Monday, 30 April 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 6 May 2018,
Sixth Sunday of April

‘Almighty God, whose will it is that the earth and the sea should bear fruit in due season’ … spring fruit ripening on the trees in Thessaloniki earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 6 May 2018, is the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

The Readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Acts 10: 44-48 or Isaiah 45: 11-13, 18-19; Psalm 98; I John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.

There is a direct link to the readings HERE.

Next Sunday is also known as Rogation Sunday. This is the day when the Church has traditionally offered prayer for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food. The word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin rogare, ‘to ask.’

Historically, the three Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day, were a period of fasting and abstinence, beseeching God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest. Many people in our parishes today still directly derive all or part of their livelihood from the production of food, and it is good to be reminded of our dependence on them and of our responsibility for the environment.

The traditional collect on Rogation Days prays:

Almighty God,
whose will it is that the earth and the sea
should bear fruit in due season:
Bless the labours of those who work on land and sea,
grant us a good harvest
and the grace always to rejoice in your fatherly care;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This posting looks at the first set of Lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, as well as offering liturgical resources and suggestions for hymns for next Sunday.

The White-Robed Army of Martyrs on the walls of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna … from left to right, Cornelius is the fifth white-robed figure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 10: 44-48:

The Apostle Peter has been told to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, stationed in Caesarea. Both men have had visions. In Saint Peter’s case, he has been advised not to worry about what meat a Jew can eat according to the Mosaic law, and not to worry whether he can visit a Gentile home.

We have been told Saint Peter has visited Cornelius and his household, where ‘many had assembled’ (verse 27). There Peter tells Cornelius that God has shown him not to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles (verse 28).

For his part, Cornelius, we are told, is a God-fearing man who prays and is full of good works and deeds of alms. Cornelius becomes one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity.

In his vision, an angel tells Cornelius his prayers have been heard, and tells him to send the men of his household to Joppa, where they will find Simon Peter, who is living there with a tanner named Simon (Acts 10:5 ff).

Saint Peter accompanies Cornelius’s men back to Caesarea, a distance of 60 or 70 km. There, when Cornelius meets Simon Peter, he falls at his feet, but Simon Peter raises the centurion and the two men share their visions.

Cornelius tells Saint Peter of his vision, and of the angel who told him to send for Saint Peter. He says: ‘So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say’ (verse 33).

Saint Peter summarises Christ’s earthly ministry: at his Baptism, the Father anointed [Christ] ... with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (verse 38); the apostles witnessed ‘all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem’ (verse 39), he was crucified, but the Father ‘raised him ... and allowed him to appear’ (verse 40) in the flesh to those chosen by God. Christ commanded them to spread the good news, and to testify that he is to judge the living and the dead (verse 42), that he is the one of whom the Old Testament prophets spoke: ‘everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins’ (verse 43).

Now, in this reading, the Holy Spirit comes as a gift on all present, ‘even on the Gentiles.’ This is to the surprise of the Jewish Christians ‘who had come with Peter.’ The pouring out of the Spirit and Baptism are closely associated in Acts, and Baptism follows the coming of the Spirit. Saint Peter points out how the Jewish Christians received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so now that these Gentiles have received the Spirit, surely they too should be baptised. And so, they are baptised, though not by Saint Peter but under his authority (verse 48).

During his stay, Saint Peter also presumably ate with these Gentile. In the passage that follows (Acts 11:1-18), Saint Peter returns to Jerusalem, where he defends his actions. He recalls how Christ had told them that they would receive the Holy Spirit. God has given the Gentiles ‘the same gift that he gave us when we believed,’ so who was he to stand in God’s way? Those present praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to [eternal] life.’

The baptism of Cornelius and his household is an important event in the history of the early Church, along with the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, which we read about the previous Sunday. The controversy about Gentile conversion is discussed later at the Council of Jerusalem, where the Church agrees that Gentiles who become Christians do not need to conform to Jewish requirements, including circumcision (see Acts 15).

Saint Peter takes many risks in deciding to accept Cornelius and his household into the family of faith and to eat with gentiles. Later, when Saint Peter appears to step back and decides not to eat with Gentiles in Antioch, the Apostle Paul publicly rebukes him for hypocrisy that led Barnabas astray (see Galatians 2: 11-14).

Traditions say Cornelius later became the first Bishop of Caesarea or the Bishop of Scepsis in Mysia. But he too took risks in being baptised.

What risks does Cornelius take in this reading?

The symbol of office of a centurion was the vine staff. Centurions were not only professional military officers, but also law enforcers and tax collectors.

In the early Church, a Christian was prohibited from being in the army. Cornelius now risks losing his position, his social status, and his income. All his family are put at risk too, and so this conversion has implications for his household, his family and for generations to come.

What risks are we being challenged to take in the Gospel reading, in our own Baptismal promises?

The Baptismal font in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 98:

Many of the themes in the reading in Acts can be found in Psalm 98. In this Psalm, we are invited to sing ‘a new song’ marking new evidence of God’s rule. With truth, or his right hand, and power, he has won the victory for his people Israel. Note how the word victory word occurs three times in the first three verses.

God has triumphed over all who seek to overthrow his kingdom. All peoples can see that Israel is right in trusting him. Then, as when the people groaned in their oppression in Egypt (see Exodus 2: 24), he recalls his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his promise to lead them and protect them. All peoples will see his saving acts.

The earth, sea, floods, hills and all creation are to acknowledge God’s rule and be joyful. People of all lands are invited to join in. God’s coming to judge the world will be a truly marvellous event. He will judge us, but his judgement will be perfectly fair and equitable, for he is righteous.

A carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus … but the author of I John writes to the Church in Ephesus about more important signs of victory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I John 5: 1-6:

One of the best-known symbols of globalisation is the Nike Swoosh logo. You find it on tracksuits, on sweatshirts, on trainers, on sneakers, on T-shirts, all over the world. There must be very few people who do not recognise the Nike logo, which has been sported by the likes of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and Venus and Serena Williams.

The company takes its name from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and the ‘Swoosh’ was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching accounting classes and she started doing some freelance work for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS). BRS needed a new brand for a new line of athletic footwear it was preparing to introduce in 1972. Knight approached Davidson for some design ideas, and she agreed to provide them – at $2 an hour.

Carolyn Davidson quickly presented Knight and others at BRS with a number of designs, and they finally selected the mark now known globally as the Nike Swoosh – an abstract outline of an angel’s wing that some people think looks more like a checkmark or the tick used on some essays to indicate a positive mark.

The company first used the logo as its brand in 1971, when the word ‘Nike’ was printed in orange over. The logo has been used on sports shoes since then, and is now so well-recognised all over the world, even by little children, that the company name itself is, perhaps, superfluous.

Carolyn Davidson’s bill for her work came to $35. Mind you, 12 years later, in 1983, Knight gave Davidson a gold Swoosh ring and an envelope filled with Nike stock to express his gratitude. It is surprising to realise, therefore, that Carolyn Davidson’s design was not registered as a trademark until 1995.

A logo representing victory is an appropriate and meaningful symbol for a company that manufactures and sells running shoes. The logo is used in tandem with the slogan, ‘Just do it’ and the branding campaign was so successful in communicating to their target market that the meaning for the logo evolved into a battle cry and the way of life for an entire generation. A small symbol has brought victorious success to a once-small company.

What is said to be one of the earliest inspirations for the Nike tick sign is a carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus.

But when Saint John was writing to the Church in Ephesus, he expressed very different ideas about victory to his company of little children as he discussed love and told them to ‘just do it.’

In this reading (I John 5: 1-16), we are reminded of the connection between faith and love, the two great themes of this epistle, and to victorious faith leading to eternal life. I John talks about a very different type of victory than the victories associated with commercial branding, globalisation and the financial glory associated with brand names and over-commercialised sport. Instead, the writer emphasises the victories associated with faith and love ... faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the love of God and of one another that should be the victorious tick sign of Christians.

As we come to the end of reading Saint John’s first letter, we are reminded that everyone who believes in Jesus as Christ and the Son of God is a child of God too. And so, if we believe in God and in Christ as his Son, we should love God and love his children, and this is the imperative for Christians to love one another.

But how do we know that we are doing this and showing that love? We know that know that we truly love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. Gestures of charity are simply not good enough – there must be a direct connection between loving others and living a life of holiness and sanctity.

But unlike the traditional observation and codification of the commandments, with their heavy-laden and burdensome listings and enumerations, the author tells us the love of God and love of others is not a great burden for the Christian. On the other hand, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, there is no cheap grace, there is a cost to discipleship. Nobody said it was going to be easy being a Christian. But, because we are children of God, we know that our faith is a victory (Nίκη) that conquers the world. Christ has overcome the world, and our faith in him enables us to conquer the world.

The author of I John then refers to the baptism (water) and the death (blood) of Christ, or, perhaps, to both the death of Christ on the cross, when water mingled with his blood as they flowed from his side, and the Eucharist.

But water is also the symbol of the Spirit in the Johannine writings: think of the wedding at Cana or the conversations Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the Well and Nicodemus.

Raymond Browne suggests that the breakaway group in the Church in Ephesus may have emphasised the baptism of Jesus, where water and the Spirit are so closely linked, as the saving moment in the life of Christ. But here John shifts the emphasis to Christ’s death and Resurrection.

Here I John is returning to the idea that the Spirit, present in us as Christians through our Baptism, is the supreme witness to Christ, present in us as Christians, through our Baptism.

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ … John 15: 13 quoted on the World War I memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 9-17:

[Jesus said:] 9 ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’

Sunday morning’s Gospel story is familiar to many of us because of the way one verse in it is often quoted on war memorials in our churches and cathedral: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ (John 15: 13).

In this Gospel reading, however, Christ is talking about death and victory in a very different context, as he continues the theme of us abiding in him and he abiding in us, which we discussed last week.

We are listening to him these Sundays as he continues to prepare his disciples for his physical departure from them. In the reading on the previous Sunday, he has told us that he is the ‘true vine’ (see John 15: 1), and that we are the fruit and the branches. We are to represent him in the world and to present him to the world, bearing fruit and acting in his name.

Now he tells us that he loves them us the Father loves him. We are to continue to love him, by being obedient to his commandments. He is obedient, even to death on the cross. He continues to be in a loving relationship with the Father. This kind of love leads to joy, ultimate joy. Christ, who is the model for our behaviour, loves us so much that he gave his life for us, his friends.

In the Old Testament, it is an honour to be a servant of God. But a servant is not normally admitted to the counsel of the master, while friends are. Now Christ tells the disciples that they know all that the Father has told him. Christ has taken the initiative in choosing us and he appoints us to seek new disciples who will have a deep and lasting commitment to him.

But this deep and lasting commitment to Christ is best expressed and found in the way that we love one another (verse 17).

‘I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15: 16) … fruit on a market stall in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (the Sixth Sunday of Easter):

God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

‘As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist, so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread’ (the Post-Communion Prayer, Rogation Days) … fruit ripening on lemon trees in Platanes near Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Additional resources (Rogation Days):

The Collect (Rogation Days):

Almighty God and Father,
you have so ordered our life
that we are dependent on one another:
Prosper those engaged in commerce and industry
and direct their minds and hands
that they may rightly use your gifts in the service of others;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer (Rogation Days):

God our creator,
you give seed for us to sow and bread for us to eat.
As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist,
so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread,
that the world may praise you for your goodness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord’ (Psalm 98: 5-6) … a window in the North Aisle of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B), in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Acts 10: 44-48:

298, Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord
299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
456, Lord, you give the great commission
306, O Spirit of the living God

Isaiah 45: 11-13, 18-19:

581, I, the Lord of sea and sky

Psalm 98:

146, A great and mighty wonder
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come
705, New songs of celebration render
710, Sing to God new songs of worship
369, Songs of praise the angels sang

I John 5: 1-6:

557, Rock of ages, cleft for me
528, The Church’s one foundation

John 15: 9-17:

515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’
516, Belovèd, let us love: love is of God
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
421, I come with joy, a child of God
495, Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
525, Let there be love shared among us
75, Lord, dismiss us with your blessing
456, Lord, you give the great commission
231, My song is love unknown
315, ‘This is my will, my one command’
530, Ubi caritas et amor
451, We come as guests invited
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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