Bible Study

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Bible Study: Easter 6 (B) – 2015

May 10, 2015


Acts 10:44-48

Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer includes all kinds of changes to the liturgy for baptism, but the most significant one doesn’t have to do with the language in our prayers. Have you noticed that our baptismal rites aren’t found right before Confirmation, as in older prayer books, but instead fall between Easter Vigil and the Eucharist?

There’s a reason for that: The Book of Common Prayer tells us right at the outset that “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298). Baptism is the necessary precursor to the Eucharist, as our Canons clearly state: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church” (I.18.7). As the Easter Vigil is traditionally the time when the church would welcome new members, it is fitting that our prayer book follows the Vigil with the service for Holy Baptism. Only after baptism do we get to the Eucharist.

  • Some see this as exclusionary – but it isn’t. We don’t discriminate on ethnicity or any other invidious dividing line. Our table excludes nobody who wants to be at it; with Peter, we say to anyone who wants to share with us in our Lord’s Supper, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?”
  • How do you understand the relationship between baptism and Eucharist? Where does Confirmation fit in?

Psalm 98

One of the most ancient poems of our English language is “Cædmon’s Hymn.” Dating from the late 7th century, this poem – which St. Bede attributes to a cowherd under angelic inspiration – is a short but powerful nine-line celebration of God’s might and glory as revealed in creation.

This psalm is in much the same vein (better, “Cædmon’s Hymn” is in the same vein as this psalm) in that it celebrates God’s might and glory. Here, though, the psalmist celebrates God’s might and glory as revealed in his vindication, his victory, his triumph – all of which requires a defeated enemy. The “nations” to which the psalmist refers are the hostile enemies of God’s people, who would indeed have been their victims had God not rescued his people by a demonstration of overpowering force.

Not long after Cædmon wrote his poem, his monastery fell prey to a Viking attack. Psalms like this one have a special resonance to those who know what it is to fear the violence of an irresistible, predatory foe. Most likely, as you read this you are not facing that kind of existential threat from your neighbors. So in times like these, we may follow the advice of our fellow Anglican C.S. Lewis and pray this psalm on their behalf.

  • Have you ever prayed a psalm for somebody else? For somebody you don’t know?
  • Have you ever prayed a psalm for yourself?

1 John 5:1-6

“Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus said, “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). “His commandments are not burdensome,” John says here in our passage. Likewise, in Torah we read that Moses told God’s people, “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away” (Deuteronomy 30:11).

None of this should give us the idea that we can earn God’s favor, or even that we have it in ourselves to please him. One shameful element of our Anglican heritage is that our native Pelagius (ca. 354-418 CE) is one of the heretics whose false teachings keep coming back like dandelions in the spring. The upside for the church is that Pelagius’ notion that we could merit God’s favor by our own works stimulated his contemporary, St. Augustine, to produce some of his most inspired works of theology.

But we can’t miss the message – taught consistently throughout scripture – that God gives us his commandments to give us joy, not to kill it. It is sin that kills joy, that uses fleeting pleasures to keep us from knowing the fullness of joy that comes with a life lived as God made us to live it.

  • Think about the last time you confessed sin. How much pleasure did that sin bring you? How much joy? How much joy did it kill?

John 15:9-17

If all we knew was that God’s commandments bring joy, that alone would be Good News – since those commandments are available to us, and we can see the lives of people who follow them. But what Jesus makes clear in this passage is that obedience to God is not simply a matter of adhering to rules; rather, it’s an intimate relationship with the eternal Lover who made us. He has told us how we can live well, yes, but he has also made it possible for us to live not just for ourselves but in him. We abide in Jesus’ love as we keep his commandments; we keep his commandments as we abide in his love. And the more we “get” this, the more complete is his joy in us.

Think about the first time you were taught to do some sort of manual task, like cutting a piece of wood. Did somebody point at the saw and the wood and tell you to cut straight? Or did she guide your hands into place, demonstrate how much pressure to apply and how fast to go, even guide your hands with her own? The command to cut straight really would be burdensome, and would produce anxiety rather than joy, if we didn’t have any help. Thankfully, our master Carpenter is a better teacher than that. Indeed, as he told the disciples later on in this same conversation, he promised to send them his Spirit to teach, guide and comfort them. We receive that same Spirit in our baptism.

  • How do you think about the relationship between following Jesus’ commandments and abiding in his love? Do you sometimes feel as if you have to do one or the other?
  • Can you think of a time when you were especially aware of the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you followed God’s commandments?

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Contact:
Christopher Sikkema

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