Monday, 10 May 2021

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 16 May 2021,
Seventh Sunday of Easter,
Sunday after Ascension Day

‘The lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1: 17) … The 12 Apostles depicted in a mediaeval carving in the Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [16 May 2021] is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This day comes between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost.

The resources for planning Ascension Day, including the readings, propers, a reflection, hymn suggestions and illustrations are available HERE.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for next Sunday as adapted for us in the Church of Ireland are:

The Readings: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26 or Exodus 28: 1-4, 9-10, 29-30; Psalm 1; I John 5: 9-13; John 17: 6-19.

There is a direct link to these readings HERE.

Peter stood up among the believers … and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled’ (Acts 1: 15) … Saint Peter depicted in a window in the north nave in in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26:

None of us would like to be counted as the successor of Judas. But this reading from the Acts of the Apostles recalls the successor to Judas as one of the Twelve, the Apostle Matthias. Indeed, his feast day falls two days earlier, Friday 14 May 2021.

I sometimes wonder whether Saint Matthias saw the humour in being second choice. After all, he was the second choice – not the first choice, but the second choice – to succeed Judas among the Twelve.

Imagine how Saint Matthias might have felt: the first time round, he was not good enough to be among the Twelve, but Judas was. The second time round, his name is not mentioned first; instead, the first name to come forward is that of Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, but nobody ever since remembers him, and his saintly life has passed into oblivion. I hear very few children in school playgrounds or on football pitches being called Barsabbas, as in: ‘Hey Barsabbas, pass the ball over here.’

And then, to compound matters, nobody has the foggiest idea who Saint Matthias was, before or after his election. His name, identity and life story have been forgotten, apart from making him the patron saint of alcoholism and smallpox, and a of few small towns. We are not even sure where or how he died, or where he is buried.

This reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Saint Matthias is the Apostle chosen by the remaining eleven of the twelve to take the place of Judas Iscariot following his betrayal of Christ and his subsequent death by suicide (Acts 1:15-26).

According to the Acts of the Apostles, in the days following the Ascension of Christ, Peter proposes to the assembled disciples, who number about 120, that they choose one among them to fill the place of Judas among the Twelve.

And so, the assembled believers come forward with two nominations: their first choice is Joseph Barsabbas, or Joseph Justus. It may only be an afterthought that someone suggests the name of Matthias.

And then, they cannot make up their minds. Instead, they cast lots, and the lot falls to Matthias. I doubt any of us would be happy to hear we have been selected or nominated for any role in life we value by tossing a coin, drawing straws or rolling a dice as others pray about whether we are suitable or qualified.

Saint Matthias is unnamed before this account. After this, there is no further mention of him in the New Testament. He is the forgotten apostle. Having made an unexpected entrance on the stage, Saint Matthias walks off the scene once again. And we hear nothing more about him. We have no further information about him.

Saint Matthias’ Church, Killiney, Ballybrack, Co Dublin … what happened to Saint Matthias after he was chosen to join the Twelve? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Reflecting on Saint Matthias

Clement of Alexandria says the apostles are not chosen for some outstanding character, and certainly not on their own merits. After all, Judas is chosen as one of the Twelve, and even among the others Saint Peter denies Christ at the Crucifixion and Saint Thomas at first denies the Resurrection.

The apostles are chosen by Christ for his own reasons, but not for their merits.

If Saint Matthias had not been worthy of being called first time round, how is he worthy now to join the Twelve?

But discipleship, like ministry, is never about my worthiness, my merits. I have earned no right to be called to ordained ministry, to share in the priesthood of the Church, we have earned no right to be called disciples and part of the Body of Christ.

It is Christ alone who calls us.

Saint Matthias was elected not because he was worthy but because he would become worthy. Christ chooses each one of us in the same way.

I am not worthy to be even a poor substitute, even a second best substitute for Judas, who had his own unique place in God’s salvific plan as it unfolded.

It does not matter whether others think you have been too early or too late in responding to Christ’s call. It does not matter whether we are worthy in the eyes of others for any office or position we hold, or any good opinion others hold of us. What matters more is: What does Christ want of you?

And it matters little whether I am someone’s first choice or second choice in any role in life, whether I am praised or thanked for my work, whether anyone will remember my achievements, whether anyone remembers me after I die, can spell my name, or find my grave. All that matters is God’s plan, and whether I follow God’s call faithfully.

We are often in the place we are in life only because the person who was here before me failed: Joshua led Israel because Moses failed in the wilderness; David became King because Saul had failed; Matthias became an apostle because Judas had failed.

Saint Matthias is a living reminder of God’s grace to and for us. He was ‘grafted in’ to the company of the Apostles, not through his own merits, but by God’s grace. We have been grafted into the company of the Children of God, not through our own merits, but by God’s grace.

Saint Matthias is also a warning to us. He silently warns, ‘I am here because someone else failed. The same thing could happen to me if I stop taking my nourishment from the True Vine and stop bearing good fruit.’

A priest’s hands raised and spread for the priestly blessing on a gravestone in the Jewish cemetery in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Exodus 28: 1-4, 9-10, 29-30:

As the reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells of the selection of Matthias to join the Twelve, this reading from the Book of Exodus tells of how Moses was told to call Aaron, his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, and their male descendants, were chosen and set aside and consecrated to the priesthood.

They are to wear distinctive vestments, including a headdress that was the priestly mitre or turban (Hebrew: מִצְנֶפֶת‎ mitznefet). Although it is called a turban in many modern translations, it was referred to as a κίδαριν (kidarin) in the Greek Septuagint and in other places or μίτρα (mítra) (see Leviticus 8: 9, for example). It is translated as mitre in the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible into English. This mitre was worn by the High Priest when he served in the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem.

The priests are a small group set apart from the Tribe of Levi and are to serve in the Temple. Their jewelled decorations serve as a constant reminder that the priests are set aside to serve the 12 tribes of Israel and to keep the people in their hearts.

If being a cohan is a privilege and a responsibility, it also brings limitations in Jewish law. For example, a cohan may not marry a divorced woman, may not marry someone who has converted to Judaism, and should not come into contact with the dead or enter a cemetery.

The Cohanim or priestly caste continues to function in contemporary Judaism, and they impart their blessing with their hands raised and fingers separated in a gesture that often appears as a motif is on the gravestones of Cohanim or priestly descendants of Aaron and his sons. This motif is sometimes used too in the decoration of the Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark holding the Torah Scrolls in synagogues.

The priestly blessing (ברכת כהנים‎; birkat Cohanim) that cohanim continue to pronounce (Numbers 6: 24-26) says:

May the Lord bless and protect you.
May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face toward you, and give you peace.


The Jewish Sages stressed that although the priests are the ones carrying out the blessing, it is not them or the ceremonial practice of raising their hands that results in the blessing, but rather it is God’s desire that his blessing should be symbolised by the hands of the Cohanim.

The former Chief Rabbi, the late (Lord) Jonathan Sacks, says the Torah explicitly says that though the cohanim say the words, it is God who sends the blessing: ‘When the cohanim bless the people, they are not doing anything in and of themselves. Instead they are acting as channels through which God’s blessing flows into the world and into our lives.’

He adds, ‘Only love does this. Love means that we are focused not on ourselves but on another. Love is selflessness. And only selflessness allows us to be a channel through which flows a force greater than ourselves, the love that as Dante said, “moves the sun and the other stars”, the love that brings new life into the world.’

‘Like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, whatever they do, it shall prosper’ (Psalm 1: 3) … willows by the water at Bushy Park in Terenure, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 1:

This psalm, an introduction to the book of Psalms, contrasts the fate of the godly and the ungodly. The psalmist speaks of the happiness of the godly. They do not live as the ungodly do. Instead, they constantly and joyfully study God’s law, and they keep it. They prosper like trees planted by living water that bear fruit, and they are prosperous.

On the other hand, the ungodly are like chaff, and their future threatens to be a disaster. They will be excluded from the company enjoyed by those who follow God’s ways, and will suffer.

The cross on a relief carving in Saint John’s Basilica in Ephesus … in I John, the secessionists are compared with idolaters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I John 5: 9-13:

We have come to the end of this cycle of readings from the First Letter of Saint John. In the verses immediately before this passage, Saint John says the Holy Spirit witnesses or testifies to both Christ’s baptism (‘the water’) and his suffering on the cross (‘the blood’). Accepting this is expressed in discipleship, and in the sacramental life of the Church, Baptism and the Eucharist.

Now, in verses 9-13, we read that the principal witness to Christ, who is the truth, is the Holy Spirit, who has been sent by the Father to give testimony about his Son. The Spirit is the most convincing witness possible through the indwelling of the Spirit. To reject the Spirit is to reject life itself and to reject God.

In this section of I John, we are being told that love of God involves obedience to his will and love for God and for one another, and it brings Christians the promise of victory and everlasting life.

Love, for us as Christians, is the most important sign of victory in faith. As they say in the Nike advertising campaign: ‘Just do it.’

In this Epilogue, the writer returns to the theme of asking for things according to God’s will. The Early Church soon discovered that private requests in prayer were not always granted.

The author of I John is cautious as he tells his readers that while prayers will be heard in regard to most sins and most sinners, there is one sin so serious that he does not encourage people to pray for the offender.

Why does I John not tell us what this sin is? Have you ever wondered what it is?

Probably I John here is referring to the secessionists in the Church in Ephesus, and their apostasy, with the hint that this sin would be judged harshly throughout the Church. Saint John Chrysostom and many other Early Fathers of the Church taught that schism was worse than heresy, because schismatics tore apart the Church, the Body of Christ apart, while heretics could be admonished and corrected with careful teaching.

It is not that schism is unforgivable; it is that we should leave it and those who breach the fellowship of the Church in God’s hands.

On the other hand, the idea that every other sin is open to forgiveness through prayer could lead to a very lax and libertine attitude within the Church.

The setting for the Gospel reading (John 17: 6-19) is in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately after the Last Supper, known in Orthodoxy as the Mystical Supper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 6-19:

We are all familiar with the phrase ‘what’s mine is your and what’s your is mine.’

It may work well in families, or among schoolfriends. But what Christ is saying in verse 10 is more profound. We could read this as Trinitarian passage, for Christ is praying to the Father, that the disciples may be sanctified in the truth as they are sent into the world. So this is also an appropriate passage for this time between Ascension Day and Pentecost, preparing us for both the Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday a week later.

The context of this reading is the immediate aftermath of the Last Supper, indeed at points in this passage we may only grasp the significance of Christ’s words in the light of the Resurrection and the Ascension.

If we invite people who are listening to think back to the first reading and the selection of Saint Mattias as the next disciple, we can then point out that the timeframe for this passage is that interim space between Judas having left the Last Supper, and his betrayal of Christ, who is about to be arrested soon in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In his time alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ looks up to heaven. He prays to the Father, asking him to ‘glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.’ Christ waits to be restored to his glory. He has come to earth to provide eternal life to all who believe. Now he prays to the Father for the disciples.

He has made the Father known to those who would believe. To John, the ‘world’, or the cosmos, is notable for its unbelief and hatred. The disciples have been faithful to ‘your word,’ to truth, to God, to Christ’s teachings.

They have come to realise the relationship of the Son to the Father. They know Christ’s origin and mission. This prayer is on behalf of believers, who are God’s, and not on behalf of all people. We hear that belonging to God implies belonging to the Son, a theme that we might relate to the appointed Psalm. Christ’s power and authority have been shown to them.

In this reading, Christ asks four things of the Father:

• that they may be ‘one,’ as he and the Father are;

• that they may have ‘my joy’;

• that they may be protected from the influence of evil;

• that they may be able them to fulfil his mission in the world.

Christ asks the Father to ‘protect them in your name,’ by his authority and as his representatives. The Father has given Christ this authority. He has protected them, except for one: Judas.

The references to ‘the scripture’ that ‘might be fulfilled’ (verse 12) is not precise or clear, but may be reference to the Septuagint versions of Proverbs 24: 22, which refers to the ‘son of perdition.’

Christ asks the Father to set his followers apart or sanctify them as they are sent out into the world (verse 19) … a theme we face again the following Sunday, the Day of Pentecost.

The Last Supper depicted on the reredos in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford, carved in 1918 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 6-19 (NRSVA)

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’

‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee’ … the Twelve Apostles depicted in the East Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White, or Gold.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect (Easter VII):

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Collect of the Word:

Almighty God,
your blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ,
ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things:
mercifully give us faith to trust
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth until the end of time;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal Giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ and the twelve apostles in the East Window in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26

461, For all thy saints, O Lord
460, For all your saints in glory (verses 1, 2f, 3)

Exodus 28:1-4, 9-10:

643, Be thou my vision

Psalm 1:

649, Happy are they, they that love God
56, Lord as I wake I turn to you
383, Lord, be thou my word, my rule

I John 5: 9-13:

613, Eternal light, shine in my heart

John 17: 6-19

518, Bind us together, Lord
326, Blessed city, heavenly Salem
415, For the bread which you have broken
438, O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray
526, Risen Lord, whose name we cherish
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
531, Where love and loving-kindness dwell

The 12 Apostles in a ceiling display at the crossing in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Francis Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The hymns suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray’ (Hymn 438) … the Last Supper in a window in Saint Ailbe’s Church, Emly, Co Tpperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Ascension Day,
Thursday 13 May 2021

The Ascension Window in the North Transept (Jebb Chapel), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Ascension Day this year is on Thursday 13 May 2021.

This is one of the Principal Holy Days ‘which are to be observed,’ according to the Book of Common Prayer (see p 18), when the Eucharist is ‘celebrated in every cathedral and parish church,’ with the understanding that the ‘liturgical provision’ for this day ‘may not be displaced by any other observance.’

The Readings for Ascension Day in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

The Readings: Acts 1: 1-11 or Daniel 7: 9-14; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1: 15-23 or Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 44-53.

It is presumed that the reading from the Acts of the Apostles is read as either the first or second reading, and it must not be omitted.

There is a direct link to the readings HERE

Christ Pantocrator in the dome of Saint George’s Church in Panormos, east of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 1: 1-1:

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Salvador Dali: The Ascension (1958)

Some reflections on the readings:

Our view of the universe, our understanding of the cosmos, shapes how we image and think of God’s place in it, within it, above it, or alongside it. And sometimes, the way past and outdated understandings of the universe were used to describe or explain the Ascension now make it difficult to talk about its significance and meaning to today’s scientific mind.

The Ascension is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church, celebrated on the 40th day of Easter. In the Orthodox Church, this day is the Analepsis, the ‘taking up,’ or the Episozomene, the ‘salvation,’ for by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption.

On this day, we celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and his entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

Today we celebrate the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation.

On this day we see the completion of Christ’s physical presence among his apostles and the consummation of the union of God and humanity, for on this day Christ ascends in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of the Father.

The Ascension is the final visible sign of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, and it shows us that redeemed humanity now has a higher state than humanity had before the fall. That is the theological explanation, in a nutshell. By how do you image, imagine, the Ascension?

When we believed in a flat earth, it was easy to understand how Jesus ascended into heaven, and how he then sat in the heavens, on a throne, on the right hand of the Father. But once we lost the notion of a flat earth as a way of explaining the world and the universe, we failed to adjust our images or approaches to the Ascension narrative; ever since, intelligent people have been left asking silly questions:

When Christ went up through the clouds, how long did he keep going?

When did he stop?

And where?

Standing there gaping at the sky could make us some kind of navel-gazers, looking for explanations within the universe and for life, but not as we know it. In our day and age, the idea of Christ flying up into the sky and vanishing through the great blue yonder strikes us as fanciful. Does Jesus peek over the edge of the cloud as he is whisked away like Aladdin on a magic carpet? Is he beamed up as if by Scotty? Does he clench his right fist and take off like Superman? Like the disciples, would we have been left on the mountain top looking up at his bare feet as they became smaller and smaller and smaller …?

But the concept of an ascension was not one that posed difficulties in Christ’s earthly days. It is part of the tradition that God’s most important prophets were lifted up from the Earth rather than perish in the earth with death and burial.

Elijah and Enoch ascended into heaven. Elijah was taken away on a fiery chariot. Philo of Alexandria wrote that Moses also ascended. The cloud that Jesus is taken up in reminds us of the shechinah – the presence of God in the cloud, for example, in the story of Moses receiving the law (Exodus 24: 15-17), or with the presence of God in the Tabernacle on the way to the Promised Land (see Exodus 40: 34-38).

Saint Luke makes a clear connection between the ascension of Moses and Elijah and the Ascension of Christ, when he makes clear links between the Transfiguration and the Ascension. At the Transfiguration, he records, a cloud descends and covers the mountain at the Transfiguration, and Moses and Elijah – who have both ascended – are heard speaking with Jesus about ‘his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9: 30-31).

So, Saint Luke links all these elements as symbols as he tells this story. There is a direct connection between the Transfiguration, the Ascension and the Second Coming … the shechinah is the parousia. However, like the disciples in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we often fail to make these connections. We are still left looking up at the feet, which is the enigma posed by Salvador Dali over 60 years ago in his painting, The Ascension (1958).

Let us just think of those feet for a moment.

In the Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians that with the Ascension the Father ‘has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things’ (Ephesians 1: 22).

‘Under his feet’ … Salvador Dali’s painting of the Ascension, with its depiction of the Ascension from the disciples’ perspective, places the whole of creation under Christ’s feet. Of course, Isaiah 52: 7 tells us: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”.’

Feet are important to God. There are 229 references to feet in the Bible and another 100 for the word foot. When Moses stands before God on Mount Sinai, God tells him to take his sandals off his feet, for he is standing on ‘holy ground’ (Exodus 3: 5) – God calls for bare feet on the bare ground, God’s creation touching God’s creation. Later, when the priests cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, carrying the ark of the Lord, the water stops when they put their feet down, and the people cross on dry land (Joshua 3: 12-17): walking in the footsteps of God, putting our feet where God wants us to, is taking the first steps in discipleship and towards the kingdom.

The disciples object when a woman washes and anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair, but he praises her faith (Luke 7: 36-50). On the night of his betrayal, the last and most important thing Jesus does for his disciples is wash their feet (John 13: 3-12).

Footprints … many of us have learned off by heart or have a mug or a wall plaque with the words of the poem Footprints in the Sand. We long for a footprint of Jesus, an imprint that shows us where he’s been … and where we should be going. The place where the Ascension is said to have taken place is marked by a rock with what is claimed to be the footprint of Christ. And, as they continue gazing up, after his feet, the disciples are left wondering whether it is the time for the kingdom to come, are they too going to be raised up.

Yet it seems that the two men who stand in white robes beside them are reminding them Jesus wants them not to stay there standing on their feet doing nothing, that he wants us to pay more attention to the footprints he left all over the Gospels. Christ’s feet took him to some surprising places – and he asks us to follow.

Can I see Christ’s footprints in the wilderness?

Can I see Christ walking on the wrong side of the street with the wrong sort of people?

Can I see Christ walking up to the tree, looking up at Zacchaeus in the branches (Luke 19: 1-10), and inviting him to eat with him?

Can I see his feet stumbling towards Calvary with a cross on his back, loving us to the very end?

Am I prepared to walk with him?

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Since that first Ascension Day, the body of Christ is within us and among us and through us as the Church and as we go forth in his name, bearing that Good News as his ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1: 8).

Meanwhile, we are reminded by the two men in white: ‘This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts 1: 11). Between now and then we are to keep in mind that the same Jesus is ‘with [us] always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28: 20).

The disciples who are left below are left not to ponder on what they have seen, but to prepare for Pentecost and to go out into the world as the lived Pentecost, as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

The traditional icon of the Ascension shows Christ ascending – and descending – in his glory, blessing the assembly below with his right hand, a scroll in his left hand as a symbol of teaching. Christ continues to be the source of the teaching and message of the Church, blessing and guiding those entrusted with his work.

As people sent to spread the good news, we must leave behind us the footprints of Christ. Saint Paul paraphrases Isaiah when he says: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (Romans 10: 15). Our feet can look like Christ’s feet. Our feet can become his feet until he returns in glory once again (Acts 1: 11), when he returns exactly as he ascended. And we need to keep the tracks fresh so that others may follow us in word, deed, and sacrament, and follow him.

The disciples are sent back to Jerusalem not to be passive but to pray to God the Father and to wait for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In time, the Holy Spirit will empower them, and they will be Christ’s witnesses not just in Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth fulfilling that commission in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

In an old Ascension Day tradition in the Church of England, parishioners carried a banner bearing the symbol of a lion at the head of the procession, and a second banner bearing the symbol of a dragon at the rear. This represents the victory of Christ over the devil.

For many Christians, the meaning of the Day of Ascension is found in the sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. It is a reminder of the Kingdom of God within our hearts, and of the ever-present Spirit of God, watching over and protecting us as we spread the light of Christ and his truth throughout the world.

The disciples who are left below are left not to ponder on what they have seen, but to prepare for Pentecost and to go out into the world as the lived Pentecost, as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

The Ascension depicted in a window in Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Luke 24: 44-53 (NRSVA):

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The Ascension (1885) … one of three windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the chancel of Saint Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White, or Gold.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Collect of the Word:

Eternal and gracious God,
we believe your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to have ascended with triumph
into your kingdom in heaven;
may we also in heart and mind
ascend to where he is,
and with him continually dwell;
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
you have raised our humanity in Christ
and have fed us with the bread of heaven.
Mercifully grant that, nourished with such spiritual blessings,
we may set our hearts in the heavenly places;
where he now lives and reigns for ever.

Blessing:

Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Ascension depicted in the East Window by Marion Grant (1951) in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Acts 1: 1-11

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
261, Christ, above all glory seated!
260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning
263, Crown him with many crowns (verses 1, 4-6)
695, God of mercy, God of grace
266, Hail the day that sees him rise
267, Hail the risen Lord, ascending
268, Hail, thou once-despisèd Jesus
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
94, In the name of Jesus
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
307, Our great Redeemer, as he breathed
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
284, The golden gates are lifted up
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
291, Where high the heavenly temple stands

Daniel 7: 9-14:

125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
468, How shall I sing that majesty
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
132, Lo! he comes with clouds descending
276, Majesty! worship his majesty
34, O worship the King all-glorious above
678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended

Psalm 47:

275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
323, The God of Abraham praise

Psalm 93:

553, Jesu, lover of my soul
276, Majesty! worship his majesty
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

Ephesians 1: 15-23

250, All hail the power of Jesus’ name
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation, omit verse 1)
296, Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven
324, God whose almighty word
266, Hail the day that sees him rise
267, Hail the risen Lord, ascending
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
94, In the name of Jesus
99, Jesus, the name high over all
588, Light of the minds that know him
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
491, We have a gospel to proclaim
476, Ye watchers and ye holy ones

Luke 24: 44-53

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
261, Christ, above all glory seated
266, Hail the day that sees him rise
267, Hail the risen Lord, ascending
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns

The Ascension Window in the North Transept (Jebb Chapel), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A note on the Ascension Window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick:

The Ascension Window in the Jebb Chapel in the North Transept of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, pictured in the first image in this posting, was dedicated on 28 February 1961 by the then Archbishop of York, Michael Ramsey, who was about to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

The window was presented in memory of Horace Stafford-O’Brien (1842-1929) and his wife Eleanor Elizabeth (née Holmes), and was donated by their son, Major Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien (1872-1963), who lived just outside Limerick at Cratloe, Co Clare.

The Ascension Window is the most modern of all the stained-glass windows in Saint Mary’s Cathedral. It immediately attracts attention because of its size and because of the amount of white antique glass in its execution, allowing light to filter into the Jebb Chapel below.

The glass in this window is known technically as antique glass. It is of English manufacture – this glass is not made in Ireland – and is made specifically for stained glass work alone. Unlike sheet glass, it is not made mechanically. This window contains many thousands of pieces that have been leaded together by hand.

The main image in the window depicts the Ascension as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The lower images depict, from left to right, Saint Catherine of Sinai (lower left) with her wheel; the Parable of the Prodigal Son; the Annunciation; the Parable of the Good Samaritan; and Saint Nicholas (lower right), shown as Santa Claus, distributing gifts to children.

The figure of the Ascending Christ is in pale gold and ruby. The Apostles, the Virgin Mary and Saint Mary Magdalene are depicted in a rich array of blues, reds and greens, preserving a rhythmic balance of tone and colour that is consistent with the best traditions of stained glass. A neutral tone of green binds the composition of figures in an harmonious whole and gives a sense of stability to the grouping of the figures.

The Ascension window in the north transept of Saint Jarlath’s Cathedral, Tuam, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The hymns suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The Ascension depicted in a stained-glass window in Straffan Church, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 3 May 2021

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 9 May 2021,
Sixth Sunday of Easter,
Rogation Sunday

‘Almighty God, whose will it is that the earth and the sea should bear fruit in due season’ (the Rogation Collect) … summer fruit on a stall in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 9 May 2021, is the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter VI).

The Readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are:

The Readings: Acts 10: 44-48 or Isaiah 45: 11-13, 18-19; Psalm 98; I John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17.

There is a direct link to the readings HERE.

Next Sunday is also known as Rogation Sunday. This is the day when the Church has traditionally offered prayer for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food. The word ‘rogation’ comes from the Latin rogare, ‘to ask.’

Historically, the three Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day, were a period of fasting and abstinence, beseeching God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest. Many people in our parishes today still directly derive all or part of their livelihood from the production of food, and it is good to be reminded of our dependence on them and of our responsibility for the environment.

The traditional collect on Rogation Days prays:

Almighty God,
whose will it is that the earth and the sea
should bear fruit in due season:
Bless the labours of those who work on land and sea,
grant us a good harvest
and the grace always to rejoice in your fatherly care;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A tradition or custom on Rogation days in England was the ceremony of beating the bounds, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the priest and churchwardens, processed around the boundary of their parish and prayed for its protection in the forthcoming year. As it is no longer practical to follow exact boundaries, many services are held that focus on specific elements of creation such as livestock, fields, orchards and gardens.

This posting looks at the first set of Lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, as well as offering liturgical resources and suggestions for hymns for next Sunday.

The White-Robed Army of Martyrs on the walls of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna … from left to right, Cornelius is the fifth white-robed figure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 10: 44-48:

The Apostle Peter has been told to visit Cornelius, a Roman centurion in the Cohors II Italica Civium Romanorum, stationed in Caesarea. Both men have had visions. In Saint Peter’s case, he has been advised not to worry about what meat a Jew can eat according to the Mosaic law, and not to worry whether he can visit a Gentile home.

We have been told Saint Peter has visited Cornelius and his household, where ‘many had assembled’ (verse 27). There Peter tells Cornelius that God has shown him not to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles (verse 28).

For his part, Cornelius, we are told, is a God-fearing man who prays and is full of good works and deeds of alms. Cornelius becomes one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity.

In his vision, an angel tells Cornelius his prayers have been heard, and tells him to send the men of his household to Joppa, where they will find Simon Peter, who is living there with a tanner named Simon (Acts 10:5 ff).

Saint Peter accompanies Cornelius’s men back to Caesarea, a distance of 60 or 70 km. There, when Cornelius meets Simon Peter, he falls at his feet, but Simon Peter raises the centurion and the two men share their visions.

Cornelius tells Saint Peter of his vision, and of the angel who told him to send for Saint Peter. He says: ‘So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say’ (verse 33).

Saint Peter summarises Christ’s earthly ministry: at his Baptism, the Father anointed [Christ] … with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (verse 38); the apostles witnessed ‘all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem’ (verse 39), he was crucified, but the Father ‘raised him … and allowed him to appear’ (verse 40) in the flesh to those chosen by God. Christ commanded them to spread the good news, and to testify that he is to judge the living and the dead (verse 42), that he is the one of whom the prophets spoke: ‘everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins’ (verse 43).

Now, in this reading, the Holy Spirit comes as a gift on all present, ‘even on the Gentiles.’ This is to the surprise of the Jewish Christians ‘who had come with Peter.’ The pouring out of the Spirit and Baptism are closely associated in Acts, and Baptism follows the coming of the Spirit. Saint Peter points out how the Jewish Christians received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so now that these Gentiles have received the Spirit, surely they too should be baptised. And so, they are baptised, though not by Saint Peter but under his authority (verse 48).

During his stay, Saint Peter also presumably ate with these Gentile. In the passage that follows (Acts 11:1-18), Saint Peter returns to Jerusalem, where he defends his actions. He recalls how Christ had told them that they would receive the Holy Spirit. God has given the Gentiles ‘the same gift that he gave us when we believed,’ so who was he to stand in God’s way? Those present praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to [eternal] life.’

The baptism of Cornelius and his household is an important event in the history of the early Church, along with the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, which we read about the previous Sunday. The controversy about Gentile conversion is discussed later at the Council of Jerusalem, where the Church agrees that Gentiles who become Christians do not need to conform to Jewish requirements, including circumcision (see Acts 15).

Saint Peter takes many risks in deciding to accept Cornelius and his household into the family of faith and to eat with gentiles. Later, when Saint Peter appears to step back and decides not to eat with Gentiles in Antioch, the Apostle Paul publicly rebukes him for hypocrisy that led Barnabas astray (see Galatians 2: 11-14).

Traditions say Cornelius later became the first Bishop of Caesarea or the Bishop of Scepsis in Mysia. But he too took risks in being baptised.

What risks does Cornelius take in this reading?

The symbol of office of a centurion was the vine staff. Centurions were not only professional military officers, but also law enforcers and tax collectors.

In the early Church, a Christian was prohibited from being in the army. Cornelius now risks losing his position, his social status, and his income. All his family are put at risk too, and so this conversion has implications for his household, his family and for generations to come.

What risks are we being challenged to take in the Gospel reading, in our own Baptismal promises?

‘He shall build my city and set my exiles free’ (Isaiah 45: 13) … the New Jerusalem in a batik by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Isaiah 45: 11-13, 18-19:

This chapter in the Book of Isaiah opens with a charge to King Cyrus to open the gates and let the people go freely, to return to Jerusalem.

The first part of this reading (verses 11-13) reminds the people that God is the creator of the universe and the creator of humanity. Now this God is setting the people free, and he is telling Cyrus to let the exiles return and to build the new city, the kingdom of God.

The second part of this reading (verses 18-19) reminds us that God, the creator of the universe, created and formed the earth not as a place of chaos or darkness but as a place to be inhabited by humanity, by free people.

‘Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord’ (Psalm 98: 5-6) … a window in the North Aisle of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 98:

Many of the themes in the reading in Acts can be found in Psalm 98. In this celebratory song, the Psalmist describes redemption in the vivid image of a royal arrival. The King who is also Judge and Deliverer is about to come. The trumpets sound a clarion to announce his entrance. A roar is heard, not just from the assembled people but from the universe itself: the sea, earth, rivers and mountains. All herald his coming with joy, for they know that when he sits in judgment he will resolve all disputes with equity.

In this Psalm, we are invited to sing ‘a new song’ marking new evidence of God’s rule. With truth, or his right hand, and power, he has won the victory for his people Israel. Note how the word victory word occurs three times in the first three verses.

God has triumphed over all who seek to overthrow his kingdom. All peoples can see that Israel is right in trusting him. Then, as when the people groaned in their oppression in Egypt (see Exodus 2: 24), he recalls his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his promise to lead them and protect them. All peoples will see his saving acts.

The earth, sea, floods, hills and all creation are to acknowledge God’s rule and be joyful. People of all lands are invited to join in. God’s coming to judge the world will be a truly marvellous event. He will judge us, but his judgment will be perfectly fair and equitable, for he is righteous.

A carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus … but the author of I John writes to the Church in Ephesus about more important signs of victory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I John 5: 1-6:

One of the best-known symbols of globalisation is the Nike Swoosh logo. You find it on tracksuits, on sweatshirts, on trainers, on sneakers, on T-shirts, all over the world. There must be very few people who do not recognise the Nike logo, which has been sported by the likes of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and Venus and Serena Williams.

The company takes its name from Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, and the ‘Swoosh’ was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching accounting classes and she started doing some freelance work for his company, Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS). BRS needed a new brand for a new line of athletic footwear it was preparing to introduce in 1972. Knight approached Davidson for some design ideas, and she agreed to provide them – at $2 an hour.

Carolyn Davidson quickly presented Knight and others at BRS with a number of designs, and they finally selected the mark now known globally as the Nike Swoosh – an abstract outline of an angel’s wing that some people think looks more like a checkmark or the tick used on some essays to indicate a positive mark.

The company first used the logo as its brand in 1971, when the word ‘Nike’ was printed in orange over. The logo has been used on sports shoes since then, and is now so well-recognised all over the world, even by little children, that the company name itself is, perhaps, superfluous.

Carolyn Davidson’s bill for her work came to $35. Mind you, 12 years later, in 1983, Knight gave Davidson a gold Swoosh ring and an envelope filled with Nike stock to express his gratitude. It is surprising to realise, therefore, that Carolyn Davidson’s design was not registered as a trademark until 1995.

A logo representing victory is an appropriate and meaningful symbol for a company that manufactures and sells running shoes. The logo is used in tandem with the slogan, ‘Just do it’ and the branding campaign was so successful in communicating to their target market that the meaning for the logo evolved into a battle cry and the way of life for an entire generation. A small symbol has brought victorious success to a once-small company.

What is said to be one of the earliest inspirations for the Nike tick sign is a carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory, on a paved street in Ephesus.

But when Saint John was writing to the Church in Ephesus, he expressed very different ideas about victory to his company of little children as he discussed love and told them to ‘just do it.’

In this reading (I John 5: 1-16), we are reminded of the connection between faith and love, the two great themes of this epistle, and to victorious faith leading to eternal life. I John talks about a very different type of victory than the victories associated with commercial branding, globalisation and the financial glory associated with brand names and over-commercialised sport. Instead, the writer emphasises the victories associated with faith and love … faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the love of God and of one another that should be the victorious tick sign of Christians.

As we come to the end of a cycle of reading Saint John’s first letter, we are reminded that everyone who believes in Jesus as Christ and the Son of God is a child of God too. And so, if we believe in God and in Christ as his Son, we should love God and love his children, and this is the imperative for Christians to love one another.

But how do we know that we are doing this and showing that love? We know that we truly love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. Gestures of charity are simply not good enough – there must be a direct connection between loving others and living a life of holiness and sanctity.

But, unlike the traditional observation and codification of the commandments, with their heavy-laden and burdensome listings and enumerations, the author tells us the love of God and love of others is not a great burden for the Christian. On the other hand, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, there is no cheap grace, there is a cost to discipleship. Nobody said it was going to be easy being a Christian. But, because we are children of God, we know that our faith is a victory (Nίκη) that conquers the world. Christ has overcome the world, and our faith in him enables us to conquer the world.

The author of I John then refers to the baptism (water) and the death (blood) of Christ, or, perhaps, to both the death of Christ on the cross, when water mingled with his blood as they flowed from his side, and the Eucharist.

But water is also the symbol of the Spirit in the Johannine writings: think of the wedding at Cana or the conversations Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the Well and Nicodemus.

Raymond Browne suggests that the breakaway group in the Church in Ephesus may have emphasised the baptism of Jesus, where water and the Spirit are so closely linked, as the saving moment in the life of Christ. But here John shifts the emphasis to Christ’s death and Resurrection.

Here I John is returning to the idea that the Spirit, present in us as Christians through our Baptism, is the supreme witness to Christ, present in us as Christians, through our Baptism.

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ … John 15: 13 quoted on the World War I memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 9-17:

The Gospel reading is familiar to many because of the way one verse in it is often quoted on war memorials in our churches and cathedral: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ (John 15: 13).

In this Gospel reading, however, Christ is talking about death and victory in a very different context, as he continues the theme of us abiding in him and he abiding in us, which we discussed last week.

We are listening to him these Sundays as he continues to prepare his disciples for his physical departure from them. In the reading on the previous Sunday, he has told us that he is the ‘true vine’ (see John 15: 1), and that we are the fruit and the branches. We are to represent him in the world and to present him to the world, bearing fruit and acting in his name.

Now he tells us that he loves us as the Father loves him. We are to continue to love him, by being obedient to his commandments. He is obedient, even to death on the cross. He continues to be in a loving relationship with the Father. This kind of love leads to joy, ultimate joy. Christ, who is the model for our behaviour, loves us so much that he gave his life for us, his friends.

The phrase ‘to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (verse 13) is seen often on war memorials in parish churches. The idea of dying for one’s friends appears in Aristotle’s extensive comments on friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics (9.1169a), which may underline the discussion on friendship and love in the Farewell Discourses in this Gospel.

In the earlier Biblical writings, it is an honour to be a servant of God. But a servant is not normally admitted to the counsel of the master, while friends are. Now Christ tells the disciples that they know all that the Father has told him. Christ has taken the initiative in choosing us and he appoints us to seek new disciples who will have a deep and lasting commitment to him.

But this deep and lasting commitment to Christ is best expressed and found in the way that we love one another (verse 17).

‘I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends’ (John 15: 15) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 9-17 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 9 ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’

‘I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (John 15: 16) … fruit on a market stall in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Easter VI):

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.

Collect of the Word:

Loving God,
your Son has chosen us
and called us to be his friends;
give us grace to keep his commandments,
to love one another,
and to bear fruit which will abide;
through him who is the true vine,
the source of all our life,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

‘As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist, so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread’ (the Post-Communion Prayer, Rogation Days) … fruit ripening on lemon trees in Platanias near Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Additional resources (Rogation Days):

The Collect (Rogation Days):

Almighty God and Father,
you have so ordered our life
that we are dependent on one another:
Prosper those engaged in commerce and industry
and direct their minds and hands
that they may rightly use your gifts in the service of others;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer (Rogation Days):

God our creator,
you give seed for us to sow and bread for us to eat.
As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist,
so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread,
that the world may praise you for your goodness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘I come with joy, a child of God’ (Hymn 421) … detail on a sculpture in Knightstown on Valentia Island, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Suggested Hymns:

Acts 10: 44-48:

298, Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord
299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
456, Lord, you give the great commission
306, O Spirit of the living God

Isaiah 45: 11-13, 18-19:

581, I, the Lord of sea and sky

Psalm 98:

146, A great and mighty wonder
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come
705, New songs of celebration render
710, Sing to God new songs of worship
369, Songs of praise the angels sang

I John 5: 1-6:

557, Rock of ages, cleft for me
528, The Church’s one foundation

John 15: 9-17:

515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’
516, Belovèd, let us love: love is of God
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
421, I come with joy, a child of God
495, Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
525, Let there be love shared among us
75, Lord, dismiss us with your blessing
456, Lord, you give the great commission
231, My song is love unknown
315, ‘This is my will, my one command’
530, Ubi caritas et amor
451, We come as guests invited
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ (Acts 10: 47) … the Baptismal font in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000).

‘If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love’ (John 15: 10) … ‘Love is the Answer’, a decoration in a shopfront in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)