Monday, 1 January 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 7 January 2017

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 7 January 2018, is the First Sunday after the Epiphany: the Baptism of Christ

The readings are: Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19: 1-7; Mark 1: 4-11. There is a link to readings here.

Three Gospel stories are traditionally associated with the Feast of the Epiphany, which we celebrate the previous day [Saturday, 6 January 2018].

1, The first and the best-known Epiphany story is the story of the visit of the Magi in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. It is such a traditional part of our Christmas celebrations, that few of us will take down the Christmas tree, the decorations or the cards until at least Twelfth Night, Nollaig na mBan, or Little Christmas, on 6 January.

2, The second of these three Epiphany stories is the story of the Baptism of Christ, which is the Gospel reading next Sunday.

3, The third traditional Epiphany story is the Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), which is not provided for in the Epiphany readings in the lectionary this year, except in the Church of England (Epiphany 3, 21 January 2018).

This posting looks at the readings for next Sunday, with ideas for reflections and sermons. In addition, the Liturgical Resources for the day, including the Collect, Penitential Kyries, Peace, Preface, Post-Communion Prayer and Blessing, and suggested hymns are brought together here. The images are all available for use on parish service sheets and notices, which should name Patrick Comerford as the photographer.

An icon of the Baptism of Christ, worked on a cut of olive wood by Eleftheria Syrianoglou, in a recent exhibition in the Fortezza in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


We often describe the moment when something profound dawns on someone, when the penny really drops, as an Epiphany moment. But in theological terms, an Epiphany or, as it is called in the Orthodox Church, a Theophany, is a moment when God becomes manifest, when people realise who Christ truly is.

In the story of the Magi, God-incarnate-in-Christ is made known to the Gentiles when the Wise Men lay their gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, before the Christ child, proclaiming him Priest, Prophet and King, the promised Messiah.

The wedding at Cana is the first of the seven signs in Saint John’s Gospel, when Christ shows who he truly is through turning water into wine, which also prefigures the Last Supper and our own celebrations of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

In the Gospel story next Sunday, we have that other Epiphany moment, which is a revelation of not only who Christ is, but also a revelation of God as Trinity.

Saint John the Baptist baptises Christ in the River Jordan ... a detail from a window in the north ambulatory in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Genesis 1: 1-5:

In the creation account in Genesis and the new creation in Saint Mark’s Gospel, we are told about the light that comes into the darkness, the waters being separated or parted, and the Spirit of God hovering over those waters. And the voice of God says this is good.

L’OrĂ©al’s original slogan declared: ‘Because I’m worth it.’ In the 1990s, this was replaced by: ‘Because you’re worth it.’ In 2009, this was changed again to: ‘Because we’re worth it’ – following motivation analysis and work into consumer psychology.

The shift to ‘we’ was supposed to create stronger consumer involvement and more consumer satisfaction. But God does not see us as mere consumers to be motivated to buy into what God produces and markets. God creates, not produces.

In Christ, at the Incarnation, on the first Christmas, God takes on our image and likeness. Because we’re worth it, you’re worth it, I’m worth it.

The Genesis account of creation goes on to say that when God looked at all he created, he said it was good.

But when God looked at humanity, he declared we are very good. In Christ, we realise how very good God thinks we are.

Psalm 29:

In the Psalm, we were reminded of the various ways in which the voice of the Lord is heard.

The Psalmist reminds us too of our call to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29: 2).

The Baptistry in the Basilica of Saint John the Divine in Ephesus has a cross-shaped baptismal pool that was entered and left by three steep steps at each end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 19: 1-7:

The conversation in our New Testament reading takes places in Ephesus, the largest port in the East Mediterranean at the time, and the one of the liveliest cities in the classical world.

Paul meets people who have been baptised by Saint John the Baptist. He then baptises them into the Christian faith, prays for them, lays hands on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit.

The Baptism of Christ depicted in stucco relief in the Baptistry in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 1: 4-11:

Saint Mark’s Gospel has no Christmas story: no baby born in Bethlehem, no shepherds watching their flocks by night, no wise men arriving with their gifts.

In Saint Mark’s Gospel, our first meeting with Christ is when he arrives from Nazareth of Galilee and is baptised by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

It is like the story of a new creation. All the elements of the creation story in the Book Genesis are here: we know we are moving from darkness into light; the shape of the earth moves from wilderness to beauty as we are given a description of the landscape; there is a separation of the waters of the new creation as Jesus and John go down in the waters of the Jordan and rise up from them again; and as in Genesis, the Holy Spirit hovers over this beautiful new creation like a dove.

Then, just as in the Genesis creation story, where God looks down and sees that everything is good, God looks down in this Epiphany story and lets us know that everything is good. Or as Saint Mark says: A voice came from heaven saying: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

What a fitting crowning for the end of the Christmas Season: God is pleased with the whole of creation, God so loved this creation that Christ has come into it, identified with us in the flesh, and is giving us the gift of and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

Very few of us can remember our own Baptism. But at that Baptism we were baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism makes us heirs of God’s promise in this new creation. Christmas is not just the story of Christ’s birth, but also a reminder that we too are the beloved children of God.

And our Epiphany story next Sunday is not just a reminder of Christ’s Baptism, but a reminder to us that in our own Baptism we were claimed, adopted, loved as the Children of God.

And when God looks down on us as his baptised, adopted, loved children, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, God is saying to each and every one of us: ‘You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’”

If all your New Year’s Resolutions have gone out the window in the past week, then why not resolve to simply accept that God accepts you, that you are made in God’s image and likeness, and that when God looks at you, new every morning, God sees God’s own image and likeness, that when God looks on each of us as a sign of his new creation, he sees that it is good, and that we, them, all of us are his beloved children in whom he is well pleased: ‘And a voice came from heaven ... I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11).

As we move on from the celebration of Christmas to preparing for Lent, Good Friday and Easter, may we be assured of our place as a Child of God, a new creation.

The fifth century mosaic of the Baptism of Christ in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical resources:


Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
Grant to us, who are born of water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Refreshed by these holy gifts, Lord God,
we seek your mercy:
that by listening faithfully to your only Son,
and being obedient to the prompting of the Spirit,
we may be your children in name and in truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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

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.

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. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)


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


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

Liturgical colour: White.

An elaborate marble fountain was supplied with fresh waters from the channels that once brought water to the pool in the Baptistry in the Basilica of Saint John in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Genesis 1: 1-5:

25, All things bright and beautiful
66, Before the ending of the day
121, Creator of the starry height
74, First of the week and finest day
353, Give to our God immortal praise
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
4, God who made the earth
67, God who made the earth and heaven
324, God, whose almighty word
94, In the name of Jesus
58, Morning has broken
537, O God, our help in ages past
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers
35, The spacious firmament on high
77, This day at God’s creating word

Psalm 29

349, Fill thou my life, O Lord my God
30, Let us with a gladsome mind
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
45, Praise, O praise our God and King

Acts 19: 1-7:

295, Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove
318, Father, Lord of all creation
299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
98, Jesus! Name of wondrous love!
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
306, O Spirit of the living God
310, Spirit of the living God
111, There is a name I love to hear

Mark 1: 4-11:

295, Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove
324, God whose almighty word
126, Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
419, I am not worthy, Holy Lord
322, I bind unto myself today (verses 1, 2, 8, 9)
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
214, O Love, how deep, how broad, how high
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
197, Songs of thankfulness and praise
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers
386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind
200, The sinless one to Jordan came
204, When Jesus came to Jordan

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