Monday, 29 January 2018

Readings, hymns and sermon ideas for Sunday 4 February 2018

Pages from Saint John’s Gospel, the first complete hand-written and illuminated Bible since the Renaissance, in the recent Holy Writ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [4 February 2018] is the Second Sunday before Lent. This is Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary, when the readings are mainly from Saint Mark’s Gospel. The for next Sunday offer two options:

Option A, Creation: Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; Psalm 104: 26-37; Colossians 1: 15-20; and John 1-14;

Option B (Proper 3): Hosea 2: 14-20, Psalm 103: 1-13, 22, II Corinthians 3: 1-6, and Mark 2: 13-22.

The Revised Common Lectionary provides for a different set of readings for the Sunday between 4 and 10 February as the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 40: 21-31; Psalm 147: 1-11, 20c; I Corinthians 9: 16-23; and Mark 1: 29-39. However, in the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, these should not be used when the Second Sunday before Lent falls on this date (see The Book of Common Prayer 2004, pp 32-34; Common Worship, Lectionary, p 550; RCL, pp 438-444).

You we will find these choices difficult and puzzling at times, but it shows you how important it is to plan your readings and sermons, and therefore the hymns and intercessions, well in advance so you can avoid last-minute panics.

The readings in context:

The Season of Christmas comes to an end not at Epiphany [6 January] and the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but 40 days after Christmas at the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas, the great feast which falls next Friday [2 February 2018].

The time between Candlemas and the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday has no season, and is known as Ordinary Time in the calendar of the Church. However, the two Sundays immediately before Lent have special themes, Creation and the Transfiguration, to help us prepare to mark appropriately the 40 days of Lent.

Option A:

Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31:

The theme of the readings on Sunday next, 4 February 2018, the Second Sunday before Lent, is Creation. The Old Testament reading (Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31) reminds us that our own creation, the beginning of my own life, is irrevocably linked with the very beginning of Creation, as Wisdom rejoices: ‘I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race’ (verses 30-31).

Colossians 1: 15-20:

This link between Christ, the beginning of creation, and God’s plan for humanity within creation, are emphasised by Saint Paul in the New Testament reading (Colossians 1: 15-20):

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Introducing the Gospel readings:

The Prologue in the opening chapter of Saint John’s Gospel is Greek mystical poetry of the highest quality

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, ‘In the beginning was the Word’ … this is one of the most dramatic opening lines in any great work of literature. And for, the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel According to Saint John, is one of the great works of literature, apart from being my favourite book in the Bible.

The author of this Gospel was identified by Saint Irenaeus as Saint John the beloved, Saint John the Divine, or Saint John the Theologian, who lived in Ephesus until the imperial reign of Trajan (ca AD 98).

As a boy, Irenaeus had known Saint Polycarp, who was Bishop of Smyrna, near Ephesus, and who is said to have been a disciple of John. Ever since then, the tradition of the Church has identified this John as the author of the Fourth Gospel.

The narrative translations with which we are so familiar often miss the poetic and dramatic presentations of this Gospel. We are all familiar with the dramatic presentation of the Prologue to this Gospel as the Gospel reading on Christmas Day. But the Prologue is first and foremost poetry. It is a hymn – a poetic summary – of the whole theology of this Gospel, as well as an introduction to it.

Raymond Brown has presented a translation from the Greek of the Prologue in poetic format:

1 In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.
2 He was present with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things came into being,
and apart from him not a thing came to be.
4 That which came to be found life in him,
and this life was the light of the human race.
5 The light shines on in the darkness,
for the darkness did not overcome it.

(6 Now there was a man sent by God, named John 7 who came as a witness to testify to the light, so that through him all might believe – 8 but only to testify to the light, for he himself was not the light.)

9 He was the real light
that gives light to everyone;
he was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world,
and the world was made by him;
yet the world did not recognise him.
11 To his own he came;
yet his own people did not accept him.
12 But all those who did accept him,
he empowered to become God’s children –
those who believe in his name,
13 those who were begotten,
not by blood,
nor the flesh,
nor human desire,
but by God.
14 And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.
And we have seen his glory,
the glory as of an only Son coming from the Father,
rich in kindness and fidelity.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ ... a recent winter sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 1: 1-14:

The first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John can be divided in two parts: the Prologue (verses 1-18) and a second part (verses 19-50) that shows that John the Baptist was preparing for the coming of the Messiah.

The Prologue is an introduction to the Gospel as a whole. It tells us that the Logos is God and acts as the mouthpiece (Word) of God ‘made flesh,’ sent to the world in order to be able to intercede for humanity and to forgive human sins.

The Prologue is of central significance to the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Prologue can be compared with Genesis 1, where the same phrase, ‘In the beginning …,’ first occurs along with the emphasis on the difference between the darkness and the light.

In the opening verses of each of the four Gospels, we are given initial clues to the interests that will govern the evangelists’ respective accounts of Christ’s life and ministry:

● Saint Matthew’s opening genealogy identifies Jesus as the descendant of both Abraham and David, as well as supplying his credentials as the Messianic king.

● Saint Mark’s opening is the most compact, recounting Christ’s baptism in order to establish his identity as the Son of God.

● Saint Luke’s introduction sets a detailed account of the announcements and actual births of both Saint John the Baptist and Jesus against the backdrop of the wider Roman world.

● Saint John’s makes the most dramatic use of the prologue form in shaping the contours of a particular Christological emphasis. This is probably one of the most profound passages in the Bible. As simple as its language and phrases are, its description of Christ as the Logos has had a lasting influence on Christian theology.

The prologue prepares the reader for the rest of the Fourth Gospel. Important themes are signalled and Christ’s identity is established at the very outset through the use of Christological titles, divine portents or the manner of his birth.

John’s is the only Gospel to speak of Christ’s pre-existence as the Logos and the only Gospel to include a poetic prologue.

The prologue provides a profound and highly developed theological summary that has a structural integrity of its own, while also introducing many of the key themes of the Gospel account that follows.

Section 1: Verses 1-5

Verses 1-2:

While the focus of the Prologue is on God in relation to humanity, rather than God in relation to Himself, the first two verses are the closest to an intra-Trinitarian description in this Gospel.

The ‘Word’ here is difficult to separate from the language of Genesis 1, with its echoes of ‘in the beginning’ and a creative ‘Word’ which calls all things into being. The phrase ‘in the beginning’ could also combine both a temporal sense – in the beginning of history – and a cosmological sense, ‘at the root of the universe.’

The opening verses leave little doubt that the Logos is identified as being equal in divine status to God, and is fully God, so that what will be said about the Logos will be said, in the fullest sense, of God.

Verses 3-5:

The remainder of this first section (verses 3-5) is introduced by πάντα (panta), a Greek word that figures prominently in several other New Testament hymn-like passages (see Romans 11: 36; I Corinthians 8: 6; Colossians 1: 16). These passages – all of them Pauline – describe the comprehensive character of Christ’s work of redemption. The phrasing of verse 3 is best seen as an expansion of the activity of the Logos in creation, with the restatement in verse 3b emphasising the all-inclusive character of the involvement of the Logos.

The word ζωὴ (zoe, life) is one of those terms in John that is laden with meaning. Although the sense of ‘eternal life’ may seem difficult to apply here, a consideration of the creational basis for this concept makes it quite acceptable, for the Logos is from the beginning and the source of all life (see Genesis 2: 7, 9; 3: 22; and Revelation 22: 2). There is a close connection between life and light in the giving and sustaining of life (John 8: 12; see Psalms 13: 3; 27: 1; 56: 13; 89: 15).

How should verse 5 be translated? The NIV translates the verb καταλαμβάνω (katalambáno) as ‘understood’: ‘and the darkness has not understood it.’ However, the NEB, Brown and others speak of ‘mastering’ or ‘overcomin’” the darkness. Despite the fall, the work of the Logos did not end but instead continued.

Section 2: Verses 6-13

Verses 6-9:

Are these verses out of place here? Do they disrupt the poetic flow?

Many commentators, including Brown, see these verses as an explanatory insertion that should be placed after the Prologue and before verse 19. Brown says one of the main purposes of the Fourth Gospel is to counter a sectarian group that regarded Saint John the Baptist as the Messiah, or at least as being equal to him – an intention emphasised in these verses, and further developed later in this chapter.

Verse 9 also draws attention once again to the theme of ‘light.’ Although the description of the light as ‘true’ (ἀληθινόν, alethinon) may seem puzzling at first, as there is no reference in the Fourth Gospel to a ‘false’ or ‘lesser’ light, there is a well-established tradition in Judaism in which the Torah is symbolised by light, with which the writer may be contrasting the final and true, real and eternal revelation of God’s light.

Verses 10-13 (verses 10-12b):

Verses 10 to 12b have been understood in different ways. If the passage is read as referring to the Old Testament presence of the Logos among his people (whether in the Torah or through prophets and leaders), it forms a chronological bridge between the Creation strophe of verses 1-5 and the Incarnation reported in verse 14. Yet such a reading would interrupt the chronological sequence of the Prologue, since John the Baptist has already been mentioned in verses 6-8.

CH Dodd argues that the Old Testament sometimes identifies the people of Israel as the ‘children’ or ‘son’ or ‘sons’ of God (see Deuteronomy 14: 1; Psalm 82: 6; Hosea 1: 10; Hosea 11: 1).

But this could also be an initial reference to the career of Jesus of Nazareth, so that verses 10-12b parallel the career of Jesus, providing a short summary of both the Book of Signs (chapters 2-12) in verse 11, and the Book of Glory (chapters 13-20) in verse 12.

It could be argued that the writer has a dual purpose, referring at on e and the same time to both the relationship of the Logos with creation and Israel, and to its Incarnation in the ministry of Christ.

The word κόσμος (kosmos), first introduced in verse 9, is now explained further, in a resumption of the staircase poetic structure from verses 1-5. The word is repeated three times, in order to explain that the creation in verse 3 (particularly the human domain of that creation) painfully and inexplicably rejected the Logos on his appearance. This lack of recognition, not ‘seeing,’ by some in Jesus’ audience, is an important theme later in the Gospel (see John 9: 35-41; 11: 9, 40; 12: 37-45; and also 1:14).

Verses 10-13 (verses 11-13):

The remainder of the middle section expands on this theme and narrows the focus of the ‘rejection’ motif. The term ‘his own’ (ἴδια, idia, idioi) is used in two senses: the first reference in the neuter plural (‘his own things,’ NRSV; ‘that which was his own,’ NIV) refers in a general way to the place which he has made, the creation; and the second use is in the masculine plural – ‘his own (people)’ – either humanity (verses 3, 4) or, more specifically, Israel – who were brought into being through him (II Samuel 5: 2, Psalm 33: 12; Isaiah 1: 3; Jeremiah 31: 33).

But Christ’s coming will not be met with complete rejection. The section concludes on the note of hope, emphasising the possibility for those who believe to be born anew and recreated through the same God who brought all of creation into being. The triple negative construction in verse 13 (‘not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man,’ NRSV; ‘not of human descent, nor of human decision, nor a husband’s will’) heightens the contrast between conventional, natural processes of the created world, and the newness which Christ’s ministry brings into the world (see John 3: 3-8).

The term ‘believe in,’ πιστεύουσιν εἰς (pisteuein eis) in verse 12, is typically Johannine and appears almost 40 times in this Gospel, most often in connection with Christ (31 times), and usually in reference to saving faith. Those who believe in the Son will form a new community of people who will be ‘his own,’ in contrast to those who – although they were already his own – did not recognise or believe in him.

Brown and others see verse 13 as an editorial expansion of the original hymn. They point to a differing style and its focus on the believer, in contrast to the Logos-centred emphasis of verses 1-5, 10-12 and 14.

Section 3: Verses 14-18:

The reading for Sunday next continues into the first verse of the third section of the Prologue, verse 14.

Verse 14

The final section of the Prologue draws together the different elements introduced up to now. Attention now shifts to the centrality of the Incarnation and its implications. For the first time since verse 1, the term Logos is restated, emphasising the movement from its cosmological dimensions in verse 1 to the temporal experience and conviction of the present Johannine community.

This movement is also apparent in the writer’s use of the verb ‘to become’ (γίνομαι, ginomai) in place of ‘to be.’ In this way, he signals that the Word has taken on a new form in a dramatic way.

This language could be flat rejection of any sort of Docetism.

Paradoxically, the Word that was fully God is now completely ‘flesh’ (σὰρξ, sarx), but both are equally true. There is a similar parallel between ‘was with God’ (in verse 1b) and ‘made his dwelling among us’ (verse 14b). The verb used here – ‘to make one’s dwelling’ (σκηνόω, skenoo) – draws on the Exodus traditions of a God who once lived among his people in the Tabernacle (see Exodus 33) and made his glory visible to his people there (Exodus 40: 34; see I Kings 8: 11). This theme was continued in prophetic literature, including Joel, Zechariah and Ezekiel, and is a theme in the entire story of God’s covenant with Israel.

The important concept of ‘glory’ (δόξα, doxa) is introduced here. This is another of the special terms in the Fourth Gospel, where it occurs 35 of the 185 times it is found in the New Testament. It is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew concept of kabod embodies the dual sense of God’s ruling divinity made visible through observable actions of great power.

For John this glory is visible in Christ’s statements and signs, many of which fulfil or supersede important elements in the Old Testament. But it is most evident in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

There is a close link here between σκηνόω (skenoo) and δόξα (doxa): ‘the Word … dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.’ This may allude to the fulfilment of the ‘new covenant’ promises regarding the coming nearness of God to his people in a way that will replace both Tabernacle and Temple.

The word μονογενοῦς (monogenous) has long been translated ‘only begotten,’ an expression linked closely to Trinitarian procession theology. Recently, it has also come to be seen in terms of Christ’s unique relationship with the Father, emphasising obedience and faithfulness to his purpose.

The couplet ‘grace and truth’ (χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας, charitos kai aletheias; also in verse 17) echoes the Hebrew pairing of ‘steadfast love’ and ‘truth,’ which are central in the covenantal self-disclosure of God in the Old Testament. For a third time, the writer is using terminology that has important significance in Exodus (see Exodus 34: 6) and that is used throughout the Old Testament covenant. He is telling us he is going to present Christ to the reader as the fulfilment of God’s previous revelation to Israel and of the hope of a second Exodus revelation.

Conclusion:

The Prologue lays the foundation for the development of the ‘realised eschatology’ of the Fourth Gospel. When Saint John speaks later of life in the sense of ‘eternal’ life, the Prologue has already established that from the beginning in Christ the eternal God and source of life is present and is among men and women for that purpose. In Christ, God enters into all the ambiguities, difficulties, and trials of human life. He comes to live among his people as one of them, revealing God at first hand, and offering new life as the source of life from the beginning.

The writer relates the Logos in turn to God (verses 1, 2); creation (verses 3-5); the world and its response (verses 6-9); his own people (verses 10, 11); his children (verses 12-13); a specific circle of disciples and witnesses (verse 14); and later in the Prologue to a particular historical person, Jesus Christ (verse 17). Finally, in verse 18, the intimacy of the relationship of the Logos to the Father is re-emphasised in language similar to that used in John 13: 23-25 to describe the intimacy between ‘the beloved disciple’ and Christ himself.

The Prologue is a model and a summons to us to think carefully and deeply about the implications of the Incarnation and to apply this concept in all its comprehensive ways to our life and our world. For all its broad, cosmic scope, the Prologue presents a direct and personal question to readers of all times: will the one who reads believe, and share in the fullness of grace given by the One who has come from the Father to dwell among us?

Option B (Proper 3):

Empty tables waiting for the wedding banquet … Hosea compares the new covenant to a new wedding (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hosea 2: 14-20:

The prophet Hosea uses marriage as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and Israel, in which God is the husband and Israel the wife. She has succumbed to worshipping Canaanite gods, including Baal, and has come to see these pagan gods rather than God as the source of basic necessities (verse 4).

So, God will take the fertility of the land away from the people. Israel will be shown to be the whore she is, and she will be punished for worshipping Baals (verse 13).

However, this is not God’s final decision. He will ‘allure’ her back to the wilderness (verse 14), a place where she can again make contact with him, as he did during the Exodus. He will care for her, and he will again bless her with good vineyards or harvests (verse 15). Israel will again he fruitful and will be rejuvenated. On that day, she will become his partner and will no longer be in servitude. God will remove the temptation to worship pagan deities, will make a new covenant with all living things and abolish warfare, and so protect his people.

This marriage will be forever, and the signs of the dowry will be righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness (see verse 20).

Psalm 103: 1-13, 22:

The psalmist praises God for all he has done, and he gives thanks for the healing that is a sign of God’s forgiveness and the restoration of a good relationship with God. God is just to the oppressed, merciful and loving to all who fear him, is slow to anger and is forgiving; he is like a father who knows our frailty, who loves those who are faithful to him; he rules over all, so we should honour the Lord and all he has created.

II Corinthians 3: 1-6:

Because the Apostle Paul has not visited the Christians at Corinth as they expected, their trust in him has diminished. He seeks to restore this trust. He reminds them that they need to realise that, unlike other preachers, he does not use God’s word for financial gain, but offers it freely, with sincerity and as an emissary of God.

But Saint Paul is cautious, and he reminds them that they are no longer dependent on the old law but are in a new covenant, and that living in the Spirit leads to eternal life.

Waiting for dinner … Christ dines with people whose trades that made them social outcasts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 2: 13-22:

Christ is in Capernaum, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He has told a paralytic man that his sins are forgiven, but some religious authorities doubt his ability to do this, saying only God can forgive sins. He has proved that he is from God by also healing the man.

Tax collectors were considered unclean ritually, they worked for the occupying power and they were suspect financially. As with Peter and Andrew, Christ sees Levi the tax collector beside the sea, and he responds immediately to Christ’s call to follow him. Is this the same person as Matthew (see Matthew 9:9), the author of the first Gospel?

Christ dines with people whose trades that made them ritually unclean and social outcasts. When the religiously powerful question his actions, Christ replies that he comes to call and to invite into his Kingdom those in need of repentance, not those who think they are righteous in God’s eyes.

In his answer, Christ uses the metaphor of marriage between God and his people, which we came across the reading from the Prophet Hosea. Christ is the bridegroom and his followers are the wedding guests. The feast is in progress, so this is a time for joy, while after his death it will be a time for fasting. He insists that the old way of being and the new way he brings are separate, even if both are to be valued. New material stretches more than old. When wine ferments, it expands. Soft new wineskins expand with the wine, but old ones do not.

Christ uses the metaphor of marriage between God and his people, in which Christ is the bridegroom and his followers are the wedding guests (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Green (Ordinary Time).

Collect:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested hymns:

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

Option A, Creation:

Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31:

84, Alleluia! raise the anthem

Psalm 104: 26-37:

346, Angel voices, ever singing
42, Good is the Lord, our heavenly King
356, I will sing, I will sing a song unto the Lord
357, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us

Colossians 1: 15-20:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
220, Glory be to Jesus
160, Hark! the herald-angels sing
522, In Christ there is no east or west
94, In the name of Jesus
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
303, Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
103, O Christ the same, through all our story’s pages
306, O Spirit of the living God
675, Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?

John 1-14:

146, A great and mighty wonder
84, Alleluia! raise the anthem
87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning
160, Hark! the herald-angels sing
427, Let all mortal flesh keep silence
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
172, O come, all ye faithful
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

Option B (Proper 3):

Hosea 2: 14-20:

528, The Church’s one foundation

Psalm 103: 1-13, 22:

1, Bless the Lord, my soul
686, Bless the Lord, the God of our forebears
688, Come, bless the Lord, God of our forebears
349, Fill thou my life, O Lord my God
33, O Lord of every shining constellation
366, Praise, my soul, the king of heaven
365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation
660, Thine for ever! God of love
47, We plough the fields and scatter
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

II Corinthians 3: 1-6:

382, Help us, O Lord to learn
306, O Spirit of the living God

Mark 2: 13-22

218, And can it be that I should gain
608, Be still and know that I am God
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
417, He gave his life in selfless love
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
94, In the name of Jesus
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
605, Will you come and follow me

Monday, 22 January 2018

Preparing for Lent,
Holy Week and Easter

Preparing bread for Communion in Lent in Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

A day with clergy and readers in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert

20 November 2017

11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Opening Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Opening Reading

The crucifixion scene on the reredos in Christ Church, Leomansley, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introduction:

Lent this year begins on Ash Wednesday, 14 February. Good Friday is on 30 March 2018, and Easter Day is Sunday 1 April 2018.

Opening Prayer

I sometimes think that the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Lent has, in turn, deprived many of its true meaning and significance.

The Orthodox theologian Aaron Taylor wrote in the Guardian some years ago [2010] of how he hoped that the Lenten fast ‘must never become a source of pride on the one hand, or something oppressive on the other. It is a measuring stick for our individual practice … [it] is primarily about obedience, and thus humility. But it also creates a sense of need and sobriety. It teaches us to seek our consolation in things of the spirit rather than of the flesh.’

He pointed out that fasting ‘is merely a physical accompaniment to the real heart and joy of Lent: the prayer and worship that are intensified during this season …’ and he referred to the ‘joy-making mourning’ recommended by an early writer, Saint John Klimakos, in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, to the ‘bright sadness’ of Lent.

At Lent, we should remind ourselves that we have all fallen short, so that we are not the people we should be. We all too easily focus on ourselves. But true Lenten fasting allows us to experience a sense of freedom as we relinquish our self-centredness and can produce joy in our hearts – just what we pray for in the Collect of Ash Wednesday.

And Aaron Taylor added: ‘If we do not to some extent attain to this joy-through-mourning, we have entirely missed the point of Lent.’

He concluded his ‘Face to Faith’ column in the Guardian by saying: ‘As long as there is evil in the world, we can be sure that some of it still lies hidden in our hearts. And as long as we are able to shed tears over our condition, there remains hope that we will one day see the glorious day of resurrection.’

The Lectionary

Ash Wednesday, 14 February 2018: Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58: 1-12; Psalm 51: 1-17; II Corinthians 5: 20b to 6: 10; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21.

First Sunday in Lent, 18 February 2018: Genesis 9: 8-17; Psalm 25: 1-10; I Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 9-15.

Second Sunday in Lent, 25 February 2018: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22: 23-31; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark 8: 31-38 or Mark 9: 2-9.

Note: The second, optional Gospel reading is used when Option B has been taken on the Sunday before Lent. As this is an account of the Transfiguration, it is not used when the Sunday before Lent has been observed as Transfiguration Sunday.

Third Sunday in Lent, 4 March 2018: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1: 18-25; John 2: 13-22.

Fourth Sunday in Lent, 11 March 2018: Numbers 21: 4-9; Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2: 1-10; John 3: 14-21.

or:

Mothering Sunday: Exodus 2: 1-10 or I Samuel 1: 20-28; Psalm 34: 11-20 or Psalm 127: 1-4; II Corinthians 1: 3-7 or Colossians 3: 12-17; Luke 2: 33-35 or John 19: 25-27.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, 18 March 2018 (Passiontide begins): Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51: 1-12 or Psalm 119: 9-16; Hebrews 5: 5-10; John 12: 20-33.

Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday, 25 March 2018:

Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Mark 11: 1-11 or John 12: 12-16.

Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; Mark 14: 1 to 15: 47 or Mark 15: 1-39 (40-47).

Holy Week:

Monday in Holy Week, 26 March 2018: Isaiah 42: 1-9; Psalm 36: 5-11; Hebrews 9: 11-15; John 12: 1-11.

Tuesday in Holy Week, 27 March 2018: Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 71: 1-14; I Corinthians 1: 18-31; John 12: 20-36.

Wednesday in Holy Week, 28 March 2018: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12: 1-3; John 13: 21-32.

Maundy Thursday, 29 March 2018: Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.

Good Friday, 30 March 2018: Isaiah 52: 13 to 53: 12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10: 16-25 or Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9; John 18: 1 to 19: 42. In the evening: John 19: 38-42 or Colossians 1: 18-23.

Holy Saturday, 31 March 2018: Job 14: 1-14 or Lamentations 3: 1-9, 19-24; Psalm 31: 1-4, 15-16; I Peter 4: 1-8; Matthew 27: 57-66 or John 19:38-42.

Easter:

Easter Vigil, 31 March 2018:

Old Testament Readings and Psalms:

Genesis 1: 1 to 2:4a; Response: Psalm 136: 1-9, 23-26;
Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8-13; Response: Psalm 46;
Genesis 22: 1-18; Response: Psalm 16;
Exodus 14: 10-31; 15: 20-21 and Exodus 15: 1b-13, 17-18;
Isaiah 55: 1-11; Canticle 23: Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12: 2-6);
Baruch 3: 9-15, 32 to 4: 4 or Proverbs 8: 1-8, 19-21, 9: 4b-6; Response: Psalm 19;
Ezekiel 36: 24-28; Response: Psalm 42 and 43;
Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Response: Psalm 143;
Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Response: Psalm 98.

New Testament Reading and Psalm:

Romans 6: 3-11; Response: Psalm 114.

Gospel: Mark 16: 1-8.

Easter Day, Resurrection of the Lord, 1 April 2018: Acts 10: 34-43 or Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24 or the Easter Anthems (Canticle 5/6); I Corinthians 15: 1-11 or Acts 10: 34-43; John 20: 1-18 or Mark 16: 1-8.

Note: When the Old Testament selection is chosen, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.

Liturgical Colours:

The Liturgical Colour for Lent in Violet.

17 March, Saint Patrick: White;

19 March, Saint Joseph: White.

Palm Sunday: Red or Violet.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Holy Week: Red or Violet.

Maundy Thursday: Red or Violet, but White at the Eucharist.

Good Friday and Saturday: there is no provision for a liturgical colour, and there is no celebration of Holy Communion.

A window ledge in the chapel in Dr Miley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ash Wednesday

Ideas for Ash Wednesday include a parish quiet day, away day or retreat.

The ‘Service for Ash Wednesday, the Beginning of Lent’ in the Book of Common Prayer (pp 338-343), is the only service in the book which is to be used on a specific day in the Christian Year.

It dates back to the Commination Service in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which was altered in the Church of Ireland in 1926 with the Penitential Service.

The present service is derived from one approved by the House of Bishops in 1990, which drew on earlier services and on material in the Church of England book, Lent, Holy Week, Easter (1996).

Bishop Harold Miller points out in The Desire of Our Soul that ‘one of the quirky things about this service, in the context of the wider church throughout the world, is that it is an Ash Wednesday service without ashes! That is faintly ridiculous …’

He goes on to point out that ‘in parts of the church, over recent years, the use of ashes has proven to be a highly effective symbol both of our mortality and of our penitence, with words such as:

You are dust, and to dust you will return.
Turn from your sins and follow Christ.

A rubric allows for local customs to be observed, which Bishop Miller points out ‘could include, for example, the imposition of ashes’.

The traditional Ash Wednesday invitation or exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer begins:

‘Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord's passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

‘At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church's fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognize that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

‘I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Lord to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.’

Silence may be kept.

Then the priest says:

Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This collect may be said after the Collect of the Day until Easter Eve.

Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have given your only Son to be for us
both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life:
Give us grace
that we may always most thankfully receive
these his inestimable gifts,
and also daily endeavour ourselves
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Last Supper … a fading work on Quonian’s Lane in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Week

A valuable, recent resource book is Week of All Weeks by Bishop Harold Miller, a prayer book for Holy Week and Easter (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2015).

Maundy Thursday:

The liturgical colour changes on this day from the Violet of Lent or the Red of Passiontide to White, and the Eucharist or Holy Communion is to be ‘celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church or in a church within a parochial union or group of parishes.’

It is traditional in the dioceses too to have a celebration of the Chrism Eucharist in a cathedral or church in the diocese, when the bishops, priest, deacons and readers renew their vows. Last year in this united diocese, the Chrism Eucharist was celebrated in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

Christ washing the disciples’ feet … a fresco in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Other possible resources for Maundy Thursday include foot-washing, which was introduced to Castletown Church, Kilcornan (Pallaskenry) last year. There are full resources for this in Bishop Miller’s Week of All Weeks.

Stations of the Cross in the Franciscan graveyard in Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Good Friday:

There is no provision for a liturgical colour, and there is no celebration of Holy Communion on Good Friday or on the Saturday.

You may never even contemplate going as far as some of the Good Friday processions I have seen in Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. But planning a Procession of the Cross, or ecumenical Stations of the Cross, on the streets in a parish can be a powerful public witness.

Other creative options include a service based on the Seven Last Words (see Bishop Miller’s Week of All Weeks, pp 51-57), and a service with Tenebrae (see Bishop Miller’s Week of All Weeks, pp 58-61).

The Seven Last Words traditionally are:

1, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing

2, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise

3, Here is you son … here is your mother

4, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

5, I am thirsty

6, It is finished

7, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit

Each passage here has a link to a reflection from a service in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin, on Good Friday 2015.

The Easter Vigil

Preparing for the Easter Vigil at Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick, in 2017

The celebration of Easter may begin after sundown with the Easter Vigil or the Midnight Eucharist on what is liturgically Easter Sunday, although it is still Saturday evening in calendar.

Traditionally, the Easter Vigil consists of four parts:

● The Service of Light

● The Liturgy of the Word

● The Liturgy of Baptism, which may include the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the renewal of Baptismal Promises by the rest of the congregation

● The Eucharist

The Liturgy begins after sundown as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church, in the darkness, often in a side chapel of the church building, but preferably outside the church. A new fire, kindled and blessed by the priest, symbolises the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through the Resurrection of Christ, dispelling the darkness of sin and death.

The Paschal Candle, symbolising the Light of Christ, is lit from this fire. This tall candle is placed on the altar, and on its side five grains of incense are embedded, representing the five wounds of Christ and the burial spices with which his body was anointed. When these are fixed in it and the candle is lit, it is placed on the Gospel side of the altar and remains there until Ascension Day.

This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern. Throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, it reminds all that that Christ is ‘light and life.’

All baptised people present – those who have received the Light of Christ – are given candles that are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic Light of Christ spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness diminishes and dies out.

A deacon or a priest carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation ‘Light of Christ’ or ‘Christ our Light,’ to which the people respond: ‘Thanks be to God.’

When the procession ends, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet, or Easter Proclamation, said to have been written by Saint Ambrose of Milan. The church is now lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, and the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention as it is the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation.

Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ.

After these readings, the Gloria is sung, and during an outburst of musical jubilation the people’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and the bells rung. The altar frontals, the reredos, the lectern hangings, the processional banners, the statues and the paintings, which were stripped or covered during Holy Week or at the end of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, are now ceremonially replaced and unveiled, and flowers are placed on the altar.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed, and the Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

After the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is blessed, and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated. After these celebrations, all present renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

The Easter Vigil then concludes with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the first Eucharist of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptised receive Holy Communion for the first time, and, according to the rubrics, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

A poster seen in the front window of a house on Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collects, Canticles and other Liturgical resources:

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This collect may be said after the Collect of the day until Easter Eve.

Collects and Post-Communion Prayers are provided for each day in Holy Week (see pp 264-271), except Good Friday, when there is a Collect but no Post-Communion Prayer (see p 270).

The Book of Common Prayer recommends the Commandments should be read at the Penitence during Lent.

This canticle Gloria may be omitted in Lent.

Traditionally in Anglicanism, the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

Blessing:

Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

Passiontide and Holy Week:

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ's blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

Processing the Crucified Christ though the streets of La Carihuela, near Torremolinos in Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns for Lent

Three sections in the Hymnal are designed for use during Lent and at Easter:

1, 205-214: Christ’s Life and Ministry, including Lent.
2, 215-249: Christ’s Suffering and Cross, including Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Good Friday.
3, Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension.

Lenten Disciplines:

In the Church of Ireland, each day in Lent is marked as ‘Day of Discipline and Self-Denial.’ Note that this does not include any of the Sundays in Lent.

Ash Wednesday, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, and Easter Eve are ‘Days of Special Observance.’

The Fifth Sunday in Lent marks the beginning of Passiontide.

The Book of Common Prayer says: ‘No celebration of a festival takes place during Holy Week.’

This is difficult in the few years when Saint Patrick’s Day. This year, it means the Feast of the Annunciation is transferred from 25 March to Monday 9 April. This may create problems for some plans for the Mothers’ Union in some parishes, and for some parishes named Saint Mary’s that mark this day.

Bible studies:

The Biblical Association of the Church of Ireland (BACI) is launching its Bible studies for Lent 2018 in Church House, Dublin tomorrow [Tuesday 23 January 2018].

These Lenten Studies for 2018 have been designed to foster a Biblical approach to the Five Marks of Mission, originally formulated in the Anglican Communion in 1984 and much emphasised in the Church of Ireland in recent years:

Titled ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ (John 20: 21), the five studies focus in turn on the Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform, and Treasure aspects of mission, moving from the teaching and pastoral care required after initial conversion to the wider social and environmental challenges of the Gospel.

The five writers are the Revd Jack Kinkead (Wicklow), the Revd Lesley Robinson (Clontarf), Philip McKinley (DCU), Canon Paul Houston (Castleknock) and Mr David Ritchie of the Representative Church Body.

In the introduction, the editor of Studies, Canon Ginnie Kennerley emphasises the importance of approaching the studies in a spirit of sincere discipleship: ‘Mission is being sent out, not by any human authority, but by the Lord himself. We are to go in his peace, and we are not to go until animated by the Holy Spirit.’

The study pack is being launched by Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin. Copies will be available at the launch at a 10% discount in bundles of 10 copies. The retail price per copy is £2.25 or €2.50, obtainable from the larger cathedral bookshops or by post from the Book Well in Belfast or from the treasurer of the Biblical Association of the Church of Ireland, Barbara Bergin in Dublin, berginba@gmail.com .

USPG has produced a Lent Study Course, ‘All Things Are Possible’

USPG Lent Study Course 2018: All Things Are Possible

USPG, the United Society Partners in the Gospel, is one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies. These united dioceses are in partnership with USPG through the Mission Sunday Appeal.

USPG has produced a Lent Study Course for 2018 that looks at how Anglican Churches around the world are supporting global development.

The course, entitled All Things Are Possible, can be downloaded HERE. It focuses on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which replaced the Millennium Development Goals.

USPG and its global church partners are giving full support to the SDGs. In particular, USPG has been inspired by the growing understanding among governments, the UN and other actors that faith-based organisations have a key role to play in global development.

The UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark says: ‘Faith-based organisations ... have an important role to play in reminding us to focus on what really matters to us as human beings in search of well-being.’

With this in mind, this five-week study course for Lent from USPG attempts to make clear the links between our faith and global development. USPG suggests that it is only in God that there is any real hope for lasting change.

Download a PDF of the booklet: All Things Are Possible (PDF) HERE

Order free copies of the booklet for you or your church HERE

The same pages have a link that allows you to download The five Ps of the SDGs (PowerPoint) and The five Ps of the SDGs (PDF) sermon (can be used with the PowerPoint).

The UN has replaced the MDGs with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For simplicity, these have been categorised for simplicity under ‘Five Ps’, namely Prosperity, People, Planet, Peace and Partnership.

This course aims to introduce these five Ps and to explore how the perspective of faith can help us – both as a church and as a world community – to meet these goals.

The contents of the course are:

Study 1: Prosper: What does it mean to prosper?

Study 2: People: What does it mean to fulfil our potential?

Study 3: Planet: What does it mean to care for the environment?

Study 4: Peace: What does it mean to love our neighbour?

Study 5: Partnership: What does it mean to live in partnership with God?

The USPG Lent Appeal this year is entitled ‘Let My People Go’

In addition, the USPG Lent Appeal this year is entitled ‘Let My People Go.’

This year’s Lent Appeal is an opportunity to join USPG and the Church in India to help set communities free from debt slavery.

India’s Dalit and tribal peoples have been subject to a yoke of oppression for generations. Making USPG a focus for Lent 2018 gives a parish an opportunity to help set them free.

Whole communities have become debt slaves, working in appalling conditions for no reward. Often their children are forced to leave education in order to work off their family’s crippling debt. And the cycle of oppression continues. Through the programme called ‘Let My People Go,’ USPG is working in partnership with the Church of North India to loose these bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free.

The Church of North India is predominately made up of Dalit people. Excluded from society at large, they have found a home in a church that promotes a gospel which is good news to the poor. Putting that gospel into action, ‘Let My People Go’ tackles specific issues of deprivation in income inequalities, education and health faced by Dalit and tribal communities, while addressing the core issues of caste, gender and poverty.

The resources to support the USPG Lent appeal are available to download:

• Lent Appeal 2018 Sermon PowerPoint
• Lent Appeal sermon notes (to accompany sermon PowerPoint) HERE
• Lent Appeal 2018 poster (PDF) HERE
• Lent Appeal poster with space to write details of your fundraising event (PDF) HERE
• Order A5 Lent Appeal flyers and A4 posters HERE
• USPG prayer meditation (film) HERE
• Lent Appeal 2018 Children’s Activity Sheet HERE
• Lent Appeal 2018 All Age Worship Sermon Script HERE
• Lent Appeal 2018 Primary Assembly Script HERE
• Lent Appeal 2018 Assembly/All Age PowerPoint, for use with both All Age and Primary Assembly scripts, is also available.

Penitents in traditional roles in the Good Friday procession in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Poems for Lent

The Anglican prayer blog, Lent & Beyond, https://anglicanprayer.wordpress.com/ gets many dozens of visitors looking for Lent poems. In advance of Lent 2015, the site upgraded its liturgical-year-themed poetry resources, and to begin this, a complete index was compiled of my Lent 2012 series of daily Lenten poems, describing it as ‘one of the best-ever Lenten blog series … It was that series that really stirred up a fresh interest … in liturgically-themed poetry.’

This is the list of Lenten poems in that series:

Poems for Lent (1): ‘Ash Wednesday’, TS Eliot

Poems for Lent (2): ‘Lent,’ George Herbert

Poems for Lent (3): ‘Indifference,’ by GA Studdert Kennedy

Poems for Lent (4): ‘Lenten Thoughts of a High Anglican,’ by John Betjeman

Poems for Lent (5): ‘Marked by Ashes,’ by Walter Brueggemann

Poems for Lent (6): ‘The Retreat,’ by Henry Vaughan

Poems for Lent (7): ‘Lent,’ by Christina Rossetti

Poems for Lent (8): ‘Amen,’ by Leonard Cohen

Poems for Lent (9): ‘Sunday Morning, King’s Cambridge,’ by John Betjeman

Poems for Lent (10): ‘The Absence,’ by RS Thomas

Poems for Lent (11): ‘Untitled (The Fallen Angels left all there),’ by Patrick Kavanagh

Poems for Lent (12): ‘Forest Song,’ by Sir Shane Leslie

Poems for Lent (13): ‘Evensong,’ by CS Lewis

Poems for Lent (14): ‘In the Street,’ by Winifred M Letts

Poems for Lent (15): ‘Desert Places,’ by Robert Frost

Poems for Lent (16): ‘Lenten Communion,’ by Katharine Tynan

Poem for Lent (17): ‘Autobiography,’ by Louis MacNeice

Poems for Lent (18): ‘Christians and Pagans,’ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Poems for Lent (19): ‘Confession’ (‘O What a cunning guest’), by George Herbert

Poems for Lent (20): ‘Christ’s Bloody Sweat,’ by Robert Southwell

Poems for Lent (21): ‘Holy Cross,’ by Sir Shane Leslie

Poems for Lent (22): ‘St Patrick’s Day with Neil,’ by Thomas McCarthy

Poem for Lent (23): ‘Sunday Morning,’ by Louis MacNeice

Poems for Lent (24): ‘Man of the House,’ by Katherine Tynan

Poems for Lent (25): ‘The Snowdrop Monument (in Lichfield Cathedral)’ by Jean Ingelow

Poems for Lent (26): ‘Mid-Lent,’ by Christina Rossetti

Poems for Lent (27): ‘I saw the Sun at Midnight,’ by Joseph Mary Plunkett

Poems for Lent (28): ‘Barnfloor and Winepress,’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Poems for Lent (29): ‘Here It Is,’ by Leonard Cohen

Poems for Lent (30): ‘Fifth Sunday In Lent,’ by John Keble

Poems for Lent (31): ‘Annunciation,’ by John Donne

Poems for Lent (32): ‘What the Thunder said,’ from ‘The Waste Land’ by TS Eliot

Poems for Lent (33): ‘Affliction,’ by George Herbert

Poems for Lent (34): ‘Julian at the Mysteries,’ by CP Cavafy

Poems for Lent (35): ‘It is a thing most wonderful,’ by William Walsham How

Poems for Lent (36): ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God,’ by John Donne

Poems for Lent (37): ‘The Donkey,’ by GK Chesterton

Poems for Lent (38): ‘Sonnet written in Holy Week at Genoa,’ by Oscar Wilde

Poems for Lent (39): ‘All in an April Evening,’ by Katharine Tynan

Poems for Lent (40): ‘I see His Blood Upon the Rose,’ by Joseph Mary Plunkett

Poems for Lent (41): ‘The Last Supper,’ by Ranier Maria Rilke

Poems for Lent (42): ‘Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward,’ by John Donne

Poems for Lent (43): ‘Sepulchre,’ by George Herbert

Some additional resources:

Lent as a holy time of introspection, penance and preparation can be further enriched this year with Sacred Space for Lent 2018, a daily prayer experience from the Irish Jesuits and Sacred Space, the internationally known online prayer guide.

This resource, published last Thursday (18 January 2018), is designed for use throughout Lent. Each day includes a Scripture reading and points of reflection, as well as a weekly topic enhanced by six steps of prayer and meditation.

Although the Sacred Space website has expanded into many languages and now has a global outreach, the reflections continue to be written by Irish Jesuits.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Study Book for 2018 is Say it to God by Professor Luigi Gioia (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018). The author is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Pontifical University of Sant’Anselmo in Rome, Research Associate of the Von Hügel Institute (Cambridge), and currently Visiting Scholar of the Divinity Faculty at Cambridge University.

This book provides a welcome encouragement to all who feel the need to freshen their practice of prayer. For Luigi Gioia, prayer is not about methods or techniques, but trusting that God is truly interested in everything that happens to us and wants to hear about it.

The book leads the reader into the theological aspects of prayer and how it relates to Christ, to the Holy Spirit and to the Church. This is done without using complex theological concepts but simply through scriptural quotations. Chapters are kept brief intentionally to make the book suitable for daily reading over the Lenten period.

With a foreword by the Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, Say it to God demonstrates that the everyday, even the most mundane of tasks and situations, can be applied in deepening our practice of prayer.

Lent, Holy Week, Easter: Services and Prayers (London: Church House Publishing; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; London: SPCK, 1986 edition)

Harold Miller, Week of All Weeks, A prayer book for Holy Week and Easter Day (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2015).

Time to Pray (London: Church House Publishing, 2006) – includes Daily Prayer for Lent, Passiontide and Easter.

Closing Prayer

Next:

Monday 12 February 2018: Interfaith Day in Limerick City.

Monday 12 March 2018: Maintaining and sustaining a life of prayer.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Director of Education and Training in the Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert. These notes were prepared for a training day with Clergy and Readers in in Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Monday 22 January 2018.

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 28 January 2018
and Holocaust Memorial Day

‘Arbeit macht frei’ … the sign at the entrance gate to Auschwitz. It is appropriate next Sunday to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [28 January 2018] is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; I Corinthians 8: 1-13; and Mark 1: 21-28.

There is a connection to the readings HERE.

Next weekend, many churches throughout the Anglican Communion are also marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls the day before, on Saturday 27 January.

This posting includes preaching and liturgical resources for next Sunday, based on both Sunday’s Lectionary readings and on resources that have been produced for Holocaust Memorial Day.

The rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer also suggest the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February) may be observed on the Sunday falling between 28 January and 3 February, which is next Sunday, 28 January. There are notes on the provisions for the Presentation at the end of this posting.

‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people’ (Deuteronomy 18: 18) … Patrick Pye’s Triptych in Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Making connections:

Last Wednesday [17 January], the calendar of the Church of England commemorated Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932), founder of the Community of the Resurrection, the first Bishop of Birmingham, and the Editor of Lux Mundi. The story is told that Charles Gore loved to play a particular prank on friends and acquaintances.

As a canon of Westminster Abbey, he enjoyed showing visitors the tomb of one of his ancestors, the Earl of Kerry, with an inscription that ends with the words (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 ...’ (see Matthew 22: 40).

Sometimes, I wonder, whether might want to hang some of those who think they are modern-day prophets when they preach the Word of God as if these are not the two commandments on which depend all the law and the prophets.

‘Hang all the law and the prophets’ … the statue of Bishop Charles Gore at the west entrance of Birmingham Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Deuteronomy 18: 9-14:

In the verses immediately preceding this Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 18: 9-14), the people are warned against false religion in the form of worshipping false idols, false gods, divination, magic, sooth-saying, sorcery and child sacrifice.

At the time, this must have been seen as weird, every other religion and culture in the region engaged in these practices, and hardly saw them as superstitious.

Then, having dismissed all that, Moses talks about how to tell if a prophet is a true prophet of the Lord. A true prophet is like Moses, conveying ideas and principals consistent with God’s commandments. False prophets are those who intentionally, through deceit, or unintentionally, because of self-delusion, preach false teachings or offer inaccurate predictions.

The people have the laws and instructions from God that are the measure of truth for them. They stand for something so they are not to fall for just anything – in theory, anyway.

If we see the Old Testament reading in these readings for next Sunday as being concerned with the law in terms of the Old Testament code repeated in Deuteronomy, we may get bogged down. But we know what the summary of the Law is: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12: 30-31; see Matthew 22: 34-40; Luke 25-28).

If we approach this reading in the context of the difference between knowledge and love, then we may find a more useful, reflective and pastoral way of approaching this passage.

Here we find a good antidote to those who preach, and who know their Bible, but who impose their own rules and regulations on people, without taking any account of the scope of God’s love, which is seen in the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again of Christ.

Sometimes, listening to them, or hearing about them, can be a deadening experience. If they put their preaching into practice, it might be a very love-less world indeed, and may indeed want to hang all the law and the prophets.

Some years ago, as I was preparing to preach in three churches on a Sunday morning, I was asked by a student how many sermons did I normally preach.

I replied: ‘Three.’

And she asked: ‘Every Sunday?’

No, I said. I only have three sermons to preach, and humorously summarised them as:

1, Love God.

2, Love one another.

3, Love God, and Love one another.

And if that is at the heart of our preaching, we find we are preaching with knowledge and with love, perhaps even with authority.

Psalm 111:

The Psalm (Psalm 111) tells us how great the works of the Lord are, and ends with that wonderful verse (10):

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
Those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
His praise endures for ever.


Saint Francis of Assisi says (in Admonition 27): ‘Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.’

‘Food will not bring us close to God’ (I Corinthians 8: 8) … eating out in Hamsa, a Jewish restaurant in Krakow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Corinthians 8: 1-13:

In the New Testament reading next Sunday, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the difference between knowledge and love.

There is a difference between knowing who God is, and loving God, just as there is a difference between knowing who someone is, and loving that person. Discipleship, ministry, and Christian life are less about knowing, and all about loving.

‘When the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught’ (Mark 1: 21) … the Old Synagogue in Krakow, built in 1407, is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 1: 21-28:

The Gospel reading is the story of Christ’s visit to Capernaum, where he preaches and teaches in the synagogue. All are astounded at his teaching, but when he actually puts it into practice, they are all amazed. He not only teaches, but he puts it into practice, he teaches not just with knowledge, but with authority; not only can he say, but he can do.

In the previous Sunday readings, we heard how Christ has called his first disciples, Simon Peter, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee. Now this passage tells how his authority, both in word and deed, are first recognised.

Christ and his disciples go to Capernaum, a prosperous town on the Sea of Galilee. In the synagogue it was the practice on Saturdays for the scribes, who specialised in the interpretation and application of Mosaic law to daily life, to quote scripture and tradition.

On this Saturday, however, Christ does not follow this practice. Instead, he speaks directly, confident of his authority and of his very essence. The Greek word here, ἐξουσία (exousía), has the same roots as the word in the Nicene Creed that is translated as ‘being’ or ‘substance’: ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί (‘of one substance with the Father’).

The ‘man with an unclean spirit’ (verse 23) was, we might say, possessed, or under the influence of evil forces. In Jewish terms, he was under Satan’s direction, separated from God. The devil, speaking through this man (verse 24), asks what Christ is doing meddling in the domain of evil. He recognises who Christ is and that his coming spells the end of the power of the devil. He understands the significance of the coming Kingdom. Wonder-workers of the day healed using ritual or magic, but Christ exorcises simply through verbal command (verse 25), so clearly he is divine.

Verse 27, on the lips of the crowd, acknowledges Christ’s ‘authority’ in word and deed.

The parallel reading of this pericope in Saint Luke’s Gospel is Luke 4: 31-37, but it is preceded by the story of Christ preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30), when he proclaims the foundational text for his ministry, almost like a manifesto:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’


These are high ideals and, if put into practice, threaten social stability and the ordering of society. This threat is realised by those who hear him, and they drive him out of the synagogue.

Driven out of the synagogue, Christ has three options:

1, to allow himself to be silenced;

2, to keep on preaching in other synagogues, but to never put into practice what he says so that those who are worried have their fears allayed and realise he is no threat;

3, or to preach and to put his teachings into practice, to show that he means what he says, that his faith is reflected in his priorities, to point to what the kingdom of God is truly like.

Christ takes the third option. He brings good news to the poor, he releases this poor captive, he can now see things as they are and as they ought to be, the oppressed may go free and all are amazed.

There is a saying attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.’

Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue. But in this Gospel reading we are not told what he said. We are only told what he did.

In his actions he demonstrates the love of God and the love of others that are at the heart of the Gospel, that should be at the heart of every sermon that we preach. For the love of God and the love of others are the two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets.

Hillview on Wolfe Tone Street … once a synagogue in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holocaust Memorial Day and Sunday’s readings

On Sunday next you may prefer to reflect on readings in the light of Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on Saturday, 27 January. This day recalls the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, the Nazi Persecution and in later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. The date was chosen because 27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is ‘The Power of Words.’ Its focus is helping people to reflect on the role words play, both to harm and to heal, to destroy and to build. Many organisations will be holding events to mark the day, ranging from simple candle-lighting ceremonies to postcard-writing activities, conferences, concerts, plays, reading events and exhibitions.

In Ireland, the National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration will take place on Sunday 28 January from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Round Room in the Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin.

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration is firmly established in the national calendar and takes place in Dublin every year on the Sunday nearest to 27 January, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The event cherishes the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and recalls the millions of men, women and children and others, who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliations or religious beliefs.

In the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day, Dr Barbara Warnock is speaking in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, at 1 p.m. tomorrow [23 January 2018] telling the story of Britain and the Kindertransport, which brought children to places of safety nine months after the Nazi occupation of Austria.

Anglican churches throughout the world are marking Holocaust Memorial Day. For example, the Primate of the Church in Wales, Archbishop John Davies, is encouraging churches, parishes and chaplaincies to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

‘The Holocaust is certainly one of the most vile and shameful examples from the catalogue of events which disfigure the history of the human race,’ says Archbishop John, who is Bishop of Swansea and Brecon. ‘Commemorating both it and its victims, whilst also recognising the terrifying perversity of those human minds which enabled such an atrocity to be devised and implemented is something which I wholeheartedly support.’

The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) have produced a resource pack of liturgical and homiletic material for use in worship for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, based on the theme ‘The Power of Words.’ This pack is available HERE.

Words can make a difference – both for good and evil. ' Anne Frank wrote in her diary on 5 April 1944: ‘I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.’

Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to reflect on issues raised by the Holocaust and all genocides, and to reflect especially on the fate of European Jewry. Christians have also been among the perpetrators of genocide, as well as among the bystanders, and indeed the victims.

Holocaust Memorial Day can give us cause to remember the reality that evil is still powerful in our world. It can strengthen our resolve to protect every community from discrimination, intimidation and violence.

These reflections draw on the resource pack prepared by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), using the lectionary readings for Sunday 28 January (Fourth Sunday of Epiphany).

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Here we see Moses’s last words to the people of Israel, which were also intended to guide them in the future. His are words of power and hope that call the hearer to belief and a life lived according to God’s instruction.

Prophets were chosen to speak God’s words. How do we know if someone speaks for God? Is an individual promoting their own social or political agenda? These are age-old questions.

A few verses earlier (verses 10-11), the prophets of the Lord are described as the mouthpieces for God. Their proclamations are made without the common acts of divination or speaking to dead spirits. The key role of the prophet was to declare the word of God to the people.

The power of words is such that in the wake of events in Paris, Barcelona and Manchester last year, slogans like I ♥ Manchester caught the public imagination. Words have the power to make or break people in an instant. One only has to think of how words were used in the Rwandan genocide to initiate crimes against neighbours.

Prophets, as we read, are selected by God for the sake of the people (verses 15, 18). They answer to God, not to the people, so they are free to speak the truth. But note the prophets come ‘from among their own people’ (verse 18). These home-grown speakers know the ways and the hearts of their people and can connect with them. There words have power to build up or destroy. We should nurture and encourage one another to speak powerful words of peace that reflect love and hope and that challenge injustice.

But how do we know who is speaking God’s words? Prophets speak of issues that are eternal and face every generation in times of crisis and challenge. The truth of words may not be known in this life. Perhaps, this is where faith comes to the fore. We can all be led astray by words. Often the vulnerable and weak can be exploited and great evil can be perpetrated as a result. Our challenge is to listen to God and act on his words faithfully.

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Corinthians 8: 1-13

People generally feel much safer with boundaries. These may be cultural, religious or national boundaries, or rules that make for peaceful living in our homes. We know what we find ‘acceptable’ and what is forbidden. When we become adults, these boundaries are so ingrained that we often find it difficult to cross them. We feel safe with what we ‘know’ is right.

These boundaries become barriers that are difficult to cross, so difficult that we may not even attempt to breach the boundary of talking to someone from a different faith or community. Barriers can isolate and reinforce stereotypes, cutting us off from the rich diversity and endless opportunity of the world beyond ourselves.

The Apostle Paul addresses these issues in the New Testament reading. Saint Paul is addressing the Church in Corinth, living in a city that is filled with a variety of beliefs and lifestyles. As Christians, should we isolate ourselves from the world around us, or do we engage with the richly diverse world that is a melting pot of religions and cultures?

On one hand, Saint Paul agrees with the freedom of engaging with a diverse, pluralistic world. His faith is strong enough to withstand this, rooted in his knowledge that there is only one true and living God, and that Christ frees us from our fear of the world in which we live. Indeed, Christ constantly crosses boundaries and is not afraid to engage with the world around him.

Yet some of those early Christians in Corinth were crossing some boundaries, joining their friends at ritual meals in the temples of idols. For Saint Paul, this is a step too far.

What barriers should we cross, and which ones are taboo from crossing? Should we be all things to all people? How do we listen to, understand and know others, no matter who they are?

The stories of genocide are reminders of how vulnerable people were drawn into carrying out atrocities and how others died. Where do we stand when such events occur? Do we assimilate into what is going on around us and accept the status quo? Or do we engage with diversity and see the need to challenge what needs to be challenged as Christ did?

The message of Epiphany is that God is here with us, drawing us into a life that sets us free from barriers and walls. God does not want us to live in isolation or in communities that do not engage with one another. We are charged to proclaim the message of love, hope and inclusion.

Mark 1: 21-28:

Who do we see as figures of authority today? In this Gospel reading, we see how Christ is recognised for who he truly is. It is an Epiphany moment when he is not only recognised but so too is his authority in his words of power.

In the synagogue in Capernaum, ‘they were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority’ (verse 22). Christ demonstrates that his actions lived up to his words. Can we say that our words match our actions? Do we practice what we preach?

Christ’s powerful words strike to the core of our very being, as shown by the unclean spirit leaving the man. Have any words been so powerful that they have resonated in the core of our very being? Christ’s words are words of life. This is often called the witness of the Spirit where God affirms the word of Jesus.

How often have we been in the presence of someone who speaks with authority? What attributes do they have? What is the difference between those people and the dictators and perpetrators of evil, in the past and present, who demand allegiance by exploiting people’s fear? How do we as Christians respond to authorities that have and still are exterminating thousands of people?

In this Gospel passage, we are confronted with the unclean spirit that can be seen as a metaphor for the presence of evil in human history. Evil today challenges us with the same words in the text ‘What can you do?’ Christ replied: ‘Be silent and come out of him.’ We read that he is not so much meek and mild but speaks with a steely authority.

When we are confronted with evil and it stares us in the face, like those in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, are we going to allow the evil to continue or are we going to stand and speak out with a moral authority that comes from God?

Children of the Kindertransport ... Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture at Liverpool Street Station in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany:

Liturgical colour: White.

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect:

Creator God,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
We pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

Post Communion Prayer:

Generous Lord,
in word and Eucharist we have proclaimed
the mystery of your love.
Help us so to live out our days
that we may be signs of your wonders in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

The train tracks in Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources for Holocaust Memorial Day:

Opening prayers:

Creator God, in the silence of the beginning:
You spoke and the world awakened.

Companion God, in the chaos of life:
You spoke and lives were healed.

Redeeming God, in the opportunity of today and the hope of tomorrow:
You speak and we are here to respond.

These responses are based on the Jewish blessing on hearing bad news

Blessed are you,
Lord God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this time
To gather to learn the truth of ourselves.
We cannot always feel joy for this life
We know too much of lives that have been broken.
Give us courage when we hear tragedy, despair and death
To bless you, the one true Judge. Amen.

Living God, you speak through priest and prophet, through friend and stranger, through all of us and in every situation in which we find ourselves. Help us, O God, when we fail to hear the cry of pain or ignore the warning signs of evil. Speak through us O God so that by our words and our actions we may reflect your highest calling and do our utmost for good. Amen.

Prayers of confession:

God our Father, you called the world to live in peace and community with each other.
But we lack the courage to challenge injustice.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

God our companion, you journey with us through heartbreak and joy.
But we forget your words of peace and despair takes us.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

God the Spirit of life, you brought the world to being.
But our actions make life fragile and breaking.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

God, the Three in One,
you reveal yourself in our lives
and you show us how far we are from realising God’s desire for the world.
If we confess our sins, you are faithful and just and you will forgive us.
So we offer our confession to you
and pray for forgiveness and healing, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Empty chairs in the Ghetto in Krakow … a memorial to the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20:

319, Father, of heaven, whose love profound
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour

Psalm 111:

84, Alleluia! raise the anthem
352, Give thanks with a grateful heart
574, I give you all the honour
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

I Corinthians 8: 1-13:

518, Bind us together, Lord
103, O Christ the same, through all our story’s pages
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided

Mark 1: 21-28:

211, Immortal love for ever full
99, Jesus, the name high over all
513, O Christ, the healer, we have come
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
112, There is a Redeemer
514, We cannot measure how you heal

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial on Platia Eleftherias near the port in Thessaloniki ... in July 1942, all the men in the Jewish community aged from 18 to 45 were rounded up in this square for deportation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Additional hymns:

Additional hymns that might be appropriate for Holocaust Memorial Day include:

323, The God of Abraham praise
361, Now thank we all our God.
347, Children of Jerusalem
599, ‘Take up thy cross,’ the Saviour said

Hope against adversity … a fading rose on the fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau; behind is one of the concentration camp watchtowers and a train wagon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Notes on the provisions for the Feast of the Presentation

The rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer also suggest the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February) may be observed on the Sunday falling between 28 January and 3 February, which is next Sunday, 28 January.

The readings for this feast are: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10 or Psalm 24: 7-10 or Psalm 84; Hebrews 2: 14-18; and Luke 2: 22-40.

Candlemas, which comes 40 days after Christmas, recalls how the Virgin Mary presents the Christ-Child to the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. And, because of the poverty of this family, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bring two cheap doves or pigeons as their offering.

It is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it. We have the contrast between the poverty of this family and the richly-endowed Temple; the young Joseph and Mary with their first-born child and the old Simeon and Anna who are probably childless; the provincial home in Nazareth and the urbane sophistication of Jerusalem; the glory of one nation, Israel, and light for all nations, the Gentiles; the birth of a child and the expectation of death; darkness and light; new birth and impending death.

Candlemas has a ‘bitter-sweet’ nature. It calls for rejoicing with all in the Temple celebrating the hope and the promise that this new child brings. Yet Simeon speaks in prophetic words of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will piece the Virgin Mary’s heart. His words remind us sharply that Christmas is meaningless without the Passion and Easter.

Candlemas is the climax of the Christmas and Epiphany season, the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. As we bring our Christmas celebrations to a close, this day is a real pivotal point in the Christian year, for we now shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are just four weeks away. Candlemas bridges the gap between Christmas and Lent; links the joy of the Christmas candles with the hope of the Pascal candle at Easter; invites us to move from celebration to reflection and preparation, and to think about the source of our hope, our inspiration, our enlightenment.

The candles of Candlemas link the candles of Christmas with Good Friday and with the Easter hope symbolised in the Pascal candle. And so, to paraphrase the words of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn that draw on Simeon’s prophetic words in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, as we watch and wait in our faithful vigil for Christ’s glory in that Easter hope, may our doubting cease, may God’s silent, suffering people find deliverance and freedom from oppression, may his servants find peace, may he complete in us his perfect will.

Malachi 3: 1-5:

The Prophet Micah in the Old Testament reading ‘against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien,’ and do not fear the Lord God (Micah 3: 5)?

But, oh so often, mothers bear their grief in silence, are reluctant to bare their souls to the Church and Church leaders. So often we can pronounce and preach and teach. But do we always know the suffering in the dark behind closed doors? And do we teach and preach in a way that moves beyond being enlightening to actually bringing the light of hope, the light of the Suffering and Risen Christ to the broken-hearted Marys and Josephs all over this land?

Hebrews 2: 14-18:

The Epistle reading is a call not just to all in ordained ministry but to all in the Church to be ‘merciful and faithful’ like Christ the ‘high priest in the service of God,’ to be sacrificial in the service of those who are suffering and ‘are being tested’ (see Hebrews 2: 17-18).

Luke 2: 22-40:

If Mary had known what grief would pierce her soul, would she have said “Yes” to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation?

And in the midst of all this heartbreak, these mothers still cling on to the edge of the rock of faith by the edges of their fingernails. Wondering who hears their sobbing hearts and souls.

If they had known what grief would pierce their souls they would still have said yes, because they love their children, and no sword can kill that. They know too their children are immaculate conceptions, for their children too are conceived in a love for their world, our world, that is self-giving and sinless, and they continue to see the reflection and image of Christ in their children as they look into their eyes lovingly. Is that too not a truth and a hope at the heart of the Incarnation?

So often it is difficult to hold on to hope when our hearts are breaking and are pierced. So often it is difficult to keep the lights of our hearts burning brightly when everything is gloomy and getting dark. But Simeon points out that the Christ Child does not hold out any selfish hope for any one individual or one family ... he is to be a light to the nations, to all of humanity.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect:

Almighty and everliving God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the temple
in the substance of our mortal nature:
May we be presented to you with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and his name is called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 7)

Preface:

You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:

Post Communion Prayer:

God, for whom we wait,
you fulfilled the hopes of Simeon and Anna,
who lived to welcome the Messiah.
Complete in us your perfect will,
that in Christ we may see your salvation,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Blessing:

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

Suggested Hymns:

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

Malachi 3: 1-5:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King
640, Purify my heart

Psalm 24: 7-10

696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
266, Hail the day that sees him rise (verses 1 and 2)
358, King of glory, King of peace
337, Lift up your heads, O ye gates
131, Lift up your heads, you mighty gates
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King
488, Stand up, stand up for Jesus
284,The golden gates are lifted up

Hebrews 2: 14-18:

212, Jesus, grant me this, I pray
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
635, Lord, be my guardian and my guide
108, Praise to the Holiest in the height
114, Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

Luke 2: 22-40:

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus
88, Fairest Lord Jesus
691, Faithful vigil ended
191, Hail to the Lord who comes
193, In his temple now behold him
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
472, Sing we of the blessed mother
203, When candles are lighted on Candlemas day

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple ... a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)