Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
All Saints’ Day 2017

All Saints’ Day … the Lamb on the Throne surrounded by the angels and saints

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow [1 November 2017] is All Saints’ Day in the Calendar of the Church, and there is a provision in the Calendar and Directory of the Church of Ireland that allows the readings, collects and post-communion prayer for All Saints’ Day as option uses next Sunday [5 November 2017].

All Saints’ Day is celebrated on either 1 November or the Sunday falling between 30 October and 5 November; if the latter there may be a secondary celebration on 1 November.

For those who are celebrating next Sunday as the Fourth Sunday before Advent, there are resources at this link. This posting is to help those who are marking All Saints’ Day either tomorrow or next Sunday.

The readings for All Saints’ Day this year are Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 34; 1-10; Revelation 7: 9-17; and Matthew 5: 1-12.

The readings may be found at this link: here.

Liturgical Colour: White.


The background and context:

All Saints’ Day is one of the 12 Principal Feasts of the Church. From the third century there is evidence of celebrations of All Martyrs. The East continues a fourth century tradition of the ‘Sunday of All Saints’ being celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost. East Syrians celebrate this on the Friday of Easter Week.

In the early seventh century, the Pantheon in Rome, which had been closed for over a century, was dedicated to Saint Mary and All Martyrs. By the eighth century, 1 November was growing in popularity for the celebration of All Saints, possibly originating in Ireland. By the ninth century, the date had reached Rome and then the Holy Roman Empire.

The Reformers in 16th century England followed German reformers producing a calendar with only New Testament saints and this festival. There was no distinction between ‘All Saints’ and ‘All Souls.’

The Gospel Reading, Matthew 5: 1-12

The Sermon on the Mount, by Cosimo Rosselli, from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican

This Gospel reading (Matthew 5: 1-12) is the most familiar account of the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are familiar to us all, perhaps to the point that we find it difficult to read them afresh and to find new insights when it comes to preaching on them.

The Beatitudes will be familiar to many people who here them in church too – perhaps even to the point of familiar irreverence arising from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.

The Beatitudes are culturally embedded in our society, in our literature, in our arts. But how do we apply the Beatitudes to our own lives? How do we present them afresh?

The text:

1 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος: καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ: 2 καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων,

3 Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

4 Μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.

5 Μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν.

6 Μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.

7 Μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

8 Μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.

9 Μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται.

10 Μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

11 Μακάριοί ἐστε ὅταν ὀνειδίσωσιν ὑμᾶς καὶ διώξωσιν καὶ εἴπωσιν πᾶν πονηρὸν καθ' ὑμῶν [ψευδόμενοι] ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ:

12 χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε, ὅτι ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς: οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’

Covenant values

In the Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5 to 7, Saint Matthew presents us with a covenant renewal document. About half of this material is also found in Saint Luke’s Gospel, but considerably less of it may be found in Saint Mark’s Gospel. Some of the material is identical to the other synoptic gospels, some is similar.

The Beatitudes are a declaration of the happy or fortunate state of the children of God who possesses particular qualities, and who, because of them, will inherit divine blessings.

It is interesting to compare the delivery of the Beatitudes to the delivery of the Ten Commandments. Here we have the renewal of the covenant, and a restatement, a re-presentation, of who the Children of God are.

Just as we sometimes find the Ten Commandments grouped into two sets, so we might see the Beatitudes set out in two groups of four, the first four being inward looking, the second four being outward looking.

We might see the first four Beatitudes as addressing attitudes, while the second four deal with resulting actions.

Are they ethical requirements for the present?

Or they eschatological blessings for the future?

Or are they are statements of present fact, identifying the qualities of a child of God and the consequent blessings that follow?

Few among us, I imagine, are ever going to commit murder.

But we all get ‘angry with a brother’ … sooner or later.

The Sermon on the Mount exposes our own present reality in a very stark and real way, and the Beatitudes are a core text for Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship and in the writings of towering Christian figures such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Oscar Romero.

Father Brian D’Arcy some years ago quipped in a radio interview how Dorothy Day once spoke of how her fellow Roman Catholics went to confession regularly and confessed to ‘breaking’ one of the Ten Commandments, but she wondered how often they confessed to ‘breaking’ one of the Eight Beatitudes.

Verse 1:

The scene opens with Jesus leaving the crowds and climbing up the mountain, like Moses in the Book Exodus leaving the crowd behind him, and climbing Mount Sinai.

Mountains are so important in so many Biblical stories – Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Tabor, the Mountain of the Transfiguration, the Mount of Calvary outside the city, the Mountain of the Ascension. They provide dramatic settings for covenantal encounters with the Living God.

Ἰδὼν (eidon), ‘when he saw [the crowds]’ – seeing. Perhaps what is being said here is: ‘Jesus went up the mountain because he saw the crowds.’

Τὸ ὄρος (to oros) ‘a mountainside’ – the hill, or the mountain. The use of the definite article may indicate a particular hill or mountain. Today, in modern Greek, to oros or to ayios oros, the Holy Mountain, refers exclusively to Mount Athos. In those days, would this have prompted the first readers to make immediate associations with the holy mountain, the mountain of the covenant, Mount Sinai?

Καθίσαντος (kathísantos), ‘sat down’ – sitting down. He went up, he sat down. In those days and in that tradition, a teacher sat down to teach. But there is a potential for double meaning or hidden understandings here, for the Greek verb is also used to set, to appoint, or to confer a kingdom on someone. So the new kingdom is being ushered in, Christ is sitting on his throne, his teachings are about kingdom values.

Οἱ μαθηταὶ (oi mathetai: ‘the disciples’ – are the beatitudes for the disciples? Are they the ‘poor in spirit,’ those who mourn … and so on? Are they for the crowd below? The text is not that specific.

Προσῆλθαν (proselthan (προσέρχομαι, prosérchomai), ‘came,’ came, to, approached, draw near. The disciples gathered around Jesus to hear his teaching.

Verse 2:

ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ (anoixas to stoma aftou): ‘he opened the mouth of him.’

ἐδίδασκεν (edídasken): he taught. The imperfect may be used here to make the point that the Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Christ’s teachings. In other words, ‘this is what he used to teach.’

Λέγων (légon), ‘saying.’ The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of his action of the verb ‘he taught.’

Verse 3:

Μακάριοι (Makárioi): Does this mean ‘blessed’? Many people may remember Archbishop Makarios, the President of Cyprus who was deposed in a coup that was followed by the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. ‘His Beatitude’ is a term of respect for metropolitans in the Russian Orthodox Church.

The word ‘blessed’ is not the best translation for μακάριος (makários). ‘Fortunate,’ ‘well off,’ or ‘happy’ might fit better.

Christ is telling those who hear him that they are fortunate to be this way. They are fortunate to possess these qualities of life. Why? Because it means they inherit the blessings or fortunes of God’s promised kingdom.

Οἱ πτωχοὶ (oi ptochoi), ‘the poor’ – those in total poverty, possessing nothing and with no means to earn a living other than by receiving alms.

Οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι (oi ptochoi to pneumatic), ‘the poor in spirit’ – those who are totally destitute spiritually and so recognise the need for their total dependence on God, ‘who know their need for God.’

ὅτι (oti): ‘for,’ ‘that,’ ‘because,’ or ‘since.’ This conjunction is used throughout the beatitudes.

Αὐτῶν ἐστιν (afton estin, ‘theirs is’ as a consequence, not as reward. In other words, those who are dependent on God possess the riches of his kingdom.

Verse 4:

Οἱ πενθοῦντες (oi penthountes): ‘those who mourn,’ the ones who are mourning. Is this describing those who mourn for events in their own lives, or those who mourn because of their needs before God, those who are broken before God?

They will be comforted, consoled, encouraged by consolation – αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται (aftoi paraklethésontai) – they will be comforted. Note the resonances with the word Paraclete for the Holy Spirit as the comforter.

Verse 5:

Οἱ πραεῖς (oi praeis), ‘the meek,’ the humble, the gentle, the self-effacing, those of mild of disposition or gentle spirit, perhaps those who do not make great demands on God, but submit to the will of God.

ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν (oti aftoi kleronomésousin tin gen): ‘for they will inherit the earth.’ They shall receive it by lot. They shall possess it.

‘Blessed are the Meek,’ which means the humble, patient, submissive and gentle is misheard in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian as: ‘Blessed is the Greek – apparently he’s going to inherit the earth.’ When they finally get what Jesus actually says, a woman says ‘Oh it’s the Meek … blessed are the Meek! That’s nice, I’m glad they’re getting something, ’cause they have a hell of a time.’

This is soon followed by the political activist and terrorist leader, Reg, saying: ‘What Jesus blatantly fails to appreciate is that it’s the meek who are the problem.’ This perfectly sums up the quickly growing annoyance of the violent with the peaceful attitude of Christ.

Verse 6:

Οἱ πεινῶντες (oi peinontes) – ‘those who hunger,’ those who are hungering.

Τὴν δικαιοσύνην (tin dikaiosúnin), ‘for righteousness,’ for justice, for God’s justice.

Many scholars who argue that Saint Matthew never really addresses the Pauline concepts of justification which is grounded on the faithfulness of Christ appropriated through faith.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ introduces us to a righteousness that is apart from obedience to the law. The Sinai covenant too demanded a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, a righteousness that relates to the values of the Kingdom.

Χορτασθήσονται (chortasthísontai): ‘will be filled, will be fed, will be satisfied, to the full.’

Verse 7:

Οἱ ἐλεήμονες (oi eleímones), ‘the merciful.’ The quality of mercy is not strained, and the quality of mercy is illustrated later in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Lord’s Prayer, when we are reminded to pray that we are forgiven as we forgive others. However, we not being told here that those who show mercy will have mercy shown to them. The fortunate, the blessed, those to be congratulated, those who should be happy, are those who have experienced God’s mercy, and as a consequence, find themselves merciful toward others. These people know God’s mercy. I can never be perfect in showing mercy or forgiveness; what little I show can only illustrate, be a sign of, point towards, be a sacrament of the mecy shown by God in the Kingdom.

Verse 8:

Οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ (oi katharoi ti kardía), ‘the pure in heart.’ The desire to touch the divine probably best describes this quality. Those who possess it will ‘be like him,’ and ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται (oti aftoi ton Theo opsontai) and ‘see God,’ they will find themselves in God’s presence.

Verse 9:

Οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί (oi eirenopoioí), the reconcilers, those who make peace between warring sides. This is one and only use of this phrase in the New Testament. How unique and unusual a beatitude, yet, while it leaps off the pages, we try so often to scale down, to water down, its significance and its demands.

The verse saying ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ was famously misprinted in the second edition of the Geneva Bible as ‘blessed are the place makers.’

This the typographic error parodied in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where those in the crowd listening to the sermon mishear Christ as saying: ‘Blessed are the cheese makers.’

‘Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.’

Christ is not talking about those who seek or wish for peace, but those who make peace.

What is the difference between a peacemaker and a conflict-resolution counsellor?

When there are two conflicting demands, have they got to be given equal weight or respect?

How do you make peace between the oppressor and the oppressed?

Is conflict resolution enough?

Are there times when the demands for justice demand to be heard despite those who want a ‘bit of peace and quiet”’?

ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται (oti aftoi uioi Theou klethísontai) – for they shall be called the sons of God, the children of God, those generated by God. If we are clones of God, then we act like God. And if we act like God, others may see what God is like, and may answer the invitation to be members of God’s family.

Verse 10:

Οἱ δεδιωγμένοι (oi dediogménoi), ‘those who are persecuted,’ the ones being persecuted. The perfect tense indicates persecution that began in time past and that continues into the present. The meaning of the word is usually ‘persecute’ in the New Testament, or ‘to put to flight,’ ‘to drive away.’ But it also carries a positive sense: to follow with haste, and presumably with intensity of effort, in order to catch up with, for friendly or hostile purpose – to run after, to chase after, to pursue, to hasten, to run, to press forward, to press on, ‘to follow without hostile intent.’

ἕνεκεν (eneken), ‘because of,’ for the sake of.

Verse 11:

Μακάριοί ἐστε (makárioí este) – ‘Blessed, happy, fortunate are you.’ Did you notice the change here from the third person found in the previous verses to the second person in this final beatitude?

ὅταν (otan) – ‘when.’ We have here an indefinite temporal clause expressing general time, “whenever.”

ὀνειδίσωσιν (oneidísosin) – [whenever] people insult, reproach or upbraid you.

Ψευδόμενοι (pseudómenoi – ‘falsely,’ under false pretensions, lying. The Greek word here, ψευδόμενοι, is not found in many of the early manuscripts. It may have been added in the process of redaction to reinforce the evil nature of the slander. Although when I am insulted as Christian, it often matters little whether I am being insulted for the sake of insult, or I am being insulted falsely.

ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ (eneken emou) – because of, or for the sake of me; in other words, because of, or for the sake of Christ. Possibly because of their testimony to Christ, but – probably better said as: because of their identification with Christ.

I digress for a moment as I think of what it would be like to be insulted falsely for being a Christian, to be accused of being a Christian. I was reminded in a sermon on Sunday last of the old poster slogan: ‘If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’

Verse 12:

Χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε (Chaírete kai agallasthe) – ‘rejoice and be glad’; in fact, ‘rejoice and be exceedingly glad.’ Not merely you are blessed, but it’s also worth rejoicing and being glad, a pair introduced here, because we are going to be given two good reasons for such a joyous response.

Why? Because (ὅτι, oti).

The first because is: ὁ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολὺς ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς (ho misthos hymon polis en tois ouranois), the reward, the payment, the wage for you is great in the heavens. Present suffering is going to give way to something in the future that is exceptionally rewarding.

The second because is: οὕτως γὰρ ἐδίωξαν τοὺς προφήτας τοὺς πρὸ ὑμῶν (outos gar edíoxan tous profítas tous pro imon), ‘in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’

So, we can look forward to being in good company.

Some closing thoughts:

The Beatitudes are culturally embedded in our society, in our literature, in our arts.

Writing on the Financial pages of The Guardian some years ago [17 January 2011], Terry Macalister wrote: ‘From Tolstoy to Dostoevsky to Chekov, if anyone can tell a good story it’s the Russians.’ Well, in Chapter 2 of Boris Pasternak’s great Russian novel Doctor Zhivago, Larissa Feodorovna Guishar, who ‘was not religious’ and “did not believe in ritual,” was startled by the Beatitudes, for she thought they were about herself.

How do we apply the Beatitudes to our own lives?

Some Hymns:
All Saints’ Church, Rome … the Anglican church where the hymn writer Bishop William Walsham How was chaplain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Church Hymnal, 459: One of the great hymns celebrating this day is ‘For all the saints, who from their labours rest,’ which was written by Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897) as a processional hymn for All Saints’ Day.

The saints recalled in this hymn are ordinary people in their weaknesses and their failings. In its original form, it had 11 verses, although three are omitted from most versions – the verses extolling ‘the glorious company of the Apostles,’ ‘the godly fellowship of the prophets’ and ‘the noble army of martyrs’ were inspired by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version of the canticle Te Deum.

The tune Sine Nomine (‘Without Name,’ referring to the great multitude of unknown saints) was written for this hymn by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) while he was editing the English Hymnal (1906) with Percy Dearmer.

When he wrote this hymn, Walsh How was Rector of Whittington, Shropshire. At the time, this was part of the Diocese of St Asaph, but following the disestablishment of the Church in Wales in 1920, the parish was transferred to the Diocese of Lichfield in the Church of England.

He became a canon St Asaph Cathedral, and spent time in Rome as chaplain of the Anglican Church there, All Saints’ Church, before returning to England.

While he was Bishop of Bedford, Walsham How became known as ‘the poor man’s bishop.’ He became the first Bishop of Wakefield, and died in Leenane, Co Mayo, in 1897 while he was on holiday in Dulough.

The hymn vibrates with images from the Book of Revelation. The saints recalled by ‘the poor man’s bishop’ in this hymn are ordinary people who, in spite of their weaknesses and their failings, are able to respond in faith to Christ’s call to service and love, and who have endured the battle against the powers of evil and darkness.

In its original form, this hymn had 11 verses, although three are omitted from most versions: the verses extolling ‘the glorious company of the Apostles,’ ‘the godly fellowship of the prophets’ and ‘the noble army of martyrs’ were inspired by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version of the canticle Te Deum.

But the heart of the hymn is in the stanza in which we sing about the unity of the Church in heaven and on earth, ‘knit together in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of ... Christ our Lord.’ Despite our ‘feeble struggles’ we are united in Christ and with one another in one ‘blest communion’ and ‘fellowship divine.’

Church Hymnal, 464: ‘God, whose city’s sure foundation’ was written by Cyril A. Allington (1872-1955), a former headmaster of Eton, while he was Dean of Durham for a service of the Friends of Durham Cathedral. The hymn is generally sung to the majestic tune ‘Westminster Abbey’ by Henry Purcell (ca 1659-1695), the first official Organist of Westminster Abbey. Until the arrival of Edward Elgar, he was regarded as the greatest English composer.

Thanks & Praise, 23: ‘Christ is surely coming, bringing his reward’ () is by the Revd Christopher Idle, who has written hundreds of hymns and now lives in retirement in Bromley. The tune ‘Land of hope and glory’ is by Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) and is arranged by Derek Verso.

Thanks & Praise, 43: ‘God everlasting, wonderful and holy’ is by Harold Riley (1903-2003). The tune Coelites plaudant is a melody from the Rouen Antiphoner (1728) that was harmonised by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), originally for ‘Christ, the Fair Glory of the Holy Angels’ by Athelstan Riley in the English Hymnal, co-edited by Vaughan Williams and Percy Dearmer.

All Saints … remembered in a street sign in All Saints’ Estate, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Penitential Kyries, Peace, Preface and Blessing:

Penitential Kyries:

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are loving to all,
and your mercy is over all your creation.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your faithful servants bless your name,
and speak of the glory of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who were near (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).

The Preface:

In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory ...

Blessing:

God give you grace
to share the inheritance of all his saints in glory ...

Some suggestions for Prayers:

God of the past,
on this feast of All Saints
we remember before you, with thanks
, the lives of those Christians who have gone before us:
the great leaders and thinkers,
those who have died for their faith,
those whose goodness transformed all they did;
Give us grace to follow their example and continue their work.

God of love
grant our prayer.

God of the present,
on this feast of All Saints
we remember before you
those who have more recently died,
giving thanks for their lives and example and for all that they have meant to us.
We pray for those who grieve
and for all who suffer throughout the world:
for the hungry, the sick, the victims of violence and persecution.

God of love
grant our prayer.

God of the future,
on this feast of All Saints
we remember before you the newest generation of your saints,
and pray for the future of the church
and for all who nurture and encourage faith.

God of love
grant our prayer.

We give you thanks
for the whole company of your saints
with whom in fellowship we join our prayers and praises
in the name of Jesus Christ
Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
Grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This collect wonderfully expresses the doctrine of the whole church as the ‘mystical body of Christ’ (see Roman 12: 5, I Corinthians 12: 27; Coossians 1: 24; Ephesians 1: 23, 4: 12, 5: 30-32). The collect concludes by alluding to I Corinthians 2: 9. Thomas Cranmer composed this collect for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer:

Almkightie God,
whiche haste knitte together thy electe in one Communion and felowship,
in the misticall body of thy sonne Christe our Lord;
graunt us grace so to folow thy holy Saynctes in all virtues, and godly livyng,
that we maye come to those inspeakeable joyes,
whiche thou hast prepared for all them that unfaynedly love thee;
through Jesus Christe

The 1662 version substituted ‘blessed’ for ‘holy,’ and ‘in all virtuous and godly living’ replaced ‘in all virtues, and godly livyng.’ ‘Unspeakable’ has clearly changed its meaning, and here becomes ‘inexpressible.’

Post-Communion Prayer:

God, the source of all holiness
and giver of all good things:
May we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Getting to All Saints … a street sign in All Saints’ Estate, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 30 October 2017

Readings hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 5 November 2017

‘They love to have the place of honour at banquets (Matthew 23: 6) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 5 November 2017, is the Fourth Sunday before Advent (Proper 26). The readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary, and set out in the Church of Ireland Directory, for next Sunday are:

Joshua 3: 7-17; Psalm 107: 1-7, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 9-13; and Matthew 23: 1-12.

These readings are available by clicking this link.

There is also an option to use the readings for All Saints’ Day, which falls on Wednesday, 1 November:

Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 34: 1-10; Revelation 7: 9-17 or I John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12.

Whichever set of readings you decide to use next Sunday, you may constantly ask how to make connections with the different readings each Sunday. You may decide, for example, to preach on the Gospel reading. But it may be one of the other readings that has caught the imagination of the people you need to reach. Making connections helps to bring people on the journey with you.

So, these notes include ideas for the other readings next Sunday.

Joshua 3: 7-17

‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan’ (Joshua 3: 8) … on the edge of the River Deel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In the Old Testament reading, we see the connection between belief and action, but thinking and living. God tells Joshua that he will give a sign to show the people that God will be with him as he was with Moses. Joshua is to give the order to the priests and he tells the people that what they will see will show that God is with them. They believe and show their trust in God not just through intellectual assent, but through their actions, as they dare to cross over the River Jordan as they once crossed through the waters of the Red Sea.

Psalm 107: 1-7, 33-37

‘Some went astray in desert wastes and found no path to a city to dwell in’ (Psalm 107: 4) ... stray footprints in the sand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In this psalm, the pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem thank God for their escape from various dangers. Their faith in God is a lived, truly living communal experience, and not merely about individual intellectual assent.

I Thessalonians 2: 9-13

Saint Paul reminds the members of the Church in Thessaloniki that they are witnesses to Christ not only in their beliefs but in the way they live their lives and in their conduct towards the new Church members.

Like a father teaching his children, he urges and encourages them, and pleads with them to walk in God’s ways, so that God’s word becomes made active in those who believe.

Matthew 23: 1-12:

‘They love to have the place of honour at banquets (Matthew 23: 6) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we are still in the Temple with Christ in Holy Week. There Christ has silenced his principal critics, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, showing their lack of understanding of the core message of the Bible and the Law. In this Gospel reading, he turns to speak ‘to the crowds and to his disciples’ about the scribes and the Pharisees, and their attitude to and teaching of the Law and the Bible.

Christ tells the people in the Temple that the Pharisees have authority to teach the Law, and he concedes that they are in an unbroken chain that goes back to Moses, for they ‘sit on Moses’ seat.’

But while honouring their teachings, the people should be wary of their practices. In their interpretation of the Law, they impose heavy burdens on others, yet do not follow the Law themselves.

Externally, they appear pious. They wear teffelin or phylacteries, small, black, leather boxes, on their left arms and foreheads with four Biblical passages as a ‘sign’ and ‘remembrance’ that God liberated their ancestors from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 13: 1-10; Exodus 13: 11-16; Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; and Deuteronomy 11: 13-21). They also have lengthy fringes or tassels on their prayer shawls (tallitot, singular talit), as visible reminders of the 613 commandments in the Law (see Numbers 15: 38, Deuteronomy 22: 12).

In verses 6-7, Christ gives four examples of vanity: they love places of honour at banquets, the best seats in the synagogues, being greeted with respect publicly, and being called ‘Rabbi,’ which means master and later becomes a title for the leader in a synagogue.

In verses 8-10, we are warned about the danger of loving honorific titles, such as ‘teacher,’ ‘father’ and instructor, for we are all students, we are all brothers and sisters, children of God and disciples.

Yet I too a father and have been a teacher and a tutor. Is Christ warning against the position or against seeking honours that have not been earned?

It is a truism that parents must earn the respect of their children, not seek or demand it. Most parents have, at one time or another, said to their children: ‘Do what I tell you, not what I do.’ Needless to say, children never listen to parents when we say something so silly.

All parents know, on the other hand, that actions speak louder than words.

Perhaps this passage in Matthew 23 may reflect later tensions between the Jewish synagogue and the new Christian community. But, in Christ’s own days, people expected a Pharisee to be a careful observer of the Law. Unlike the Temple priests and village elders, the Pharisees did not have a high social status.

Before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the Pharisees were a relatively modest group of people without political power and they tried live out Jewish tradition and the Torah seriously and conscientiously in their daily lives. The Pharisees saw the Law as applying not only to every aspect of public life, but to every aspect of private, domestic, daily life too.

There is another well-worn statement: ‘It’s not where you start out but where you end up.’ The Pharisees started out with good intentions, but some of them ended by seeking to be great, seeking to be exalted (verses 11-12). They started out being concerned for holiness, but some ended at exclusion. They started out seeking to recognise God in all aspects of life, but some of them ended by seeking recognition at banquets and in the synagogue (verses 6-7).

Christ calls us to live in such a way that we can say to the world: ‘Do as we say and as we do.’

How do we teach this? By remembering that in ‘the greatest among you will be your servant’ (verse 11) and that ‘All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted’ (verse 12).

But the problem here is not so much a conflict between words and actions, but the need to make the connection between words and actions. Words must mean what they point to, and the actions must be capable of being described in words.

Most of us, as children, learned by watching how adults behave, we learn as members of the human community. As a child, when I needed to learn how to use a fork, I did not need a lecture on the hygienic and sanitary contributions that forks have made to the benefit European lifestyles since the introduction of the fork through Byzantium and Venice to mediaeval Europe; I did not need an engineering lecture on the practicalities and difficulties of balancing the prongs and the handle; I would have been too young to read a delightful chapter by Judith Herrin in one of her books on how the fork-using Byzantines were much more sophisticated than their western allies or rivals who ate with their hands (Judith Herrin, Byzantium – the Surprising Life of a Mediaeval Empire, London: Allen Lane, 2007, Chapter 19).

The same principle applies to everything else, as Andrew Davison of Westcott House, Cambridge, points out in his contribution to Imaginative Apologetics (London: SCM Press, 2011), the same principle applies to how we learn about everything else in life – cups, books, bicycles and so on. He might have added love – the love of God and the love of one another.

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s steps in the Great Palm House in the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some time ago, I was visiting the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin. There, in the Great Palm House, are the steps on which the great 20th century German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein regularly sat in contemplation and thought while he was living in Dublin in the late 1940s.

Even if you find Wittgenstein difficult to read – and a good introduction is available in Fergus Kerr’s Theology after Wittgenstein (London: SPCK, 1997) – we can find useful insights in his writings.

Wittgenstein teaches us that thinking and language must be inter-connected. ‘Words have meaning only in the stream of life,’ he says. Thinking requires language, language is a communal experience, and, as Davison points out, we learn language as members of a human community and through induction into common human practices.

We can talk about prayer, forgiveness, and most of all about love itself, to others. But if it only remains talk and has no application, then the words have no meaning.

We might remind ourselves about the previous Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matthew 22: 34-46), when Christ tells the lawyer sent by the Pharisees and the Sadducees that the greatest commandments are to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and to ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ And, he adds: ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

If the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the young lawyer were teaching and acting in conformity with these laws, if their words and actions were inter-connected, then there would have been an unassailable ring of authenticity to their teaching.

We may try to teach the two great commandments, but we only teach them with credibility when we live them out in our lives. There must be no gap that separates what we teach and how we live out what we teach in our lives.

The table remains bare if our words and our actions are not inter-connected (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints:
Grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this Eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Joshua 3: 7-17:

647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
554, Lord Jesus, think on me
323, The God of Abraham praise
681, There is a land of pure delight

Psalm 107: 1-7, 33-37:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
39, For the fruits of his creation
353, Give to our God immortal praise
128, Hills of the north, rejoice
30, Let us with a gladsome mind
484, Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
45, Praise, O praise our God and King
372, Through all the changing scenes of life

I Thessalonians 2: 9-13:

517, Brother, sister, let me serve you
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
361, Now thank we all our God
387, Thanks to God, whose Word was spoken
532, Who are we who stand and sing?

Matthew 23: 1-12:

378, Almighty God, your word is cast
630, Blessed are the pure in heart
517, Brother, sister, let me serve you
219, From heav’n you came, helpless babe
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
495, Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

Monday, 23 October 2017

Readings hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 29 October 2017

Bishop Charles Gore’s statue outside Birmingham Cathedral … ‘… Hang all the law and the prophets’? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 29 October 2017, is the Fifth Sunday before Advent (Proper 25). The readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary, and set out in the Church of Ireland Directory, for next Sunday are:

Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; and Matthew 22: 34-46.

The readings are available by clicking this link.

The last Sunday in October may also be observed as Bible Sunday, using these readings:

Nehemiah 8: 1-4 (5-6), 8-12; Psalm 119: 97-104 or 119: 105-112; Colossians 3: 12-17; Matthew 24: 30-35.

Whichever set of readings you decide to use next Sunday, you may constantly ask how to make connections with the different readings each Sunday. You may decide, for example, to preach on the Gospel reading. But it may be one of the other readings that has caught the imagination of the people you need to reach. Making connections helps to bring people on the journey with you.

So, these notes include ideas for the other readings next Sunday.

Introduction

Kerry Crescent in Calne, Wiltshire, recalls a FitzMaurice family title and a story told by Charles Gore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Charles Gore (1853-1932) was one of the great, almost formidable theologians at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He was the editor of Lux Mundi (1881), an influential collection of essays; the founder of the Community of the Resurrection (1892); and the first Bishop of Birmingham (1905). He was also from a well-known Irish family; his brother was born in Dublin Castle, his father, Charles Alexander Gore, was brought up in the Vice-Regal Lodge, now Arás an Uachtaráin, and his mother was from Bessborough, Co Kilkenny.

But formidable theologians are also allowed to play pranks on the unsuspecting. And it is told that Charles Gore loved to play a particular prank on friends and acquaintances when he was a canon of Westminster Abbey.

He would enjoy showing visitors the tomb of one of his collateral ancestors, the 3rd Earl of Kerry, with an inscription that ends with the words, highlighted in black letters and in double quotation marks: ‘hang all the law and the prophets.’

On closer inspection, he would point out, the words are preceded by ‘... ever studious to fulfil those two great commandments on which he had been taught by his divine Master ...’ ‘…hang all the law and the prophets.’

A more recent Irish-born theologian of international standing, Professor David Ford, sees these two commandments as the key, foundational Scripture passage for all our hermeneutical exercises.

David Ford was born in Dublin, and from 1991-2015 he was the Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. Speaking at the Dublin and Glendalough Clergy Conference in Kilkenny some years ago [2012], he was asked about some of the hermeneutical approaches he outlines in his recent book, The Future of Christian Theology (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). He said that if the two great commandments are about love, and God is love, then no interpretation is to be trusted that goes against love.

And he reminded the clergy present of Augustine’s great regula caritatis, the rule of love. If love is the rule, then the ‘how’ of reading scripture together is as important as the ‘what.’

In The Future of Christian Theology, he says: ‘Anything that goes against love of God and love of neighbour is, for Christian theology, unsound biblical interpretation.’

In other words, this passage, and its parallels in the other synoptic Gospels, provide for David Ford the key to understanding all Biblical passages.

Cambridge Divinity School ... David Ford has been Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge in 1991-2015 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Putting the Gospel reading in context:

When preparing a sermon or reflection on a particular Gospel passage in the lectionary readings, it is always important to look at its context, not only in its setting within the readings, taking account, for example, of the Gospel readings the Sunday before and the Sunday after, but also in the context of the other readings that are being heard that Sunday.

Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

The Old Testament reading next Sunday is the final chapter of the Book Deuteronomy and the conclusions of the Law or the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The wandering in the wilderness, and after 40 long years the people can now look to the promise of the future as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.

However, Moses has been told that he is going to die without entering the Promised Land because he ‘broke faith’ with God when the people demanded water and God provided it (see Numbers 20: 1-13). God shows Moses the whole Land from a mountain near the northern end of the Dead Sea. Moses, now an old man, dies suddenly in Moab (verse 6). We are told he dies as he lived: ‘at the Lord’s command’ (verse 5). Joshua is his successor and is commissioned.

Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17:

The first section (verses 1-6) contrast God’s eternity with the short and troubled span of human life. The second part (verses 13-17) seeks God’s compassion and mercy.

I Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Saint Paul turns his back on the way other teachers and philosophers of his day seek popularity for “impure motives” and through ‘trickery.’ He wants neither ‘flattery’ nor his own advantage. Instead, he has been gentle and caring, sharing all that he has. In other words, instead of self-love, he has lived and worked in the love of God and the love of others.

Matthew 22: 34-46

In Saint Mark’s Gospel, these two commandments are cited in this way when one of the scribes comes and asks Christ which is the first commandment of all? (Mark 12: 28-31).

In Saint Luke’s Gospel, these two commandments are given in answer to a certain lawyer who stands up, tempts him, and asks him what he shall do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10: 25-28).

In this Gospel reading, the two great commandments come as part of a reply to a debate within the series of dialogues in the Temple in the week leading up to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

The Sadducees believed that human life ended with our physical death. Some of them have argued with Jesus, and have tried to show him, by quoting from the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, what they see as the absurdity of belief in the Resurrection.

Christ has told them that they neither understand the ‘power of God’ (verse 29), to transform us into a new way of being alive when risen. Nor have they understood the purpose of the Scriptures.

The Pharisees now ‘test’ (verse 35) Christ by asking him a question that was often debated at the time (verse 36): of the 613 laws in the Torah, which is most important?

The first part of Christ’s answer would not have surprised them.

However, the second part of his answer, his understanding that a ‘second’ commandment (verse 39) is of equal weight (“like it”) would have surprised them, for it was considered not be important.

Here Christ is citing Leviticus 19: 18, which says: ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ And he says this commandment is of equal importance with the first.

Yet, as Daniel Harrington says in his commentary on this Gospel (p. 315), and as Sarah Dylan Breuer writes in agreement with him, ‘there is no hint in the Bible of the modern psychological emphasis on the need for self-esteem and the idea that one must love oneself before loving others.’

She says self-esteem is a fine and people have benefited a great deal from the insights of modern psychology. But these interior emotional states were not a focus in first-century Mediterranean cultures.

The earliest Christian commentary on this text after the Gospels is James 2: 1-17, which may be a major help in discussing this.

When Christ says ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ he is essentially saying, ‘treat all those around you as you would your own flesh and blood’ – as sisters and brothers in one family, deserving of equal honour and special care.

It is worth noticing that in that passage, James treats ‘faith’ and ‘love’ almost as synonyms.

Developing a right relationship of actively loving God and our fellow humans provides the key to understanding the Scriptures and to our faith.

The Pharisees regarded themselves as the experts in Biblical interpretation. But Christ now asks them some questions (verse 42).

At the time, the general understanding and expectation among people was for a political ‘Messiah’ who was descended from David, ‘the son of David’.

At the time it was also thought the David was inspired by the Spirit to write the Psalms. But in verses 43-44, Christ asks: ‘How is ... that David’ refers to ‘him’ (the Messiah) as ‘Lord’ (overlord), in writing ‘The Lord’ God (Yahweh) ‘said to my Lord’ (in other words, David’s overlord, whom Christ present in this dialogue as the Messiah) ‘sit ...’

So (verse 45), how can the Messiah be both David’s son and his overlord?

While in English and Greek, the word ‘Lord’ (κύριος, kurios) occurs twice, Christ may have quoted Psalm 110: 1 in Hebrew; there the words are different. He was probably not unique in taking ‘my Lord’ there to be the Messiah, for a political Messiah would defeat his ‘enemies’.

And so, the Pharisees too are shown not to understand the Scriptures. And the two great commandments certainly do not provide them with the hermeneutical key to understanding the whole of Scripture, as Professor David Ford would want us to have.

Collect:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom.
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Deuteronomy 34: 1-12:

563: Commit your ways to God.
567: Forth, in thy name, O Lord I go.
653: Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom.
657: O God of Bethel, by whose hand.
323: The God of Abraham priase.
681: There is a land of pure delight.

Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17:

6: Immortal, invisible, God only wise.
537: O God, our help in ages past.

I Thessalonians 2: 1-8:

645: Father, hear the prayer we offer.
567: Forth, in thy name, O Lord I go.
653: Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom.
593: O Jesus, I have promised.
639: O thou who camest from above.
662: Those who would valour see (He who would valour see).
372: Through all gthe changing scenes of life.
529: Thy hand, O God, has guided.
491: We have a gospel to proclaim.

Matthew 22: 34-46:

515: ‘A new commandment I give unto you.’
250: All hail the power of Jesu’s name.
517: Brother, sister, let me serve you.
520: God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed.
523: Help us to help each other, Lord.
495: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love.
525: Let there be love shared among us.
594: O Lord of creation, to you be all praise!
281: Rejoice, the Lord is King!
597: Take my life, and let it be.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 22 October 2017

Christ Pantocrator … a fragment from a 13th century mural in the Church of the Archangel Michael in Preveliana in central Crete … where do we see the face of Christ? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)


Patrick Comerford

Introduction:

Sunday next, 22 October 2017, is the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 24). For anyone preparing a sermon for next Sunday, this is a short Bible study based on the Gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings: Exodus 33: 12-23; Psalm 99; I Thessalonians 1: 1-10; Matthew 22: 15-22.

This posting also includes some suggested hymns for next Sunday, the Collect and Post-Communion Prayer, some suggested hymns, and some photographs that can be downloaded for use on service sheets or parish bulletins.

Two months ago, I was visiting the Museum of Christian Art in an old church in Iraklion on the Greek island of Crete. The exhibits include many important icons that link the Byzantine tradition of icon writing with the development of modern Western European art. In a corner of this museum, there is a flaking and peeling fresco in which I could still feel clearly the face of Christ.

Next Sunday's readings challenge us to ask where we see the face of God, and in asking whose face is on the coin he is presented to him, Christ may also be challenging us to consider where we see his face too.

Putting the Gospel reading in context:

It is possible to imagine a build-up to the Gospel reading in the themes we can find in the other readings, the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle.

Exodus 33: 12-23

In the verses immediately before this reading 7-11, we are told that ‘the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (verse 11).

Moses, who has found favour in the sight of God (verses 13, 16, 17) asks to see the glory of God (verse 18). God promises him ‘goodness’ (verse 19) and grace (‘gracious’), but God says Moses cannot see the face of God: ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live’ (verse 20).

The people have already seen the golden calf and bowed down before it as an idol. But for many ancient peoples, to see a god’s face was to invite death.

Even so, God grants Moses more knowledge than that he gives to others: he will see his ‘back’ (verse 23) but not his face.

Psalm 99

Psalm 99 is a hymn of praise to God as king. The endings of verses 3, 5 and 9 may be a refrain, said or sung by worshippers as they ‘extol’ (verse 9) God.

God, on his throne above the ‘cherubim’ (verse 1, the half-human, half-animal creatures thought to hover above the altar in the Temple), is to be praised by ‘all the peoples’ (verse 2). ‘His holy mountain’ (verse 9) is no longer Mount Sinai but Mount Zion, the hill on which Jerusalem stands. But still God speaks to the people ‘out of a pillar of cloud’ (verse 9), so they cannot see his face.

I Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Saint Paul preaching in Thessaloniki ... a fresco in the Cathedral Church of Saint Gregory Palamas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This introduction to the first letter to the Church in Thessaloniki includes greetings of grace and peace from Saint Paul and his two companions, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy.

The Church members in Thessaloniki have become ‘imitators’ (verse 6) of Saint Paul and of Christ, being joyful in spite of persecution. They have become examples for the other believers to imitate throughout Macedonia and Achaia (verse 7).

People know how they have turned their faces from idols to God and now worship and serve the ‘living and true God’ (verse 9).

Matthew 22: 15-22

The denarius with the image of Caesar represented a day’s labour ... Roman coins in a private collection in Callan, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel story is set in Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The Gospel reading is set in the courtyards of the Temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 23), the day after Christ has overturned the tables of the money-changers.

The money-changers were in the Temple because the coins in use in the Roman Empire included images, such as the image of Caesar, who called himself ‘lord’ and ‘divine’ when those titles truly belong to God alone, and ‘priest’ when that title challenges the ritual purity and claims of the Temple. Images like those on the coin are forbidden in the Temple of the God who forbids such images.

Christ is teaching in the Temple, where the religious and civic leaders of Jewish society, the priests and the elders, have challenged him about the authority for his words and his deeds, his teaching and his action.

He declines to answer the question. Then he tells the Parable of the Wedding Feast, which was the Gospel reading for last Sunday [15 October 2017].

Now Christ is confronted by two further sectors of Jewish society, the followers of the Pharisees (verse 15) and the Herodians (verse 16), the people who supported Herod, the Roman puppet king, and his successors. They too are united in their plot to entrap Christ, and while they appear to speak to him with respect, they speak with irony.

The question they put to him is the subject of great debate in Jewish circles at the time: should religious and loyal Jews pay the annual poll tax to Rome? (verse 17).

Jewish opinion was divided on this question, and the Zealots among them claimed that God’s people should not be subject to pagan Gentiles.

But, like last week’s question about the baptism of John the Baptist, this is a loaded question. This is yet another question loaded with presuppositions, with built-in fallacies and false dichotomies. A few weeks ago, we had the well-known example of the sort of question all lawyers know not ask: ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’

The question put to Christ in the Temple in this reading only allows one of two answers, Yes or No. But it is only a question about law. It does not ask, for example, whether it is moral to pay those taxes, or whether it is folly not to pay those taxes.

It is entrapment and it is fallacious. If Christ answers Yes, the Zealots and other Jews hostile to Roman rule are going to turn against him. On the other hand, if he says No, he risks being arrested for inciting rebellion against Rome.

Christ sees through the plot that is being set for him and the intended malice. He describes his interrogators as ‘hypocrites’ (verse 18) for pretending to respect him but intending to discredit him.

The coin they bring to Christ is a denarius (verse 19). The denarius was a silver coin and the most common Roman coin of the time. It is mentioned in the Bible more often than any other coin, and it is sometimes known as the ‘penny’ of the Bible because the King James Version uses that word for it.

The denarius was a day’s pay for workers and Roman troops. A few weeks ago [24 September 2017], in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16), we see that a denarius was the ordinary payment for a day’s labour (see Matthew 20: 2, 9, 10, 13).

There are other well-known examples of the denarius as common currency in the New Testament:

‘But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend’.” (Luke 10: 33-35).

When he looked and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages [200 denarii] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ (John 6: 5-7)

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ (He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) (John 12: 4-6)

Having looked at the head on the denarius he is given, Christ then looks at the inscription. In the parallel accounts (Mark 12: 13-17; Luke 20: 20-26), he asks: ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ (Mark 12: 16), or ‘Whose head and whose title does it bear?’ (Luke 20: 24).

The denarius of Augustus bore on its obverse a head or bust of the emperor crowned with a laurel wreath and with the inscription: Caesar Augustus, Divi Filius, Pater Patriae, ‘Caesar Augustus, Son of God, Father of His Country.’

On the reverse was a depiction of the imperial princes, Gaius and Lucius, the adopted sons of Augustus, each with a spear in his hand, with a background of crossed spears, a star representing heavenly sanction, an image of the stipulum or ladle used by Roman priests in their libations, and the litius of the augurate, and the added inscription Principes Iuventutis (‘the first among the young’).

The coin handed to Christ in the Temple is most likely the denarius of Tiberius, which on its obverse has the inscription Ti Caesar Divi Avg F Avgvstvs (Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus, ‘Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus’), inscribed around an image of Tiberius with a laurel crown.

The reverse side depicts a seated woman as Pax. This was Livia Drusilia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius; she died in AD 29 and was later deified by her grandson Claudius with the title Diva Augusta, and women were to invoke her name in their sacred oaths. On the coin, she holds a palm branch in her left hand and an inverted spear in her right hand, and the inscription on this side refers to Tiberius as Pontif Maxim (Pontifex Maximus), or ‘High Priest’ of the Roman State.

Christ does not even get around to flipping over the coin to read the inscription on the reverse side referring to Tiberius Caesar as the High Priest. But both inscriptions are affronts to monotheistic Jews, and so the coin should not have been in the hands of anyone in the Temple.

Yet, when Christ asks them to produce a denarius in that setting, they do so immediately. In other words, they themselves have already carried an image of Caesar and Diva Augusta, and blasphemous inscription, into the Temple of the Lord God.

Until that moment when the coin is placed in Christ’s hand, he is caught in the horns of a dilemma. It is the Passover season, and Jerusalem is flooded with hundreds or thousands of pilgrims who have arrived to remember and celebrate God’s liberation of their ancestors from slavery under foreign rulers.

Beneath the Villa Jovis in Capri, where the Emperor Tiberius threw his enemies off the cliff-top into the sea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At Passover, parallels might have been drawn between Tiberius and Pharaoh. Tiberius Claudius Nero, or Tiberius Julius Caesar, was a tyrant in his own right. He was Roman Emperor from AD 14 to AD 37. He spent most of the latter years of his reign in the Villa Jovis on the island of Capri, where Tiberius spent much of his final years, leaving control of the empire in the hands of the prefect Lucius Aelius Sejanus.

While Tiberius was in Capri, rumours abounded as to what exactly he was doing there. Suetonius and Tacitus record lurid tales of sexual perversity, including graphic depictions of child molestation, and cruelty, and most of all his paranoia. Those who questioned or challenged his power and divinity were often thrown off the cliffs at the Villa Jovis onto the rocks below and into the sea.

If Christ says paying taxes to Caesar is wrong, he risks provoking immediate action against him by the Romans. If he says paying taxes to Rome is right, those who question him are ready to accuse him of betraying the memory and tradition, faith and beliefs of the people as they recall their liberation from slavery and oppression.

But Christ trips up those who are sent to question him by showing that they are bearing proclamations of Caesar’s lordship and high priesthood into the very Temple of the God they claim to be serving with ritual purity.

The obvious questions here are not about what is lawful, or even what is moral or wise, but: who is the divine son, and who is the great high priest?

Christ has won the argument. He has unmasked his critics. There is no need for any further argument, there is no need to say anything more, there is no need to answer the question.

Yet, having won the argument, he answers the question anyway. What he says would have meaning for any Pharisee present. He says: ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (verse 21).

The word Christ uses in his answer, ἀπόδοτε, is translated as ‘render’ (KJV; RSV: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’), ‘give back’ (NIV) or simply ‘give’ (NRSV, verse 21). But the verb ἀποδίδωμι (apodidomi) can mean to give back, restore or repay. It can mean to deliver, to give away for one’s own profit what is one’s own, to sell, to pay off, or to discharge what is due. It can refer to a debt, wages, tribute, taxes, or produce due.

Of course, to the Jews of that time, as to us now, all we have is given to us by God, and we owe everything to him.

So what in this world is God’s?

The alternative, paired Old Testament reading for this Sunday (Isaiah 45: 1-7) is helpful here. God addresses King Cyrus of Persia, who is a gentile but nevertheless ‘anointed’ and called by the God of Israel (verse 1). It is not only the people of Israel who are God’s, but all to whom God gives life and breath.

God tells this gentile king, that he is providing help ‘though you do not know me … so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things’ (Isaiah 45: 4-7). East or west, light or dark, in all circumstances, God is God, and there is none other.

Our psalm for this Sunday describes God similarly as Lord of all peoples, of all the earth: ‘The Lord is king … he is high above all peoples’ (Psalm 99: 1-2).

Or, as Psalm 24: 1 puts it: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.’

As far as any of this relates to the question Christ was asked in the Temple, everything belongs to God, who is the rightful Lord of the earth and all that is in it, the world and all people in it.

When it comes to any worldly power that competes and makes demands to be our lord, whether it is a figurehead, a flag, or the exclusive claims of some nation-state nationalism, this is a place reserved exclusively for the Lord God.

The coin’s inscriptions, with their claims about Caesar’s divinity and high priesthood, and the idolatrous images of one who claimed divinity and his mother who is about to be deified, turn this from a debate about paying a poll tax to an occupying foreign power to an unmasking of the duplicitous thinking of those who challenge Christ’s authority in the Temple, in his teaching and in his table-turning, his words and deeds, while at the same time compromising their own claims to ritual purity within the bounds of the Temple.

Collect:

O God, without you we are not able to please you;
Mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Holy and blessed God,
you feed us with the body and blood of your Son
and fill us with your Holy Spirit.
May we honour you,
not only with our lips but in lives dedicated
to the service of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Exodus 33: 12-23:

80, Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
554, Lord Jesus, think on me
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me

Psalm 99:

686, Bless the Lord, the God of our forebears
688, Come, bless the Lord, God of our forebears
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice

I Thessalonians 1: 1-10

86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
320, Firmly I believe and truly
312, Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
637, O for a closer walk with God
639, O thou who camest from above
508, Peace to you
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

Matthew 22: 15-22:

10, All my hope on God is founded
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning
263, Crown him with many crowns
353, Give to our God immortal praise
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
94, In the name of Jesus
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
102, Name of all majesty
363, O Lord of earth and heaven and sea
493, Ye that know the Lord is gracious
509, Your kingdom come, O God.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Diocesan Training Day:
Parish Communications

A training day on Parish Communications takes place on 23 October in Saint Mary’s Parish Centre, Killarney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first in a series of training days for clergy and readers in the united dioceses is a day on Parish Communications.

Venue: Saint Mary’s Parish Centre, beside the Church, in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Date and time: Monday 23 October, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The facilitators are:

● The Diocesan Communications Officer, the Revd Michael Cavanagh, Priest-in-Charge of the Kenmare and Dromod Union of Parishes;

● The Editor of Newslink, Joc Sanders;

● Canon Patrick Comerford, Director of Training and Education in the Dioceses and a former journalist.

The topics for discussion include:

● working with local radio stations, newspapers;

● working with the diocesan magazine;

● how to use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and websites, in your parish;

● producing parish newsletters and hand-outs.

The day begins at 11, is open to all clergy and diocesan and readers in the united diocese, and ends at 3 p.m.

In addition, parishioners involved in a hands-on role in this work may be interested in taking part.

Preparation:

In advance, as preparation, the Revd Michael Cavanagh asks those taking part to submit to him by Friday 13 October one sample of written work (not a list of things you have included in parish notes, but, for example, a narrative account of an event that may have been part of parish notes or a newsletter).

This helps Michael to assess and respond to writing and communications skills.

Patrick Comerford

Monday, 9 October 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 15 October 2017

Banqueting at the end-of-term dinner with the Durrell School of Corfu ... we are all invited to the heavenly banquet, but are we ready to accept the invitation? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Introduction:

Next Sunday [15 October 2017] is the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 23). The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for that Sunday are: Exodus 32: 1-14; Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4: 1-9; Matthew 22: 1-14.

Putting the readings in context:

How can we make connections with the different readings each Sunday? You may decide, for example, to preach on the Gospel reading. But it may be one of the other readings that has caught the imagination of the people you need to reach. Making connections helps to bring people on the journey with you.

So, just a little note on the other readings for next Sunday:

Exodus 32: 1-14

The Old Testament reading from the Book Exodus is set after Moses has received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai.

Aaron and the Israelites have been waiting from Moses to come down from Mount Sinai. Moses has been up there 40 days and 40 nights and is late, or, as one translation puts it, ‘shamefully late.’

As the people wait, they grow impatient. In response to their impatience, Aaron takes gold from the people and makes a golden calf to represent God for the people. When God sees this, he is angry with the Israelites for worshipping a false god, and is filled with wrath.

After Solomon’s death in 930 BC, Israel split into two kingdoms. To stop people visiting Jerusalem in the south, Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom, set up two golden calves, one at each of two alternative places of worship (see I Kings 12: 28-30). The writer is not only recording history, but is also teaching that Jerusalem is the only proper place for worship.

But, as we read this story we are uncomfortable not only with the worship of false gods, but with the wrath of God. Wrath is not an emotion we are comfortable with associating with God. Instead, we tend to think of God as loving, gracious, kind and so on.

What does the wrath of God mean?

How should we respond?

What is false worship? And what is appropriate worship?

Moses is not tempted by the offer to become the founder of a new “great nation”. Instead, he stands by Israel and pleads and argues with God.

Are there going to be times when what you think is a call from God becomes a temptation that you should resist?

When have you found yourself arguing with God?

Moses responds by standing before God and testifies to God’s power and might, reminding God of his faithfulness to the Israelites in bringing them out of Egypt. As Moses speaks, God changes his mind (see verse 14).

What other examples in the Bible can you recall when God changes his mind in response to prayer?

We often speak about God being unchangeable, yet in this passage we hear a story about God’s mind being changed in interaction with Moses.

What does it mean to you that God’s mind has been changed?

Is it possible that God can, at once, be both unchangeable but yet also changed?

Have you ever been impatient with God?

Have you ever had your mind changed as a result of praying?

Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23

These portions of Psalm 106 continue the themes in our Exodus reading.

In the first portion of this Psalm, we move from praise and thanksgiving to petition and confession, through the full range of human emotion and the complexities of our relationship with God, relying on God’s continuing faithfulness.

In the second portion, though, we move to a confessional tone.

What spiritual practices do you have that help you balance your prayer life?

Philippians 4: 1-9

In this reading, we meet two leaders of the Church in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, women who have struggled alongside Paul in the work of the Gospel. Now they differ with each other in their understanding of the way of Christ. This causes disunity in the Church. But the Apostle Paul does not deal with them harshly, nor does he accuse them of divisiveness. Instead, he urges the members of the Church in Philippi to care for one another, to stay strong and faithful even when they face hardship, and to rejoice in the Lord always.

Apart from Paul, Euodia and Syntyche, there is a fourth, unnamed ‘loyal companion’ (verse 3), sometimes named Syzygus after the Greek description of him here. He is asked to be instrumental in achieving reconciliation. And there is a fifth person, Clement, who appears nowhere else in the Pauline texts.

The idea that God keeps a ‘book of life’ or a roll of the faithful to be opened at the end of time, is also found in Exodus 32: 32, Psalm 69: 28 and Luke10: 20.

At that time, many Christians were expecting the second coming, and thought it had been delayed. Like the freed slaves in the wilderness in the Old Testament reading, they think that the returning Christ, like Moses, is delayed, perhaps even shamefully late.

Are there divisions among them that are tantamount to idolatry?

Yet Saint Paul tells them: ‘The Lord is near’ (verse 5). The Philippians should seek unity in prayer and find peace in God.

Matthew 22: 1-14

A summer wedding in a monastery in Crete … who is invited to the wedding banquet? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

This parable, which is the third parable about the kingdom of heaven, is particularly difficult. It tells the story of a king hosting a wedding banquet for his son. The king has invited a long list of guests, but even after being repeatedly sought out, none of these guests comes to the banquet.

To refuse to come, to refuse a king’s command, is treason; to kill his slaves amounts to insurrection. So the king sends troops to put down the rebellion.

The king then sends his slaves into the streets to find enough people to sit at the tables at the wedding banquet. Notice how he invites all people, ‘both good and bad’ (verse 10).

Yet, when the king sees that a man is not dressed appropriately for the event, the king throws him into the outer darkness.

If you were to imagine yourself as one of the characters in this parable, who would you be?

And would you behave that way?

Are you the king, throwing a lavish wedding banquet?

Are you a wedding guest who has denied the generosity of the king?

Are you one of the people brought in from the streets, but not prepared for the celebration about to take place?

Where do you find Good News in this parable?

Christ’s audience would naturally associate a festive meal with the celebration of God’s people at the end of time. The wedding feast is a recurring image in the Bible of the heavenly banquet and the coming kingdom.

A grave in Kerameikós, Athens, where Pericles delivered his funeral oration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

What is meant by the many and the few here?

I have read that in Western thought many is a quantity much more than the majority, while few is many less than the majority. In Eastern thought, one less than 100% would be considered few.

We could put the Greek use of ‘few’ and ‘many’ by Christ in this parable in its cultural context. Pericles, in his ‘Funeral Oration’ in Athens, according to Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, uses ‘the many,’ οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi), in a positive way when praising the Athenian democracy. He contrasts them with ‘the few’ (οἱ ὀλίγοι, hoi oligoi), who abuse power and create an oligarchy, rule by the few. He advocates equal justice for ‘the many’, ‘the all’, before the law, against the selfish interests of the few.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember that Christ is the victim, and that he said his blood is shed ‘for you and for many’ … you being us, the Church, the few in this parable; but the many, οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi), refers to the masses, the multitude, the great unwashed, who are called too.

Christ dies for the many, the lumpen masses, all people, and not just for the few, the oligarchs. The many are invited to this banquet this morning. And who are we to behave like a tyrannical despot and exclude them? For if we exclude them, we are in danger of excluding Christ himself.

Peter Brueghel the Younger, ‘A Peasant Wedding’ (1620), in the National Gallery of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Some questions:

This story has elements of harshness and tragedy, and some of the responses seem out of proportion to the crime.

The first guests are those who are hostile to Christ. The one who arrives without wearing wedding robes represents those who do not count the cost in becoming disciples. The judgment on anyone who does not prepare will be at least as severe as that on those who reject Christ. The final verse is the moral of the story – a generalisation of Christ’s intent in telling the parable: ‘For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Wedding garments were provided to all comers, so refusing to wear one was not a matter of pleading poverty – it was a deliberate and direct insult to the host.

Yet is the king in the parable a paragon of virtue or a model for how Christ behaves? Christ’s condemnation of violent retaliation is clear and consistent, not only in his teaching throughout his ministry but also in his example of becoming subject to death on a cross.

I have difficulties with the traditional, exclusive claims made in many interpretations of this parable, the standard storytelling of this parable. Is Christ proclaiming that God will retaliate violently when God’s messengers are attacked?

The wedding feast is a consistent image of the messianic banquet. How often do we try to shorten and edit the guest list for the party? The task of the slaves is to gather all – ‘both good and bad.’ If it is for anyone to decide who should be ejected, that call belongs to the king.

But there is another, alternative reading of this Gospel passage. The guests have been compelled to come to the banquet, not because they have something to celebrate, but because they are in fear of the tyrant.

In this telling, Christ is the only one who speaks out and who protested against the king’s tyranny, the tyranny of the kingdoms of this world, by refusing to wear the robe, and ended up being rejected, being ejected, and being crucified on behalf of the many, on behalf of all those who are marginalised, thrown out, expelled.

For many are called to the way of the Cross, but few are chosen.

On the other hand, we might think of the person was invited by the king, but who does not change. Many are invited to Christianity, come to the banquet, but do not change, thinking that God’s grace will cover it all.

As with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s discussions of Cheap Grace and Costly Grace, we are invited to the banquet, but we must change.

Or you might see the guest who shows up without the wedding garment as being like someone coming to a party but refusing to party. How often am I like that person? Are you?

Toasting the bride and groom at a family wedding … did you ever attend a wedding, without joining in the party (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God:
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

All praise and thanks, O Christ,
for this sacred banquet,
in which by faith we receive you,
the memory of your passion is renewed,
our lives are filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory given,
to feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Exodus 32: 1-14:

584: Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
637: O for a closer walk with God

Psalm 106: 1–6, 19–23:

353: Give to our God immortal praise
30: Let us with a gladsome mind
634: Love divine, all loves excelling
45: Praise, O praise our God and King
20: The King of love my shepherd is

Philippians 4: 1-9:

349: Fill thou my life, O Lord my God
225: In the cross of Christ I glory
16: Like a mighty river flowing
636: May the mind of Christ my Saviour
505: Peace be to this congregation
507: Put peace into each other’s hands
539: Rejoice, O land, in God thy might
281: Rejoice, the Lord is King!
71: Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise
627: What a friend we have in Jesus

Matthew 22: 1-14:

406: Christians, lift your hearts and voices
408: Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
418: Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
421: I come with joy, a child of God
587: Just as I am without one plea
433: My God, your table here is spread
445: Soul, array thyself with gladness
20: The King of love my shepherd is
448: The trumpets sound, the angels sing
529: Thy hand, O God, has guided
451: We come as guests invited
145: You servants of the Lord