Monday, 6 November 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 12 November 2017

The War Memorial in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … Sunday 12 November 2017 may be observed as the Third Sunday before Advent and as Remembrance Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 12 November 2017, is the Third Sunday before Advent (Proper 27). The readings provided in the Revised Common Lectionary and set out in the Church of Ireland Directory, for next Sunday are:

Joshua 24: 1-3a; Psalm 78: 1-7; I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; and Matthew 25: 1-13.

These readings are available by clicking this link.

There is also an option to observe Remembrance Sunday, using these readings:

Isaiah 2: 1-5, or Isaiah 10: 33 to 11: 9, or Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 4, or Psalm 47, or Psalm 93, or Psalm 126, or Psalm 130; Romans 8: 31-39, or Revelation 1: 1-7; Matthew 5: 1-12, or John 15: 9-17.

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 readings for the Third Sunday before Advent, including the Gospel reading, with some questions about how we might relate this to Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

Resources for Remembrance Sunday 2017, including orders of service, images and powerpoint presentations, can be downlowded from this link.

Additional resources can be found at this link.

The readings:

Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25

The War Memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The people who were once slaves but were freed and who have spent 40 years in the wilderness have now arrived in the Promised Land, and this has been divided among the tribes. They gather at Shechem, on the edge of the hill country, 50 km north of Jerusalem. Here Abraham had built an altar to commemorate his meeting with God; here Jacob set up camp, bought land, and erected an altar; here Joseph was buried.

This reading describes a treaty between God and his people, like a treaty between a victorious king and a vanquished people, who in return for protection undertake obligations, including revering the Lord (verse 14), and with warnings about the consequences of breaches in the terms of the treaty (verse 20).

The people are free to worship God or the local gods, but they elect to serve God (verse 15), recognise all God has done for them, and choose to serve him.

How would you relate this reading to Remembrance Day and God’s protection of a people in conflict or when they have been vanquished?

Psalm 78: 1-7

‘Pax 1919’ ... the spires of Lichfield Cathedral seen from the gates of the Garden of Remembrance … does God continue to work through mighty acts and in history? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This psalm recounts the story of the liberated slaves and their descendants, from the Exodus to the reign of David. In this way, it teaches that God has continued his saving acts in history despite the unfaithfulness of his people. They should recount for generations to come how God has intervened in human affairs through his ‘power’ and ‘wonderful works’ (verse 4).

Does God continue to work through mighty acts and in history?

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18

The War Memorial from Rathkeale Methodist Church now in Ballingrane Methodist Church … do we think ‘the Lord is an avenger’ and how do we handle questions about those who have ‘fallen asleep,’ those who have died in war? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Saint Paul has just urged his readers to live a godly, ethical life ‘because the Lord is an avenger’ (verse 6). Now he raises an important question about what about those who have ‘fallen asleep,’ those who have already died (verse 13).

Understanding this, he says, is important so that we may have hope, because we believe in the crucified and risen Christ, and that through him, God will bring those who are asleep into his company (verse 14). In verses 16-17, Saint Paul express a basic truth in terms of the cosmology of the day (with heaven above and the earth below): at the time of the second coming, God will descend, those who are already dead will rise, then we who are alive will ascend, joining those who have already died. And so we will all be with God forever (verse17).

Is there an appropriate way of remembering the those who ‘have fallen asleep,’ the war dead, on this Sunday?

Is there a thin borderline that separates remembering the dead and glorifying war?

Looking at the Gospel reading, Matthew 25: 1-13:

Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25: 1)

The setting for this morning’s Gospel reading (Matthew 25: 1-13) is on the Mount of Olives, looking down on the Temple, where Christ has been teaching in the week leading up to the Passover, and in the week leading up to his Passion, Death and Resurrection. In the Church Calendar, we are also preparing for the Season of Advent, when we think about his Second Coming, as King in Glory, at the end of time: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matthew 23: 39).

In the verses before this reading (24: 45-51), Christ tells the parable of a master who leaves his household for a time, but suddenly returns. If, while he is away, his servant lives a godly, ethical life, he is ‘blessed’ when the master returns. On the other hand, if he thinks his master is delayed in returning, misbehaves and lives a life of debauchery, he will be condemned when his master returns.

In fact, the master will return when the servant least expects him to return.

Christ is speaking about the connection we should make between how we live now and what will happen at the Second Coming.

This reading is yet another parable in which Christ talks about the end of time, the Second Coming, the coming of the Kingdom of God.

In Christ’s day, weddings could last for days, as we know from the story of the Wedding at Cana (see John 2: 1-11). Weddings still go on, for days on end, in Greece and other Mediterranean countries today.

In Christ’s day, the groom and his family would gather at his household, while the bride and her family and guests would gather at her household. The groom and his family then make their way to the bride’s house to meet bride. When the groom arrived, he would take the bride inside, the marriage would be consummated and the wedding celebrations would continue.

In this parable, the party goes ahead without the bridesmaids who have not prepared themselves properly for the arrival of the groom, and who hastily rush away and try to return in the pretence that they had been prepared all along.

It was normal at Jewish weddings for the bridegroom to be delayed (verse 5). So the sudden, early arrival of the bridegroom (verses 10) is unexpected and surprising to those who are the first to listen to the telling of this parable.

Each of the wise bridesmaids has made her preparation and has made sure she is spiritually prepared. But being prepared is something we cannot transfer to others. Their refusal to give oil to the foolish bridesmaids is not an act of selfishness but a lesson in how each of us is expected to make his or her own preparations.

The surprise created by the early arrival of the bridegroom is added to as two further developments unfold in the story: the door is shut against those who arrive late (verse 10); and the groom refuses to recognise the foolish bridesmaids: ‘I do not know you’ (verse 12). Those who are not prepared, or are too late in their preparation, are refused entry to the Kingdom.

The surprise is shocking when we think that this is the same Jesus who taught, healed, and broke bread with anyone who would join him, and who has particular compassion for the poor and outcast. Why now is Christ portrayed as someone who would shut the door on half of those who are waiting for his arrival?

But what are the expectations of the majority of people in our society today?

What would they prefer most?

The values of this world’s kingdoms … or the demands and expectations of the Kingdom of God?

The exhortation to ‘Keep awake’ (verse 13) is a call to be prepared – for the coming of the Kingdom of God, for the Second Coming of Christ.

And how ought we to do this?

Think back to the readings of the three previous Sundays, about rendering onto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22: 15-22); about living by the two great commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matthew 22: 34-36); and about living by the spirit and not merely by the letter of the Law of God when it comes to discipleship (Matthew 23: 1-12).

Some additional notes:

The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens … the word παρθένος has resonances that go beyond single, chaste women (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Verse 1: The Greek word the NRSV translates as ‘bridesmaid’ and the RSV as ‘maidens’ is παρθένος, which means a virgin, a marriageable maiden, a woman who has never had sexual intercourse with a man, or a marriageable daughter.

But this word has resonances that go beyond single, chaste women. This is the word that also gives us the name of the Parthenon in Athens. Athena Parthenos (Ἀθηνᾶ Παρθένος, Athena the Virgin) was the title of a giant-size statue in gold and ivory of the Greek goddess Athena in the Parthenon in Athens.

It was the best-known cult image of Athens, and was seen as the greatest achievement of Phidias, the most acclaimed sculptor in ancient Greece.

There may be a reference here, therefore, to cult worship, often in the night and under the cover of darkness, and true worship of God, which should take place in the light. If so, there is an interesting connection between this Gospel reading and the persistent Johannine theme of darkness and light and the true worship Christ invites us to take part in.

Other Johannine parallels can be found in the Book of Revelation:

‘Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready’ (Revelation 19: 7).

‘And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’ (Revelation 21: 2).

Verse 2: The wise and foolish young women can be compared to the wise man and the foolish man who each build a house, one on firm foundations, the other on sand (see Matthew 7: 24).

Verse 3: Oil is not only a symbol of life but also a symbol of repentance and anointing (see Matthew 6: 17).

‘Peace Not War’ … the slogan on the plinth of the Richard Harris statue in Bedford Row, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)


Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the king of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
Look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The war memorial in the centre of Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25:

584: Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
660: Thine for ever! God of love

Psalm 78: 1-7

563: Commit your ways to God

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18:

666: Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side
126: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
132: Lo! he comes with clouds descending
634: Love divine, all loves excelling
227: Man of sorrows! What a name
281: Rejoice, the Lord is King!
197: Songs of thankfulness and praise
140: The Lord will come and not be slow

Matthew 25: 1-13:

86: Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
570: Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
418: Here, O My God, I see thee face to face
427: Let all mortal flesh keep silence
131: Lift up your heads, you mighty gates
433: My God, your table here is spread
448: The trumpet sounds, the angels sing
142: Wake, O wake! With tidings thrilling
143: Waken, O sleeper, wake and arise
145: You servants of the Lord

Suggestions for hymns appropriate for Remembrance Day can be found at this link.

The War Memorial in Tarbert recalls the dead of two World Wars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Some additional prayers:

Words for Remembrance Day, the words of Laurence Binyon:

They shall grow not old
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen, written in September 1914.

‘Age shall not weary them’ … a fading poppy by the roadside in Comberford village, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some Prayers for Remembrance Day in Common Worship

Almighty and eternal God,
from whose love in Christ we cannot be parted,
either by death or life:
hear our prayers and thanksgivings
for all whom we remember this day;
fulfil in them the purpose of your love;
and bring us all, with them, to your eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those men and women
who have died in active service:
in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
As we honour their courage and cherish their memory,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever. Amen.

you know our hearts and share our sorrows.
We are hurt by our parting from those whom we loved:
when we are angry at the loss we have sustained,
when we long for words of comfort,
yet find them hard to hear,
turn our grief to truer living,
our affliction to firmer hope
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, have mercy
on those who mourn
who feel numb and crushed
and are filled with the pain of grief,
whose strength has given up
You know all our sighing and longings:
be near to us and teach us to fix our hope on you
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, do not abandon us in our desolation.
Keep us safe in the midst of trouble,
and complete your purpose for us
through your steadfast love and faithfulness,
in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Our eyes, Lord, are wasted with grief;
you know we are weary with groaning.
As we remember our death
in the dark emptiness of the night,
have mercy on us and heal us;
forgive us and take away our fear
through the dying and rising of Jesus your Son. Amen.

Material from Common Worship is subject to copyright © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Further information on this copyright is available at this page.

A wreath on the War Memorial in Pery Square, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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