Scripture notes – 6th Sunday of Easter – Year B – 5th May 2024

It is a current cliché to talk about a person’s ‘legacy’ meaning what they leave in words and actions. If we apply that idea to Jesus, the readings today suggest that LOVE is his legacy – the unending love he ‘poured out’ on us, enabling us to love God in return, and to love each other. As Julian of Norwich wrote, ‘Love is his meaning.’’

The readings are available online here.

Acts of the Apostles 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-49
This reading is a part of a longer story, which you can read in all of chapter 10 of Acts. Luke sets out a lively tale of the conversion of a Gentile and like many a good storyteller, he repeats the highlights leading up to the conclusion. Cornelius, a centurion in a Roman regiment stationed in the Holy Land, is ‘God-fearing’ – the designation at that time for a non- Jew who accepted the basis of the Jewish religion, without becoming a full Jew. He has been outstanding in the charitable help to others. During prayer one day, he has a vision telling him to send for a ‘Simon surnamed Peter’. Before the messengers from Cornelius reach Peter, he too has a vision, in which he is told to eat foods that will break the Jewish dietary laws. (These rules are in Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament.) He is puzzling over the meaning of this when the messengers arrive, but he agrees to visit the centurion.

Today’s selection picks up when he arrives at the home of Cornelius. Now Peter understands that the vision about forbidden food was telling him that there is no longer to be any Jewish exclusiveness, rather ‘God has no favourites but anybody of any nationality’ can be acceptable to him. As Peter is speaking ‘the Spirit came down’ on the household; this means in a way that was visible to those with Peter. The charisms mentioned are those described on Pentecost: speaking God’s praise in various languages. (This is called ‘speaking in tongues’ in 1 Corinthians 12, and in the modern groups or churches which adopt the name ‘charismatic’ or ‘Pentecostal.)

As Nicholas King points out in his notes to New Testament, it is hard for us now to appreciate what a challenge it was to the Jews who were the first Christians to give up the detailed regulations of the old Law, and to receive into their communion Gentiles without demanding they also take on all of the Law’s many restrictions. Luke, probably a Gentile himself, had been forecasting this event from the first chapter of his Gospel, but it would still be an issue even after Peter’s vision and decision about Cornelius and his household (In Chapter 15 of Acts the problem arises again.)

Psalm 97/98:1-4
This a joyful psalm of praise, first celebrating what the Lord has done for Israel. Our verses pick up where God is shown reaching out to ‘all the ends of the earth’ and calling all peoples, fitting well the story of Cornelius. The Hebrew words here translated ‘his love and truth’ is a complex idea that is related to the Covenant promises and to a loving God faithful to those promises, but it also is widely used in the Old Testament to describe how God reaches out to humanity. It is variously translated; some other examples are ‘love and fidelity’, ‘steadfast love’, ‘loving-kindness’ and ‘everlasting love’. This love coming to us from God is at the heart of the Hebrew religion we inherited, as the second reading will spell out for Christians.

1 John 4:7-10
The Letter can be hard to follow, as the form of reasoning differs from modern explanations, and can seem repetitive. It circles around the concept, looking at God’s love and our response from various directions. ‘Love’ can seem an easy word and much used casually around us, but in 1 John, we are shown that the source of all love is God – that indeed God is love. Next comes the depth of what it means for us and the challenge to live in that sort of loving relationship. Each sentence alone can be worth a meditation.

John 15:9-17
This selection comes from Jesus’ long farewell that John places at the Last Supper. With Jesus’ ‘commissioning’ his disciples to carry on when he has returned to the Father, it is like his ‘last testament’ or ‘legacy’. It is helpful to remember that this follows on from last week’s vine symbol, and the love that Jesus commands is possible because we are as closely joined to Jesus as branches on the stem of a plant, drawing our life and love from him. The teaching circles around, as it does in the Letter, drawing us to see various aspects of the interrelationship between the love of the Father, the love of the Son, and the love we are enabled to share.

Raymond E. Brown, in his commentary on this Gospel, finds the word translated as ‘friend’ as too weak for the biblical meaning, for modern ‘friendship’ can be casual. (Since he wrote, it has become even more casual, when by ‘clicking’ on an internet site, people are said to have made a ‘friend’.) The Greek word used here, is from the same root as the word for ‘love’ (philos) and so a truly close relationship is meant. Brown translates it as ‘I have called you my beloved’. This better explains the deep intimacy that allows us to ‘bear fruit’ and pray in Jesus’ name. The theme of bearing fruit also recalls last week’s vine comparison.

This discourse of Jesus can be both comforting and challenging. It is leading us towards first the Ascension this Thursday when Jesus physically left this world, and the feast of Pentecost when we celebrate how the first disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to ‘bear fruit’ by reaching out to the world in the name of Jesus.

Joan Griffith

Suggestions for prayer or reflection:

Julian of Norwich wanted to know the ‘meaning’ of the revelations she was ‘shown’ by the Lord. After fifteen years, here was her answer:

‘Learn it well: Love was His meaning. Who showed it to thee? Love. What did He show thee? Love. Why did He show it to thee? For Love. – Thus did I learn that Love was our Lord’s meaning.

And I saw full surely that before God made us He loved us; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love He hath done all His works; and in this love He hath made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting. In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein He made us was in Him from without beginning: in which love we have our beginning. And all this shall we see in God, without end.’

What is a puzzle or mystery in your life? Might the meaning be – Love?

Gwen Griffith-Dickson