Notes on the readings April to June 2009

Note: ¶ = Reading omitted at St Mary's, Temple Balsall

April | May | June

Sunday 5 April, 2009
Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50. 4 – 9a
The passage depicts a servant of God who gives himself to great suffering for the cause he has embraced.

¶ Philippians 2. 5 11
We should probably read this passage as an early Christian hymn, summing up (rather like a kind of creed) the career of Christ. From God's highest place of esteem and dignity to the degradation of death by crucifixion, and then to glorious vindication.

Mark 14. 1 15. 47
The Passion as told in Mark (our oldest account) is bleak in the extreme.  It stresses Jesus’ aloneness, abandoned or turned on by all.  He treads the path assigned to him – for us.  It is the character of God, here starkly revealed.

¶ or Mark 15. 1 – 39 (40 – 47)

  • Can we bear to face the story Mark gives to us?  It shames us before it brings us any peace.
  • Is a sense of abandonment a hard but necessary condition to a sense of being loved?
  • Jesus’ ‘success’ or triumph is won only at the cost of extreme loss. Can we possibly enter into its reality?

Thursday 9 April, 2009
Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12. 1 – 4 (5 – 10), 11 – 14
The Last Supper was the Passover Meal, so here are the rubrics for its observance – on the eve of Israel’s great salvation from slavery in Egypt.  We have always seen it as the model for our redemption in Christ.

1 Corinthians 11. 23 – 26
The oldest telling of the story of the Last Supper, whose actions are the model for the Eucharist – for all times and places.

John 13. 1 – 17, 31b – 35
The washing of the disciples’ feet is an act of deep humility, teaching the bond of love that is to join the followers of Jesus and make them one.

  • Pray for a deeper devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist.
  • We praise God for our rescue by God from all that threatens us.
  • We trust that we can grow in love for each other.

Friday 10 April, 2009
Good Friday

Isaiah  52. 13 – 53. 12
The so-called ‘Servant Song’ has been seen from early times as presaging Jesus’ Passion, and it may indeed have helped to nourish his own vocation.  It tells of a righteous sufferer in God’s good cause.

Hebrews 10. 16 – 25
The writer sees Jesus as having fulfilled the purpose of Old Testament worship: to bring is near to God in purity.

or Hebrews 4. 14 – 16; 5.  7 – 9
The high priest represented all Israel before God and entered his presence on their behalf.  Jesus fulfils that purpose for us all and for ever, giving us the sure access that we desire.

John 18. 1 – 19. 42
The Passion according to John focuses on the trial before Pilate, with its twin themes of Kingship and truth.  Jesus shows himself to be the genuine article, and he dies in total fulfilment of his mission.

  • Pray to identify with Jesus in his suffering.
  • Praise God for his love shown to us in Jesus.
  • We rejoice in the completion of the mission of Jesus.

Sunday 12 April, 2009
Easter Day

Acts 10. 34 43
After the conversion of a gentile, a Roman officer, Peter gives a succinct outline of the importance of Jesus and the gospel that flows from him.  This ‘witness’ is the heart of the Church’s mission.

¶ or Isaiah.  25. 6 9
The prophet foretells salvation as a huge feast for God’s people, and the end of all grief.

1 Corinthians 15. 1 11
This passage gives the earliest known summary of Christian faith, centring on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Paul gives it to testify to his own Christ - given role as ‘apostle’ or agent of Jesus to make the faith known.

¶ John 20. 1 18
Two stories of Easter Day, telling first of the abandoned tomb and then of Jesus' meeting with Mary Magdalene. A new world is born and the old is put behind.  And love and recognition are the marks of the new.

or Mark 16. 1 8
This is the oldest story of the resurrection, and we note that it gives no story of an appearance by Jesus.  Indeed, it is mysterious in the extreme, with its strange ending.  It is as if we are to put no trust in mere ‘evidence’, but accept God’s future by faith.

  • Theories are all very well, but we start from the bedrock simplicity of the Christian story and give thanks for it.
  • We give thanks for the new life that Jesus gives and for its fruit in Paul – and in us.
  • Pray not to fret to ‘tie up’ our faith but to leave room for God to show us more.

Sunday 19 April, 2009
The Second Sunday of Easter

¶ Exodus 14. 10 31, 15. 20 21
The disaster which Passover brought to the Egyptians need give us no joy.  It is chiefly a picture of miraculous rescue for freedom.

or Acts 4. 32 35
The earliest Christian community in Jerusalem bound itself together to the point of sharing all its property.  Christians have not always been happy with this generous impulse.  Should they be readier to welcome it?

Psalm 133

¶ 1 John 1.1 2.2
This letter is a precious pastoral statement of the precious gift of God to us in Jesus and the forgiveness that is so important a part of it.

John 20. 19 31
The story of Thomas reassures many who ‘have not seen yet have come to believe’.  Faith comes by many routes and does not depend on proof – which can indeed be its very opposite and its enemy.  It is an act of self-giving love.

  • Christian common life needs to have practical expression. How far can we take it?
  • To be a Christian is to know the renewal of life.
  • Pray for purity of faith, for the sake of God alone.

Sunday 26 April, 2009
The Third Sunday of Easter

¶ Zephaniah 3. 14 20
The prophet sings of the liberation of God’s people from captivity.  It is for us a sense that we can share.

¶ or Acts 3. 12 19
Peter addresses a hostile audience in Jerusalem.  He both excuses those who attack and who killed Jesus (they acted in ignorance) and presents them with the gospel hope.  For God has vindicated Jesus, his great agent for our good.

¶ 1 John 3. 1 7
The promise of the vision of God himself is one of the most wonderful in the whole of the Scriptures.  Our destiny is no less than the closest fellowship with God that we can imagine.

Luke 24. 36 48
In this appearance, Jesus places his mission in the context of God’s age-old promises and his work for his people.  But a whole new time of fulfilment has now arrived.

  • We give thanks for the gift of faith given through Jesus but have no space for hostility to those who reject it. 
  • Pray for grace to grasp the promise of the closest intimacy with God.
  • We thank God that always he directs his goodness towards us.

Sunday 3 May, 2009
The Fourth Sunday of Easter

¶ Genesis 7
The old story of the great flood and of the rescue of Noah is a familiar picture of salvation – always a miraculous and amazing gift.

or Acts 4. 5 12
Peter uses the evidence of a healing to support his claim for Jesus as the key to salvation.  Hardly enough by itself, it is a way in to making the case for Jesus. Small doors can lead into large rooms.

1 John 3. 16 24
The intimate relationship of Christians with Christ centres on love, his gift to us and our readiness to share and spread it.  This is the basis for our seeking after virtue. Not an individual quest but a common pursuit.

John 10. 11 18
The key to this easily sentimentalised picture is the sheer value of sheep to their owner.  This accounts for Jesus’ self-offering on our behalf and for the sake of the growth of the flock.  It is his God-given task.

  • Pray to seize small clues to lead us on to faith and love for God.
  • Pray for the gift of openness to one another which is the beginning of love.
  • Thank God for Jesus’ dying as an act of sheer generosity – even for us.

Sunday 10 May, 2009
The Fifth Sunday of Easter

¶ Baruch 3. 9 – 15, 32 – 36; 4. 1 4
God’s people rejoice in his favour and the wisdom that makes him known.

¶ or Genesis 22.  1 -  8
This terrifying story of disaster so narrowly averted is a picture of submission to God, even in the most extreme situation – yet also of liberation.

or Acts 8. 26 40
This is the first instance of anyone reading the passage about the suffering servant of God in Isaiah 53 as a picture of the meaning of Jesus.  It leads this foreigner (perhaps a marginal Jew) to baptism by the hand of Philip.

1 John 4. 7 21
‘God is love. ’ Familiar to the point of cliché;  but a major breakthrough.  God might be chiefly just or even vengeful or endlessly demanding.  But it is not so.  Love is the key to his whole being, through and through.

John 15. 1 8
The image of the vine sets out a picture of the Christian community as, first, joined together totally, and, second, as wholly dependent on Christ who is himself the vine as a single entity.   And then the task is to bear fruit.

  • Give thanks to God for the strange circumstances that can bring us to him.
  • Can we accept God as totally marked by love?
  • Pray to embrace our dependence on one another as Christian people.

Sunday 17 May, 2009
The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Isaiah 55. 1 11
The message is twofold: that God is generous and bountiful, and that he is nevertheless beyond all human imagining.

¶ or Acts 10. 44 48
This passage marks a decisive moment in the Church’s life:  when Jewish Christians were challenged to accept gentile converts for the first time.  The move was made – with difficulty.  Such moments of the widening of vision are always difficult – down to our own day.

¶ 1 John 5. 1 6
Obedience as a Christian is to be no burden because it springs from love, which comes in turn from God’s love for us made plain in the offering of his life by Jesus.

Psalm 98

John 15. 9 17
The Gospel of John gives us only one command to obey and it must embrace all the ‘duty’ that we take on: that we love one another.  It sounds simple but it only becomes so if it really embraces our whole way of life. 

  • Pray for courage to accept new developments where needed for the sake of the gospel.
  • Thank God for the simplicity of obedience that underlies what sometimes seems the complexity of Christian life.
  • Pray that we may accept ourselves as truly ‘friends’ of God, high status indeed.

Thursday 21 May, 2009
Ascension Day

Daniel 7. 9 – 14
This fantastic picture certainly takes us to another realm and helps to make the point of Jesus’ heavenly role in glory.

¶ or Acts 1. 1 – 11
This act, assuring Jesus’ triumph, marks the transition to the time of the Church. 

Ephesians 1. 15 – 23
The writer sings a hymn of adoration for Christ in the heavenly endorsement of his triumph.

Luke 24. 44 – 53
Luke’s Gospel ends with Jesus’ heavenly withdrawal at the end of Easter Day – and the disciples go to the Temple, keeping the link with Israel.

  • Pray to identify with Christ as joining earth and heaven.
  • We praise God for his gifts in Christ.
  • Can we bear too strong a sense of glory?

Sunday 24 May, 2009
The Seventh Sunday of Easter

¶ Ezekiel 36. 24 28
The return of the exiles from Babylon to Judea was a major act of salvation – comparable to the flight from Egypt.  It will produce a whole new start.

Acts 1. 15 17, 21 26
The story of the choice of Matthias seems at first sight just a matter of organization.  But the point is to ensure the continuity of what Jesus had set in motion.  Christians live in ‘the real world’, and the task is not to shun it but to fill it with the gospel. 

1 John 5. 9 13
This passage is a kind of summing up of leading themes of the First Letter of John; so it is written in a set of brief headings.  ‘Life’ is a gift of God to be found through Jesus. Only so can we truly relate to God and each other as we are meant to do.

John 17. 6 19
In this final chapter before the Passion, Jesus prays to God for those whom God ‘has given him’.  In so doing, he binds them into his own union with God; and nothing can be deeper or more thorough than that. 

  • Pray to see behind the ordinary things of church life to the things of God that must fill them and give them life.
  • Exclusiveness and superiority are not our way: pray to accept humbly what God gives to us.
  • Give thanks that God has united us to himself through Jesus our Lord, who is God to and for us.

Sunday 31 May, 2009
Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

¶ Acts 2. 1 21
The Spirit means: God as powerfully involved among us – and the story gives us a striking picture of such power that it has made its mark on the Christian imagination, especially in its promise of being for everyone.

¶ or Ezekiel 37. 1 – 14
The story of the valley of dry bones to which God gives life is a fitting prophecy of the burst of new vitality and power which the earliest Church displayed.

¶ Romans 8. 22 27
There is always something unfinished about the gift of God, and we look for its fulfilment in a spirit of hope – a strong virtue, essential to our Christian life.  It enables us to yearn for the perfection of all things in God’s providence. 

John 15. 26 27; 16. 4b 15.
We live in the time between the life of Jesus and the fulfilment we must hope for.  We therefore have to come to terms with the conditions of this ‘space’.  In the light of the past, we can see the shape of the future but we cannot imagine its glory.  God embraces the whole.  The Spirit is the name we give to God for his work in this time between.

  • Pray for discontent with the present state of things as we look always towards God’s  perfecting power.
  • Pray for the gift to rejoice in what we have received from God while embracing the Spirit that drives us forward.
  • We trust that we may share the vigour of our first ancestors in the faith.

Sunday 7 June, 2009
Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6. 1 8
The dramatic call of the prophet Isaiah takes us to the heart of what it means to feel seized by God and to have no option but to respond and give oneself to his service.  It is an act of love, a real giving of oneself, but all the same, there is a kind of glad compulsion.

Romans 8. 12 17
For Paul, ‘spirit’ and ‘flesh’ do not quite mean soul and body but rather twin forces to which we are subject.  on the one hand we can be directed towards God (‘spirit’) or else on the other hand towards ourselves and the ordinary horizons of this world.  God can draw us to himself and then we truly know him as ‘Father’.

John 3. 1 17
Nicodemus cannot make sense of the idea of ‘rebirth’.  Jesus has to explain the poetry. It is all about starting again from our foundations and entering a new sphere of life that centres on God as made known, visibly, through and in Jesus.

  • God’s call can be truly dramatic as an experience, but in any case we pray for its  reality in our lives.
  • We thank God that he raises us to such a high status in his company. may we live up  to it – by his grace.
  • Pray to recall the true meaning of our baptism and to live in its light.

Sunday 14 June, 2009
The First Sunday after Trinity Proper 6

¶ 1 Samuel 15. 34 – 16.  13
Leadership of Israel is a succession of hopes raised then dashed, as men fail to measure up to the hopes invested in them.  The Fall constantly repeats itself.

or Ezekiel 17. 22 – 24
A parable of the constant failure of human conceit, as plans are thwarted and cease to flourish.

2 Corinthians 5. 6 – 10, (11 – 13), 14 – 17
Christ’s effect on everything is so revolutionary that we see the whole world and our own lives with fresh eyes.

Mark 4. 26 – 34
Jesus preaches – and ‘plants’ among us – the sovereignty of God; not as a mere fact but as the marvellous truth that surrounds us.  This truth will spread and spread, often unseen.

  • Pray always to sense the freshness of God.
  • Thank God for his reliability always.
  • Pray for the growing spread of God’s word.

Sunday 21 June, 2009
The Second Sunday after Trinity Proper 7

¶ 1 Samuel 17. (1a, 4 – 11, 19 – 23), 32 – 49
The long story of the victory of the youth David over the veteran champion, Goliath, is a literary classic. Pious lessons may seem rather forced.

¶ or 1 Samuel 17. 57 – 18. 5, 10 – 16
David is the returned hero, darling of the peple and a threat to those in power.

or Job 38. 1 11
The long poem, chiefly a discussion between God and Job about the terrible ills he has suffered, ends in God crushing him.  Who is Job to have an opinion?  Not a satisfactory modern answer, but we can think out whether there is a point in it!

¶ 2 Corinthians 6. 1 13
Paul has suffered much misunderstanding in his work as apostle, even from those to whom he has been the bringer of the gospel and who owe him so much.  He feels the pain but tells them of his own God-given resources. His love is not stifled.

Psalm 107.1-3,23-32

Mark 4. 35 41
The story of the calming of the storm by Jesus must have been heard by its first hearers as a picture of the truth that they were to trust, purely and simply, through all sufferings and torments that might come to them.  Jesus is greater than all such ills.

  • Pray never to turn away from the sheer wonder and greatness of God.
  • To stand for the gospel is to take risks. Pray not to shirk them out of fear.
  • Give thanks for the calm that can lie beneath our sufferings.

Sunday 28 June, 2009
The Third Sunday after Trinity Proper 8

¶ 2 Samuel 1. 1, 17 – 27
In this classic passage, we read of David’s heroic lament for Saul and Jonathan – whose mantle he will now soon take on, though not without strife.  It is the stuff of the sagas of many nations.

¶ or Wisdom of Solomon 1. 13 15;  2. 23 24
This positive statement of our essential goodness and value as God’s own handiwork should encourage us.  This underlies all that goes wrong with us or spoils us for God.  To realize this is to be on the way to recovery.

¶ 2 Corinthians 8. 7 15
It may not be immediately obvious, but Paul is here urging his converts in Corinth to give generously to the needs of the mother church in Jerusalem.  Perhaps they could not quite see the point.  He bases his appeal on the infinite generosity of Christ in his self-giving, working out his life and death in the conditions of this world.  They must love their fellow-Christians wherever they are. God’s people are a single family.

Mark 5. 21 43
The raising of Jairus’ daughter is a kind of foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection and must have been heard as such from the start.  As always, Jesus responds to human need, even in this extremity. And new life is the outcome.

  • Give thanks for our standing as God’s creatures, which is our chief glory.
  • Let theory and practice meet in our practical generosity. Receive Jesus as the bountiful source of all kinds of good, even life itself.

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