is now never read on a Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. Instead we read the account of the first mission in Europe and the first convert there, Lydia. That is also important, but not so as to supercede the passage from Acts 15. That said, I will encourage you to read Acts 15 and turn to the reading now appointed.
The story of the early church continues with the first mission in Europe. At the end of Chapter 15 St Paul and St Barnabas have set out on a tour of the cities where they had proclaimed the Gospel [15.36]. This was the second of Paul’s Missionary Journeys. The first journey is narrated in Acts 13-14, the second in 15.36-18.22 and the third in 18.23-20.18. Many Bibles include maps of the three journeys; you can find a map of the second journey at, with links to maps of the others. The dates are given in these pages are conclusions based on the study of the text, which itself gives no dates; other commentaries and studies may differ by a few years.
As today’s passage opens, Paul and Barnabas with Timothy, who had joined them at Lystra [16.1-3], have come opposite Mysia, a region in the north-west of modern Turkey, He attempted to go north-east into Bithynia but was somehow kept from doing so: ‘the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them’ [16.7]. Instead they went to the port of Alexandria Troas, which was near the site of ancient Troy. Here St Paul had the vision recorded in 16.9. Acts reports five visions for Paul, of which this is the first (see also18.9-10, 22.17-21, 23.11 and 27.23-24). A man of Macedonia appeared to him and called for his help. The Roman province of Macedonia was the northern area of Greece. 16.10 implies that when Paul told his companions of this vision they agreed with his interpretation and decided to cross over to Greece.
Note the use of we here. This is the first of several passages of Acts written in the first person plural, which some accept as first-hand reminiscences, though others do not. We cannot deal here with this question, for which you should consult a good commentary on Acts. The RCL site summarizes the question [see] as respectable conservative conclusion may be found at the old Catholic Encyclopaedia, under the heading ‘Authenticity’, at Another older view, but different may be found in the 1911 Britannica at:
16.11. Samothrace is a large island in the Aegean northwards from Troas, just past the Dardanelles. The direct voyage would have been along the coast. Neapolis was a port on the coast of Macedonia; it is now a suburb of Thessaloniki.
16.12. Philippi was a leading city, thoiugh not the capital of Macedonia. It was founded by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 356 BC: see Colony here means a a communty of citizens from the one country or state established in other territory. Among the Romans colonies were often settlements of retired soldiers.
16.13. The river has not been certainly identified; The RCL notes say: ‘Some scholars think this was the Gangites, but being 2 km (over a mile) from Philippi, it was too far away for a Sabbath day’s journey. Another possibility is the Crenides creek.” However, while the text says that they went to the river on the Sabbath it does not say that they went ‘a Sabbath day’s journey’ as set down in the Law. Place of prayer could mean a synagogue, but Luke usually uses that word. The commentators suggest that the Jewish community at Philippi had no synagogue. Where we supposed there was a place of prayer might seem to allow the possibility that they were mistaken and there was not one there, but the text doesn’t really support this.
16.14. Lydia, the first convert in Europe: her name means ‘Lydian woman’; her hometown is in the ancient kingdom of Lydia. A dealer in purple cloth: Lydia was a business woman, and apparently quite well-to-do. Purple dye refers to the dye produced in ancient times from a shell-fish, the murex; originally produced in Phoenicia, it was known as ‘Tyrian Purple’. It was very expensive. See further at A worshipper of God: This suggests that she was a Gentile attracted to Jewish religion and morality but not a convert. There were many such among the pagan society in ancient times.
16.15. … and her household: for household baptisms, see also 16.31-34, 11.14, 18.8 and 1 Corinthians 1.16. And she prevailed upon us: somehow the use of prevailed strikes me as amusing, as it suggests that Paul & Co. might have preferred to stay elsewhere.
Psalm 67
The Nations Called to Praise God
Please see the notes at the RCL site.
A Reading from the Revelation of St John. 21.10, 22-22.5
The final vision of the Book of Revelation is of ‘the Bride, the wife of the Lamb’ [20.9]. Although this is a supernatural vision, the images are more straighforward than some others in this book and do not require lengthy explanations. It is useful, however, to note some of the principal cross references, in order to see that the themes encountered here run deep in the whole of the Bible.
The seer is brought by an angel to a very high mountain from which he sees the holy city coming down out of heaven from God (see 3.12, 20.2 and compare Ezekiel 40.2). The next dozen verses, which are omitted from the reading, describe a city of amazing beauty, like a rare jewel.
[21.22] In the city was no temple, for the presence and glory of God dwells in it. See 20.3; Isaiah 24.23. For the same reason the city needs neither sun nor moon [23]. On verse 24, see Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72.10.
[25] The gates will not be shut by day: a city’s gates would be shut by day for defense; the new city of God is perfectly safe. there shall be no night: see 22.5 and Zechariah 14.7.
[27] nothing unclean: see Isaiah 52.1. The Lamb’s book of life: See 3.5; 13.8; 17.8; 20.12, 15, Isaiah 4.3; Daniel 12.1; Psalm 69.28.
[22.1] The river of the water of life: see 21.6; Genesis 2..10, Psalm 46.4; Ezekiel 47.1; Zechariah 14.8; John 7.37, 38.
[2] The tree of life: Genesis 2.9; Ezekiel 47.12.
[4] They shall see his face: the crowning joy of heaven is to see the face of God. See Psalms 17.15; 42.3; Matthew 5.8. The term ‘Beatific Vision’ is used in theology to speak of this supreme joy. See The Catholic Encyclopaedia, and the further link there. On their foreheads: see 7.3; contrast 13.16.

The Holy Gospel according to St John 14.23-29
There is a choice of Gospel readings for today. Since this is the Sunday before Ascension Day and our thoughts are turning to that greay event and to the Day of Pentecost which follows, it seems reasonable to read this passage rather than the other (John 5.1-9) today. The Gospel of John is so rich a text that we can only provide the barest comments here. The RCL notes are helpful.
This passage comes from John’s account of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus at the last Supper, which runs from 14.1 to 17.26. At the beginning of Chapter 14 he tells his disciples not to be afraid : though he is going from them, he is going to prepare a place for them and will take them to himself [14.1-4] Thomas [14.5] and Philip [14.8] question him about his words.
14.15-26 contain the promise of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Our reading begins with the last part oif this section: Archbishop Temple, however, wisely suggests that the whole of this passage must be considered together. He provides an outline
15, 16: Love and obedience are coupled together, and both are associated with the coming of the Paraclete.
17-24: The meaning of that coming is partially disclosed
25, 26: The source of the Paraclete’s power in the historic minsitry of Christ is made clear, and the thought of his coming is thus again linked with the love and obedience of the disciples to their Lord.
Paraclete: This is simply an English form of the original word Parakletos, and I use it here because there no one English word that adequately renders it. We find ‘Counsellor’ in the RSV, ‘Advocate’ in the NRSV, ‘Comforter’ in almost all the early English versions, the AV, Temple and elsewhere; all these words have points in their favour. The original Greek word is from a verb meaning ‘to call for, call upon’; so that the paraklete is someone who has been called to one’s side, one called for assistance. ‘Advocate’ seems to catch the root meaning best. ‘Comforter’ is only good if we remember that it means not what makes you comfortable, but what makes you strong (from the Lat fortare). ‘Helper’ is perhaps possible, but lacks dignity.
14.23. Jesus answered him: he is the other Judas (not Iscariot). Temple has a charming note on this detail: ‘We picture the Apostle John dictating to John the Elder and Evangelist, and when he comes to the word ‘Judas’ the Elder looks up to protest that Judas had gone out;—in answer the words are added not Iscariot. He has asked Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world? He refers to 14.21, where Jesus said that it is to those who keep his commandments and love him that he will manifest himself. The idea that the manifestation is limited perplexes Judas. But his question is simply speculative, as if for clarification, and Jesus never gives a direct answer to such questions; instead he speaks of the implicit spiritual point. Here is is the intimate fellowship with God that comes from love of Jesus Christ. It is the coming of the Father and the Son to the one who loves Jesus and keeps his commandments which is the manifestation; if the world loved Jesus then he would be manifest to the world.
14.26. The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. This is the only passage that makes the identification of the Paraclete and the Holy Spirit explicit. Although Jesus is going away, the Holy Spirit is a means by which his life is imparted to the disciples, his teachings maintained and interpreted.
14.27-29. In the last three verses the Lord Jesus gives a parting gift of Peace, my own peace; he gives it not as the world gives. In reading these verses ask yourself: how does the world give? How is Jesus’ gift of peace different? Note that the words in v. 27, let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, echo the opening words of the chapter: Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me [1.4]. These words also call to mind the Lord’s words to Joshua (and we remember that that name is only a Greek form of the name Jesus): Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh 1.9).
There is neither space nor time for any further writing this week.

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