On the sixth Sunday of Easter, our readings have a lot of Law in them. The Israelites, after walking through the Red Sea on dry land, drinking water that sprang from the rock, and eating manna and quail faithfully provided for them each day, complain “We detest this miserable food!” And yet, just as we think, “How ungrateful can they possibly get?” we read the Epistle lesson, which tells us that God’s Word about the ungrateful Israelites is holding up a mirror in front of us. Why this depressing emphasis on Law in the season of Easter? Only when we realize the seriousness of our sin can we be truly grateful for Jesus lifted up on the cross for our salvation. As the Israelites had only to look at the bronze snake and live, so we have only to believe and be saved. We deserve snake bites, but God in His grace gives us His Son.
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 4-9:
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
The Epistle lesson is from James, chapter 1, verses 22-27:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
The Gospel for the sixth Sunday of Easter is from John, chapter 16, verses 23-33:
In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Moses and the Brazen Serpent, by Sébastien Bourdon [Public domain]