Monday, 27 November 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 3 December 2017

‘Then they will see the Son of Man coming’ (Mark 13: 26) … the King of Kings and Great High Priest, an icon from Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 3 December 2017, is the First Sunday of Advent.

The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year, and we begin a new cycle of readings. There is a three-year cycle in the Revised Common Lectionary, and we are about to begin reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel in Year B, which begins on Sunday. But instead of beginning at the beginning, with the first coming of Christ at his Incarnation, we begin with looking forward to his Second Coming.

The readings for next Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary and set out in the Directory of the Church of Ireland are: Isaiah 64: 1-9; Psalm 80: 1-8, 18-20; I Corinthians 1: 3-9; and Mark 13: 24-37.

There is a direct link to the readings here.


A colourful early winter sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

With the onset of winter, the sunsets are earlier each evening, and the sunrises are later each morning. So late that most mornings most of us are awake and having breakfast before the sunrise begins to down.

Most mornings these weeks, the sunrise is shrouded in grey clouds and the sky is filled with rain. But some mornings we can see a clear sunrise in the east, when the clouds in the sky are streaked with distinctive shades of pink and purple, with tinges of red and orange.

A dawn like this is always a heavenly pleasure.

Try to take a moment as you read these notes to think back on the places you have visited this year, on family breaks or on holidays, that have been snatches of heaven for you.

I am just back from a city break in Bologna, in warm autumn sunshine in Italy. But in a moment of idleness one recent winter morning, I thought how throughout this year, throughout 2017, I have managed to find myself visiting places that are snatches of heaven to me – waking up looking out onto the banks a river in autumn; a few days here and a few days there back in Lichfield, in Cambridge, and in Crete and Athens; there walks in the countryside in Limerick and Wexford in Ireland, and Staffordshire and East Anglia in England; walks on beaches in theses diocese, including Ballybunion, the Dingle Peninsula and Kilkee, beaches I was introduced to for the first time this year following my move to the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.

There were tender moments of love with those I love and those who love me; and prayerful moments too of being conscious of and anticipating the presence of God.

And I mused, in an idle moment one recent morning, that if these were my last days then this year alone I had managed to visit and to stay in places that are so close to my heart.

It is natural, as the year comes to an end, to think of final things and closing days. Earlier in the month, we had All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day in some churches, and Remembrance Sunday:

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

At the end of November we then move towards thinking of the end, not in a cataclysmic way, but because with the beginning of Advent we begin to think of the world as we know it giving way to the world as God wants it to be, to the Kingdom of God.

What does the future hold?

A colourful sunset over Limerick seen from the tower of Saint Mary’s Cathedral … what does the future hold? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

For many people in Ireland today, the future is full of uncertainties. Although the government and economists assure us we have come out of the recession and there are many signs of economic growth, there is an incalculable number of homeless families – adults and children – living on our streets. Many ordinary people are still leaving under mountainous burdens of debt, with uncertainty about paying bills, families who have no many left at the end of the month, which means they cannot plan for the future, they have been robbed of hope for their future.

Since the economic collapse of 2018, businesses have closed, jobs have been lost, savings and investments have withered away, and for many people large question marks still hang over their pensions and their provisions for the future.

There is no doubt that in this country two of the major contributors to, causes of, poverty are ill-health and inadequate access to education.

Charging more for health care and for education ensures that more people are going to join those who are in the poverty trap, those who cannot pay more for health care and access to education, and those already there, cannot find hope for the future.

They may feel they are being fed with the bread of tears and given the abundance of tears to drink referred to in the Psalm in these readings (Psalm 80: 6), that they are to become the derision of their neighbours (Psalm 80: 7).

Many economists warn that we may still be teetering on the brink of collapse. And when I look at the poverty on the streets of Greece this year, away from the gaze of most tourists, I realise what was waiting around the corner for this country only ten years ago, for the whole of Europe, and wonder whether we have had a fortuitous escape, or whether it is still threatening us.

The Bank of Greece ... is every European country still waiting for a similar economic collapse? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Readings:
The word often used to describe these fears is apocalyptic – we talk of apocalyptic fears and apocalyptic visions. Our Old Testament and Gospel readings for Sunday morning are classical apocalyptic passages in the Bible. A set of resources for next Sunday’s readings is easily accessible here.

Isaiah 64: 1-9

This part of the Book of Isaiah was probably written ca 530-510 BC, soon after the Jews had returned from exile to Israel. In Chapter 63, the writer recalls God’s action in delivering the slaves from Egypt to freedom. God has always been with them, even when he seems to have deserted them.

Now, the prophet asks to God reveal himself as you did during the Exodus. God replies that he was always ready for those who sought him, but no one came seeking him.

In Advent, are we seeking God, and looking for his coming among us?

Psalm 80: 1-8, 18-20

This psalm is a cry for help to God, asking him to save us with his steadfast love, to deliver us and to care for us.

When we call on God for God’s help, are we prepared to live as though God is already present among us?

I Corinthians 1: 3-9:

Those difficult questions raised in our Old Testament reading and the Psalm are answered in our Epistle reading when the Apostle Paul assures his readers in Corinth that ‘God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (verse 9).

Saint Paul greets them with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and he encourages them to look forward to ‘the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ God will help us prepare for that day, so that they may be blameless at this second coming.

Mark 13: 24-37:

Winter trees at sunset in the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The passage in the reading in Saint Mark’s Gospel is part of what is sometimes known as the ‘Little Apocalypse.’

You can imagine the first readers of Saint Mark’s Gospel in, say, Alexandria. They have heard of – perhaps had even seen – the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Like their fellow Christians in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps these first Christians in Alexandria have been thrown out of the synagogues, have been disowned by those they once worshipped with, they have been disowned by friends, perhaps even by their closest family members, and face discrimination, loss of social standing, and perhaps even loss of income.

The world as they knew it was coming to an end. In words in the Old Testament reading, they saw their heaven and their earth torn apart (Isaiah 64: 1). And they, like us today, needed some reassurances of love and we, like them, need some signs of hope.

But the tree bearing fruit is a sign that God promises new life. In darkness and in gloom, we can know that God’s summer is always new, there are always rays of hope and glimpses of love (Mark 13: 28).

And everywhere the messengers of God’s good news, the angels, appear in the Gospel, they almost always begin to speak with the words: ‘Be not afraid.’

These are the angel’s opening words to Zechariah in the Temple as he is about to be told of the imminent birth of John the Baptist (Matthew 1: 13).
These are the angel’s words to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 30).

These are the angels’ opening words to the shepherds on the hillside on the first Christmas night (Luke 2: 10).

These are the angel’s opening words to Joseph wondering whether he is facing a future of disdain and a family disaster (Matthew 1: 20).

If we believe in God’s promises, we must not only set aside our fears, we need too to show others how we believe, how we expect and how we look forward to being the beneficiaries of hope, being the recipients, the agents and the messengers or ministering angels of love.

Planting for the future

If the world was going to end tomorrow, would you plant a tree? … old olive trees in an olive grove in the hills above Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A few weeks ago, we marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. It is said that Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he was told the world was going to end tomorrow, and he replied he would plant a tree.

Some years ago, I was given a present of an olive tree and I was hoping to see it grow in my back garden. But heavy rains soon fell in the garden, and as winter closed in its leaves faded and it was taken away with the rains and the wind (see Isaiah 64: 6).

The dead olive tree was replaced with another one, and six years later it is in a much better state of health. But, if these were my closing days, I too would like to plant an olive tree, despite the unmeasurable variations in weather we are experiencing in Ireland in recent winters.

Some of us receive bad news from time to time. More of us know and love someone who has recently received truly bad news.

But if you were told the end is coming, if you were told there was no tomorrow, or no next week, what would you do?

Would you want to spend those last few days closing that business deal?

Would you finish a long-delayed project?

Would you want to take that world cruise?

Would you finish that great novel?

Would you join me in planting another olive tree?

Or would you rise early to glory in the sunrise, listen to the waves rolling in onto the beach, stand beneath the last autumn leaves falling from the trees by the river bank, or prayerfully watch the sunset?

And even though all those are true pleasures and blessings at one and the same time, I think, if I was told that the end is coming, that these are my final days, then most of all I would want to tell those I love how much I love them, and hear once again, what I know already, that I too am loved.

And I would want to tell God how much I love God and to thank God for all the blessings, all the love, that I have received throughout my life. Because of God’s generosity I have not been lacking in anything … in anything that really matters at the end of my days (I Corinthians 1: 4, 7).

So, if that is what we would do if we were told these are the closing days, maybe we should ask: Why not do that now?

Would you tell your children, your partner, your parents, your brothers and sisters, that one last time, that you love them?

Would you wrap the person you should love the most in one long, tender embrace?

We are the doorkeepers of our souls and our hearts (Mark 13: 34-37).

And if Christ comes this evening, tonight, early in the morning, will he find me sleeping on my responsibilities to be a sign of hope and a living example of true, deep, real love? (Mark 13: 35-36).

Will he find the Church sleeping on its call, its mission, to be a sign of the kingdom, a beacon of hope, a true and living sacrament of love?

In days of woe and in days of gloom, the Church must be a sign of hope, a sign of love, a sign that if even if things are not going to be get better for me and for others in my own life time, God’s plan is that they should be better (Mark 13: 27, 31).

In a world that needs hope, in a world that is short on love, then the Church, above all else, must be a visible sign of hope, must be a visible sign of love. If we cannot love one another in the Church, how can expect to find signs of hope and love in the world?

Advent calls us again to be willing to be clay in the hands of God who is our Father and who is the potter (Isaiah 64: 8), so that we can be shaped into his vessels of hope and of love, so that we can be signs of the coming Kingdom, so that our hope and our love give others hope and love too in the dark days of our winters.

Last Monday [20 November 2017], at our training day in Askeaton for clergy and readers, we were discussing ‘Preparing for Advent.’ Advent calls on us to create new space and to reorder our priorities. To be still. To experience some quiet. To be reminded who we are – God’s beloved children.

Mark Twain once said: ‘The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.’

What would you do if the world were to end tomorrow? You do not need to wait. You can do those things now.

Finish the work you started. Be reconciled to those who need you. Be faithful to the people and tasks around you. Undertake some small and wonderful and great endeavour. Be a sign of hope. But most of all – love the ones you want to and ought to love.

Why not? For Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again, in the name of love.

Lighting the Advent Wreath ... the first purple candle recalls the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent (Purple Candle):

The prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent can help us to continue our themes from the previous Sunday [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

The first candle to light on the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent is the Purple Candle that recalls the Patriarchs and Matriarchs

USPG suggests this prayer when lighting the first candle:

O God of Abraham and Sarai,
whose promise was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac;
we pray for mothers in Tanzania whose hope for their unborn
children is tainted by the threat of preventable disease.
Bless those who work to overcome this threat
so that children can be born healthy and full of potential.

‘Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light’ … sunset and winter lights in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical resources:

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria may be omitted during Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)


Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:


Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:


Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our deliverer,
Awaken our hearts
to prepare the way for the advent of your Son,
that, with minds purified by the grace of his coming,
we may serve you faithfully all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested hymns:

‘Drop down, ye heavens, from above’ … sunset at ‘World’s End’ in Castleconnel, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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

Isaiah 64: 1-9

122: Drop down, ye heavens, from above
336: Jesus, where’er thy people meet
132: Lo! he comes with clouds descending
594: O Lord of creation, to you be all praise

Psalm 80: 1-8, 18-20

10: All my hope on God is founded
695: God of mercy, God of grace
614: Great Shepherd of your people, hear
305: O Breath of life, come sweeping through us

I Corinthians 1: 3-9

327: Christ is our corner stone
508: Peace to you
531: Where love and loving–kindness dwell

Mark 13: 24-37

119: Come, thou long–expected Jesus
567: Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
668: God is our fortress and our rock
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed
126: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
127: Hark what a sound and too divine for hearing
130: Jesus came, the heavens adoring
132: Lo! he comes with clouds descending
369: Songs of praise the angels sang
197: Songs of thankfulness and praise
678: Ten thousand times ten thousand
73: The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
140: The Lord will come and not be slow
142: Wake, O wake with tidings thrilling
145: You servants of the Lord

‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’ … sunset in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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