The Preacher’s Study
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
John W.B. Hill
1 John 5:1-6;
The readings for this Sunday amplify what we heard last Sunday: that God is glorified when disciples of Jesus bear much fruit. And that fruit is the love that binds us together in Christ.
What was God’s purpose in creating the universe? Love! What is the purpose of our life in union with Christ? Fruitfulness, so that God’s love may be known and enjoyed ever more widely! How is this possible? Through the initiative of the Spirit who propels us into a reality we cannot yet imagine, if we are open to it.
The purpose of this long Easter season (longer than the season of Lent!) is strengthening us in the knowledge of the astounding generosity and power of God’s love for the world.
The first reading brings to completion the story of Peter’s visit to the home of Cornelius. Peter could not imagine why he had been requested to pay this visit, but he was persuaded to go by the arresting visions he had just experienced (Acts 10:9-23). What resulted from the visit was not just the conversion of Cornelius’ entire household and social network, but the conversion of Peter and his friends. This was, in fact, merely the beginning of the conversion of the messianic community into a covenant people beyond national boundaries. Up to this point, the people of the covenant were, by definition, cultural Israelites. This had been God’s doing, and any other definition was unimaginable. How could other peoples with their utterly foreign and disreputable cultures (including their culinary customs) be part of the same covenant community?
So Peter and his companions were understandably shocked to witness these foreigners experiencing the same energies of the Spirit that they had experienced on the Day of Pentecost (verses 45-46). What they were seeing challenged everything they thought they knew about God’s covenant partnership with Israel, and yet it was undeniably real!
In our time, when most Christians have succumbed to the post-Enlightenment view of ‘religion’ (that faith is a personal, private or domestic affair), Peter’s reservations about Cornelius’ conversion may seem to us narrow-minded. But that is because we have jumped to the conclusion that Cornelius had simply adopted the beliefs of the messianic community. How could that be a problem?
But the Spirit was instigating something more radical than the spread of a new religious belief. The second reading challenges us to take more seriously the reality of being ‘born of God’. “Everyone who loves the parent loves the child” (whoever loves the begetter loves the begotten).
Disciples of Jesus share a blood-bond, for it is through his body broken and blood spilled that we have come to participate in his life. “We, being many, are one body, for we all share in one bread.” The images of this communal bond are many, for the reality is deep! And the way we live this reality is by obeying God’s commandments, which “are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.” It is of the greatest significance, then, that Peter and his friends agreed to stay in Cornelius home for several days.
Conquering the world involves learning to love those whose foundational culture is totally foreign to us. This may seem burdensome, but it promises to relieve us of the burden of our racism, nationalism, and sectarianism, which keep dragging the world into conflict, subjugation, exploitation, and suffering. When we learn to recognize one another as members of one body, one indivisible but polychromatic human race, brought to new birth from the wounded side of the crucified Redeemer, then our lived faith will become an unmistakable sign of the world’s promised future as the kingdom of a gracious and generous God.
This may seem an idle fantasy, since we don’t know how such a conversion could ever come about. But the real question is not how it will happen but whether we are ready to let the Spirit propel us into this global community of faithful love. Peter could not know how the conversion of the messianic community would happen, but he didn’t need to know, for the Spirit would lead the way.
The Gospel reading assures us that the foundations for this ongoing conversion have already been laid. The character of this love which will bind us together has been defined: it consists in being ready “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” just as Jesus himself did for us.
The nature of our agency has also been defined: it consists in being Jesus’ friends (not merely his servants) — friends who are on the same wavelength, because Jesus has shared with us all that he has learned from ‘his Father’. We therefore know what to pray for because we know exactly what Jesus is up to and can count on God’s full support: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit...so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”
And the reward has also been defined: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
To share in this communal bond of love for the sake of the world God loves is a joy that transcends all other rewards, just as it did for Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
John W. B. Hill, an Anglican presbyter living in Toronto, Canada, is a Council member of APLM, chair of Liturgy Canada, and author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice. He will be one of the featured speakers at this summer’s conference co-sponsored by APLM and Journey to Baptismal Living: NAAC https://journeytobaptism.org/
“The Coming of the Holy Spirit,” by Soichi Watanabe (1996)
“Eucharist,” by Daniel Bonnell.
“Endless Road,” by Margret Hofheinz-Doring