Reflection for for the sixth Sunday of Easter: Rogation Sunday

Acts 10: 44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

John 15: 9-17

Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 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. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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. 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. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Reflection

Have you noticed recently the alarming increase in warnings about scams? Every day we hear reports about attempts to deceive people, usually with the aim of obtaining their bank account details. Sadly, many people have been deceived by a caller or email pretending to represent their bank, a government department, or to be a legitimate business – and some people have suffered heavy losses.

Just last week, a radio phone-in programme warned people of a bogus company in England offering camper vans and caravans for sale at very attractive prices. There was an impressive website displaying their stock, but it turned out to be a very sophisticated fraud and a number of people were cheated out of thousands. The advice is to be vigilant and cautious, and to ensure that a company or individual is authentic and are who they say they are.

Today’s gospel reading is all about being an authentic follower of Christ. This is a continuation of our Lord’s final words to his disciples in the upper room, following the last supper. Jesus told them: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.’ God is the source of all love, which he has revealed to us in his Son, Jesus. Through our relationship with Christ, we are enabled to fulfil his commandment, to love one another.

Love is such an overused and abused term that it needs defining. Jesus told the disciples to love one another in the same way as he loved them. Remember, these words were spoken before Our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion, but the cross was clearly in view when he told them: ‘No one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. He was about to set them the supreme example of sacrificial and self-giving love. The kind of love that Jesus demanded of his followers was love that sacrifices self for others.

In our short reading from the Acts, we heard a small part of a much larger and very important story involving Peter, who discovered what Our Lord’s law of love meant in practice. All of the first disciples were practising Jews who observed the biblical laws, including those surrounding food and not mixing with gentiles or non-Jews.

The story begins with a Roman army officer named Cornelius, an outsider by any standards to Peter. But Cornelius was no godless pagan; he is described as a devout man who feared God with all his household and gave alms generously. In a long story, Cornelius had a vision in which he was told to send for Simon, who is called Peter. At the same time, Peter too had a vision in which he saw all types of forbidden or non-kosher food descending from heaven with a divine instruction: ‘Get up Peter, kill and eat.’ Objecting to this unclean food, Peter was told: ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane’.

Messengers were sent by Cornelius to bring Peter to his house, where he shared with this God-fearing Roman and his household, the message about Jesus. While the story is sometimes referred to as the conversion of Cornelius, it is, in a way, also the conversion of Peter who told his audience: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right, is acceptable to him’.

This was a monumental change in worldview for Peter. He discovered that abiding in Christ’s love meant accepting everybody in the way God does, without partiality. The story concludes with the short passage we heard earlier, with a second Pentecost-like manifestation of the Holy Spirit as evidence of God’s presence and action in the life of Cornelius and his family. It is significant also that Peter stayed several days there, something he would never have dreamed of before.

To live by the law of love means moving out of our comfort zone and setting aside our own prejudices, be they cultural, ethnic, social, religious, gender-based, or any of the other barriers we inherit or erect around our own identity. It means recalibrating our thinking and worldview to align it with Christ’s law of love. This is how we can be recognised as an authentic follower of Christ. Amen.

Collect for 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. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

For obedience to the law of love, let us pray to the Lord.

God our Father,
Give to the church, chosen and called to service,
the love for all people which reveals your love.
We pray for our parish, for this diocese, and for Pat our bishop.
As we have received your grace
So may we be a channel of your peace.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

Grant to those who hold authority,
the love which is stronger than the love of power.
May they may know that true authority comes from you
and is fulfilled, not in command, but in service.
Grant that love shall drive out hatred between nations and races
so that peace may be established where there is conflict.
We pray for countries struggling to contain the coronavirus,
especially India. We pray that the vaccine may be delivered
effectively across the world.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

As Christ has called us to be his friends,
increase in us the gift of friendship towards all
who come close to us in our daily lives.
By our love for one another may we show
that we are his disciples.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are sick in body, mind or spirit.
Bring healing and strength to all who are ill,
in hospital or at home, remembering those who are undergoing
or recovering from surgery or treatment.
We remember all who grieve or mourn, especially the Watson
family as they mourn for Stephen.
Grant them your comfort and peace.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

On this rogation Sunday, we pray for our farming community.
We remember those who have suffered through adverse weather over recent months.
Bless all who labour to provide the food we depend on.
Support them through times of difficulty,
and give to us all a greater appreciation of your providence
and our dependence on those who work the land.

Lord hear us; Lord graciously hear us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
Be with us all, evermore. Amen.

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