Bible studies are a great way to learn about the Christian faith, to grow and live as a Christian, and to share our faith.
Our weekly Bible Study Group meets after the Sunday 10.00am Choral Eucharist. Studies also occasionally meet via Zoom at different times.
All are welcome to join the studies, no prior knowledge is required. If you own a Bible we encourage you to bring that with you – other materials are provided below and in hard copy on the day.
Lent Series 2023 • Journeying with Bach’s St John Passion: Six Steps on the Way of the Cross
These sessions will run on Sundays at 9.00am and 11.45am
- 26 Feb: ‘One of you will betray me’ (John 13.21-32)
- 6 Mar: ‘Servants are not greater than their master’ (John 15.18-25)
- 13 Mar: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times’ (John 13.33-38)
- 20 Mar: ‘For this I cam into the world, to testify to the truth’ (John 18.28-38a)
- 27 Mar: ‘You have no power over me’ (John 18.38-19.16)
- 3 Apr: ‘It is finished (John 19.16b-30)
Week 1 • One of you will betray me
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at onceJohn 13.21-32
In your own time listen to Movements 1-7: Movement 1 (Herr unser Herrscher — 0min 00sec) to Movement 7 (Von den Stricken— 17min 06sec)
At the Lent Course we will listen to the Chorale: O greater Love (O große Lieb)
|O greater love, O love beyond all measure,|
brought you to this road of torture!
I lived with the world in happiness and joy,
and you must suffer.
|O große Lieb, o Lieb ohn alle Maße, that|
die dich gebracht auf diese Marterstraße!
Ich lebte mit der Welt in Lust und Freuden,
und du mußt leiden.
Movement 3 (13min 03sec) of Bach’s St John Passion, set as a chorale for Flutes I/II, Oboe I and Violin I with Sopranos; Oboe II, Violin II with Altos; Viola with Tenors; Continuo with Basses. The seventh verse of Johann Heermann’s Passion Chorale, Oh dearest Jesus, what law have you broken (Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen).
Bach’s music and words often encourage us to think about our own personal experiences and responses to the Bible story, to put ourselves into the story.
- The Bible reading tells the story of Jesus being betrayed by one of his friends. Would you find it harder to forgive betrayal by someone close to you? Does this deepen your understanding of the depth of God’s forgiveness?
- The Chorale invites us to reflect that Jesus’ love is what leads him to this ‘road of torture’ and suffering. How does it make you feel to receive this love?
- The Chorale sets up a contrast, that we live in the world with happiness and joy, while Jesus must suffer. But it also implies that we live redeemed and whole because of his suffering. How does it make you feel to benefit from Jesus’ suffering?
Lord Jesus, you were betrayed by a friend: be with all who are betrayed and slandered and falsely accused. You knew the experience of having your love thrown back in your face for mere silver: be with all who are torn apart by mistrust or temptation. To you, our loving Lord, who offered your face to your betrayer, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Week 2 • ‘Servants are not greater than their master’
‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”John 15.18-25
At the Lent Course, we will listen to the Chorale: Who had struck you so? (Wer hat dich so geschlagen?)
|Who had struck you so,|
my salvation and with troubles
so battered you?
You are indeed not a sinner
like us and our children,
you do not know about transgressions.
|Wer hat dich so geschlagen|
mein Heil, und dich mit Plagen
so übel zugericht’?
Du bist ja nicht ein Sünder
wie wir und unsre Kinder
von Missetaten weißt du nicht.
|I, I and my sins|
that are like little grains, that are to be found
by the sea, of sand,
they have provoked
the distress that strikes you
and the host of afflicting tortures.
|Ich, ich und meine Sünden,|
die sich wie Körnlein finden
des Sandes an dem Meer,
die haben dir erreget
das Elend, das dich schläget,
und das betrübte Marterheer.
Movement 11 (28min 31sec) of Bach’s St John Passion set as a chorale for lutes I/II, Oboe I and Violin I with Sopranos; Oboe II, Violin II with Altos; Viola with Tenors; Continuo with Basses. Verses 3–4 of Paul Gerhard’s hymn O Welt, sieh hier dein Leben—Oh World, behold your Life.
Last week, the readings and music led us to think about God’s love and forgiveness in the face of Judas’ betrayal. This week the focus moves to us and to the world.
- The Bible reading reminds the disciples that they will also experience suffering because they too bring the news of God’s love and forgiveness to ‘the world’. What is so challenging about God’s love that ‘the world’ wants to hate and reject it?
- The Bible reading ends with a quote from Psalm 64, a Psalm where David reflects on feeling overwhelmed by sorrows, estranged from his family, and unfairly persecuted by enemies. Much of the Passion story seems inherently unfair. How can we address the apparent unfairness in this story about divine justice?
- The Chorale invites us to reflect that even if our individual sins are small everyday transgressions, the weight of all the tiny sins of the world add up to being flayed by all the sands of the sea. What feeling is the Chorale trying to evoke in us as contributors to the distress, tortures and battering that Jesus experienced on the cross?
Lord Jesus, you were misunderstood and rejected by the authorities: be with those who are persecuted by those in power. You faced the condemnation of fearful hearts: deepen the understanding of those who shut themselves off from the experience and wisdom of others. To you, Jesus, unjustly judged victim, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Week 3 • ‘Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times’ (John 13.33-38)
33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
36 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ 37Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ 38Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.John 13.33-38
In your own time, listen to Movements 9 to 14: Movement 9 (Ich folge dir gleichfalls—21min 56sec) to Movement 14 (Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück—36min 05sec)
At the Lent Course we will listen to the Chorale: Peter, who does not think back (Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück)
|Peter, who does not think back,|
disowns his God,
he, however, at a serious look
Jesus, also look at me,
when I do not want to atone;
when I have done evil
move my conscience!
|Petrus, der nicht denkt zurück,|
seinen Gott verneinet,
der doch auf ein ernsten Blick
Jesu, blicke mich auch an,
wenn ich nicht will büßen;
wenn ich Böses hab getan,
rühre mein Gewissen!
Movement 14 (36min 05sec) of Bach’s St John Passion, set to Flutes I/II, Oboe I and Violin I with Sopranos; Oboe II, Violin II with Altos; Viola with Tenors; Continuo with Basses. A setting of verse 10 of Paul Stockmann’s Good Friday hymn Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod—Jesus’ Suffering, Pain and Death.
In the last two weeks, ‘the eleven’ disciples have been the good people, who stay close to Jesus. This week, we reflect on the moment when even Simon Peter betrays Jesus.
- The Bible reading tells us that Simon Peter responds to the call to ‘love one another’ with an impassioned declaration of love for Jesus. However, before the next morning, he will have felt trapped into claiming that he wasn’t with Jesus after all. What are the challenges of acting on our love for God?
- The Chorale again invites us to put ourselves into the picture, this time stepping into Simon Peter’s shoes. The Chorale claims that even though Simon Peter acted wrongly, he was immediately sorry when Jesus looked at him. What is your response to imagining being ‘looked at’ by Jesus?
- The Chorale reflects that not only do we sometimes do bad things, we don’t always want to be sorry about it. What makes you resist repentance?
Lord Jesus, as Peter betrayed you, you experienced the double agony of love rejected and friendship denied: be with those who know no friends and are rejected by society. You understood the fear within Peter: help us to understand the anxieties of those who fear for their future. To you, Jesus, who gazed with sadness at your lost friend, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Week 4: ‘For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth’
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’ (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him.John 18.28-38a
In your own time listen to Christus, der uns selig macht to Durch dein Gefängnis
Movement 15 (Christus, der uns selig macht — 37min 40sec) to movement 22 (Durch dein Gefängnis — 1h 01min 36sec)
At the Lent Course we will listen to the Chorale: Through your prison (Durch dein Gefängnis)
|Through your prison, Son of God,|
Freedom must come to us.
Your dungeon is the throne of mercy,
The refuge of all the pious;
If you had not gone into slavery
Our slavery must have been forever.
|Durch dein Gefängnis, Gottes Sohn,|
Muss uns die Freiheit kommen;
Dein Kerker ist der Gnadenthron,
Die Freistatt aller Frommen;
Denn gingst du nicht die Knechtschaft ein,
Müßt unsre Knechtschaft ewig sein.
Movement 22 (1h 01min 36sec) of Bach’s St John Passion, set for Flutes I/II, Oboe I/II and Violin I with Sopranos; Violin II with Altos; Viola with Tenors; Continuo with Basses. A contemporary poem by the Leipzig and Hamburg librettist Christian Heinrich Postel used as a chorale. Christ’s self-emptying and becoming a slave sets free the believer, Paul had explained: ‘we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith was revealed’ (Galatians 3.23), but through Christ ‘now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive’ (Romans 7.6).
This week, the readings and music encourage us to turn from interrogating our interior towards considering our impact on the wider world.
- The Bible reading is full of political manoeuvring, with debates about jurisdiction, kingliness, Jewishness, and eventually ‘truth’ itself. What do you think is the ‘truth’ that this reading contains for us today?
- The Chorale invites us to reflect on slavery versus freedom; and while Germany was not actively involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, everywhere in Europe was deeply embedded in this unjust and inhuman practice. If we imagine Jesus in an equivalent unjust and inhuman practice today, what ‘prison’ or ‘slavery’ do people need to be freed from?
- The Chorale continues to use contrasts, here transforming a dungeon (underground prison) into a ‘throne of mercy’ and a ‘refuge’ through Jesus’ suffering. Reflect on which dark places in our world you would like to see be made places of safety and mercy.
Lord Jesus, your kingdom is not of this world, your dungeon is your throne of grace:
be with those who are imprisoned for the convenience of the powerful.
You were the victim of unbridled injustice:
change the minds and motivations of oppressors
and exploiters to your way of peace.
To you, Jesus, innocent though condemned,
be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Week 5: ‘You have no power over me’
After Pilate had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.John 18.38-19.16
At the Lent Course we will listen to the Chorale Oh great King (Ach großer König)
Movement 17 (Ach großer König — 43min 00sec)
|Oh great King, great for all time,|
How can I sufficiently
broadcast this faithfulness?
No person’s heart
is able to imagine, however,
What to give to you.
|Ach großer König, groß zu allen Zeiten,|
Wie kann ich gnugsam
diese Treu ausbreiten?
Keins Menschen Herze
mag indes ausdenken,
Was dir zu schenken.
|I cannot grasp it with my senses|
With what yet
to compare your mercies.
How can I then,
your loving deeds
By works, repay you?
|Ich kann’s mit meinen Sinnen nicht erreichen,|
dein Erbarmen zu vergleichen.
Wie kann ich dir denn
Im Werk erstatten?
Movement 17 of Bach’s St John Passion, set as a chorale for flutes I/II, Oboe I and Violin I with Sopranos; Oboe II, Violin II with Altos; Viola with Tenors; Continuo with Basses. Verses 8–9 of the Passion Chorale, Herzliebster Jesu.
This week, the readings and music grapple with some of the most challenging ideas in theology and culture—we won’t solve these issues this week, but we can consider them.
- The Bible reading has been used for centuries to justify some of the worst anti-Semitism practiced by Christians in Europe, but Bach uses it instead to encourage Lutherans to reflect on their own wrongdoing—a practice we continue when we re-enact the Passion story in our Holy Week services. How do we feel about super-imposing ourselves as Christians into the story?
- The Chorale points out that Jesus’ work is so great, we can’t ‘imagine’ it, we can’t ‘grasp it with [our] senses’, we can’t even try to understand it by making a comparison with something else. How do you try to describe something that is beyond description?
- The Chorale encourages us to take the feelings of gratitude in our hearts, and make them external: we attempt to ‘broadcast’, ‘give’ and ‘repay’ in response to Jesus’ great faithfulness. When you reflect on God’s generosity, what do you want to do in response?
Lord Jesus, you were scourged and mocked, ridiculed and punished for our sins, be with those who cry out in agony of body and soul, and those suffering innocently. You endured barbaric abuse, be with those who face torture and mockery in our world today. To you, Jesus, the King crowned with thorns, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Week 6: ‘You have no power over me’
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.John 19.16b-30
In your own time listen from Er nahm alles wohl in acht to Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein
Movement 28 (Er nahm alles wohl in acht/Es ist vollbracht — 1h 20 min 27 sec) to Movement 40 (Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein — 1h 50 min 43sec)
At the Lent Course we will listen to the Chorale: In the depths of my heart (In meines Herzens Grunde)
|In the depths of my heart,|
Your name and cross alone
Sparkles for all time and at all hours,
Because of it I can be cheerful.
Appear to me in the picture
For consolation in my adversity
As you, Lord Christ, so charitable
You have bled to death.
|In meines Herzens Grunde|
Dein Nam und Kreuz allein
Funkelt all Zeit und Stunde,
Drauf kann ich fröhlich sein.
Erschein mir in dem Bilde
Zu Trost in meiner Not,
Wie du, Herr Christ, so milde
Dich hast geblut’ zu Tod!
Movement 26 (1h 12min 39sec) of Bach’s St John Passion, set as a chorale for flutes I/II, Oboe I and Violin I with Sopranos; Oboe II, Violin II with Altos; Viola with Tenors; Continuo with Basses. Verse 3of the Lutheran funeral hymn, Valet will ich dir geben (O world, so vain, I leave you) bu Valerius Herberger.
This week, the readings and music point us towards completion and eternity.
- The Bible reading explores the idea of being ‘finished’, vollbracht, “τετέλεσται” (tetélestai), which also means completed or perfected. In this section, all the prophecies are fulfilled, the important emotional tasks carried out, and the work of salvation is done. How do you feel, having completed this Lent course?
- The Chorale invites us to take the glimmering picture of Jesus’ name and cross into the ‘depths’ of our hearts, so that we can be comforted. What does that image look or sound like to you?
- The Chorale talks about feeling ‘cheerful’ or merry, mirroring the words for ‘happiness and joy’ in Week 1 (Movement 3), again because of Jesus’ death. So now is a good time to revisit the question we asked in week 1: How does it make you feel to benefit from Jesus’ suffering? And has your answer changed?
Lord Jesus, you handed over your life on the cross: give courage to those who die at the hands of others. You were dead but now you are alive: transform the torments of this world’s sin that we may see your radiant glory. To you, Jesus, who have broken free from the bonds of death, be honour and glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
- Healing God’s Creation Series (May – June 2022)
- The Epistle to the Philippians (Lent 2022)
- The First Epistle of John (February 2022)
- The Book of Ruth (Advent 2021)
- Creation-tide Sermon Series & Bible Study (Oct – Nov 2021)
- Discipleship Sermon Series & Bible Study (Sep – Oct 2021)
- The Book of Revelation (May – June 2021)
- The Epistle to the Ephesians (Oct 2020)