Monday, 7 May 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 13 May 2018,
Seventh Sunday of Easter

‘The lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1: 17) … Christ and the twelve apostles in the East Window in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [13 May 2018] is the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This day comes between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost, and because of the timing of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland this week, many parishes may decide to mark Ascension Day.

The resources for planning Ascension Day, including the readings, propers, a reflection, hymn suggestions and illustrations are available HERE.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for next Sunday are: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26 or Exodus 28:1-4, 9-10; Psalm 1; I John 5: 9-13; John 17: 6-19.

There is a direct link to these readings HERE.

Peter stood up among the believers … and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled’ (Acts 1: 15) … Saint Peter depicted in a window in the north nave in in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26:

None of us would like to be counted as the successor of Judas. But this reading from the Acts of the Apostles recalls the successor to Judas as one of the Twelve, the Apostle Matthias. Indeed, His feast day falls the following day, Monday 14 May 2018.

I sometimes wonder whether Saint Matthias saw the humour in being second choice. After all, he was the second choice – not the first choice, but the second choice – to succeed Judas among the Twelve.

Imagine how Saint Matthias might have felt: the first time round, he was not good enough to be among the Twelve, but Judas was. The second time round, his name is not mentioned first; instead, the first name to come forward is that of Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, but nobody ever since remembers him, and his saintly life has passed into oblivion. I hear very few children in school playgrounds or on football pitches being called Barsabbas, as in: ‘Hey Barsabbas, pass the ball over here.’

And then, to compound matters, nobody has the foggiest idea who Saint Matthias was, before or after his election. His name, identity and life story have been forgotten, apart from making him the patron saint of alcoholism and smallpox, and a of few small towns. We are not even sure where or how he died, or where he is buried.

This reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Saint Matthias is the Apostle chosen by the remaining eleven of the twelve to take the place of Judas Iscariot following his betrayal of Christ and his subsequent death by suicide (Acts 1:15-26).

According to the Acts of the Apostles, in the days following the Ascension of Christ, Peter proposes to the assembled disciples, who number about 120, that they choose one among them to fill the place of Judas among the Twelve.

And so, the assembled believers come forward with two nominations: their first choice is Joseph Barsabbas, or Joseph Justus. It may only be an afterthought that someone suggests the name of Matthias.

And then, they cannot make up their minds. Instead, they cast lots, and the lot falls to Matthias. I doubt any of us would be happy to hear we have been selected or nominated for any role in life we value by tossing a coin, drawing straws or rolling a dice as others pray about whether we are suitable or qualified.

Saint Matthias is unnamed before this account. After this, there is no further mention of him in the New Testament. He is the forgotten apostle. Having made an unexpected entrance on the stage, Saint Matthias walks off the scene once again. And we hear nothing more about him. We have no further information about him.

Saint Matthias in a roof boss in Saint Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, Norwich

Clement of Alexandria says the apostles are not chosen for some outstanding character, and certainly not on their own merits. After all, Judas is chosen as one of the Twelve, and even among the others Saint Peter denies Christ at the Crucifixion and Saint Thomas at first denies the Resurrection.

The apostles are chosen by Christ for his own reasons, but not for their merits.

If Matthias had not been worthy of being called first time round, how is he worthy now to join the Twelve?

But discipleship, like ministry, is never about my worthiness, my merits. I have earned no right to be called to ordained ministry, to share in the priesthood of the Church, we have earned no right to be called disciples and part of the Body of Christ.

It is Christ alone who calls us.

Saint Matthias was elected not because he was worthy but because he would become worthy. Christ chooses each one of us in the same way.

I am not worthy to be even a poor substitute, even a second best substitute for Judas, who had his own unique place in God’s salvific plan as it unfolded.

It does not matter whether others think you have been too early or too late in responding to Christ’s call. It does not matter whether we are worthy in the eyes of others for any office or position we hold, or any good opinion others hold of us. What matters more is: What does Christ want of you?

And it matters little whether I am someone’s first choice or second choice in any role in life, whether I am praised or thanked for my work, whether anyone will remember my achievements, whether anyone remembers me after I die, can spell my name, or find my grave. All that matters is God’s plan, and whether I follow God’s call faithfully.

We are often in the place we are in life only because the person who was here before me failed: Joshua led Israel because Moses failed in the wilderness; David became King because Saul had failed; Matthias became an apostle because Judas had failed.

Saint Matthias is a living reminder of God’s grace to and for us. He was ‘grafted in’ to the company of the Apostles, not through his own merits, but by God’s grace. We have been grafted into the company of the Children of God, not through our own merits, but by God’s grace.

Saint Matthias is also a warning to us. He silently warns, ‘I am here because someone else failed. The same thing could happen to me if I stop taking my nourishment from the True Vine and stop bearing good fruit.’

‘Like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, whatever they do, it shall prosper’ (Psalm 1: 3) … trees by the water at World’s End, Castleconnell, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 1:

This psalm, an introduction to the book of Psalms, contrasts the fate of the godly and the ungodly. The psalmist speaks of the happiness of the godly. They do not live as the ungodly do. Instead, they constantly and joyfully study and God’s law, and they keep it. They prosper like trees planted by living water that bear fruit, and they are prosperous.

On the other hand, the ungodly are like chaff, and their future threatens to be a disaster. They will be excluded from the company enjoyed by those who follow God’s ways, and will suffer.

The cross on a relief carving in Saint John’s Basilica in Ephesus ... in I John, the secessionists are compared with idolaters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I John 5: 9-13:

We have come to cycle of readings from the First Letter of Saint John. In the verses immediately before this passage, Saint John says the Holy Spirit witnesses or testifies to both Christ’s baptism (‘the water’) and his suffering on the cross (‘the blood’). Accepting this is expressed in discipleship, and in the sacramental life of the Church, Baptism and the Eucharist.

Now, in verses 9-13, we read that the principal witness to Christ, who is the truth, is the Holy Spirit, who has been sent by the Father to give testimony about his Son. The Spirit is the most convincing witness possible through the indwelling of the Spirit. To reject the Spirit is to reject life itself and to reject God.

In this section of I John, we are being told that love of God involves obedience to his will and love for God and for one another, and it brings Christians the promise of victory and everlasting life.

Love, for us as Christians, is the most important sign of victory in faith. As they say in the Nike advertising campaign: ‘Just do it.’

In this Epilogue, the writer returns to the theme of asking for things according to God’s will. The Early Church soon discovered that private requests in prayer were not always granted.

The author of I John is cautious as he tells his readers that while prayers will be heard in regard to most sins and most sinners, there is one sin so serious that he does not encourage people to pray for the offender.

Why does I John not tell us what this sin is? Have you ever wondered what it is?

Probably I John here is referring to the secessionists in the Church in Ephesus, and their apostasy, with the hint that this sin would be judged harshly throughout the Church. Saint John Chrysostom and many other Early Fathers of the Church taught that schism was worse than heresy, because schismatics tore apart the Church, the Body of Christ apart, while heretics could be admonished and corrected with careful teaching.

It is not that schism is unforgivable; it is that we should leave it and those who breach the fellowship of the Church in God’s hands.

On the other hand, the idea that every other sin is open to forgiveness through prayer could lead to a very lax and libertine attitude within the Church.

The setting for the Gospel reading (John 17: 5-19) is in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately the Last Supper, known in Orthodoxy as the Mystical Supper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 6-19

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Reflecting on the Gospel reading:

We are all familiar with the phrase ‘what’s mine is your and what’s your is mine.’

It may work well in families, or among schoolfriends. But what Christ is saying in verse 10 is more profound. We could read this as Trinitarian passage, for Christ is praying to the Father, that the disciples may be sanctified in the truth as they are sent into the world. So this is also an appropriate passage for this time between Ascension Day and Pentecost, preparing us for both the Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday a week later.

The context of this reading is the immediate aftermath of the Last Supper, indeed at points in this passage we may only grasp the significance of Christ’s words in the light of the Resurrection and the Ascension.

If we invite people who are listening to think back to the first reading and the selection of Saint Mattias as the next disciple, we can then point out that the timeframe for this passage is that interim space between Judas having left the Last Supper, and his betrayal of Christ, who is about to be arrested soon in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In his time alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ looks up to heaven. He prays to the Father, asking him to ‘glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.’ Christ waits to be restored to his glory. He has come to earth to provide eternal life to all who believe. Now he prays to the Father for the disciples.

He has made the Father known to those who would believe. To John, the ‘world’, or the cosmos, is notable for its unbelief and hatred. The disciples have been faithful to ‘your word,’ to truth, to God, to Christ’s teachings.

They have come to realise the relationship of the Son to the Father. They know Christ’s origin and mission. This prayer is on behalf of believers, who are God’s, and not on behalf of all people. We hear that belonging to God implies belonging to the Son, a theme that we might relate to the appointed Psalm. Christ’s power and authority have been shown to them.

In this reading, Christ asks four things of the Father:

• that they may be ‘one,’ as he and the Father are;

• that they may have ‘my joy’;

• that they may be protected from the influence of evil;

• that they may be able them to fulfil his mission in the world.

Christ asks the Father to ‘protect them in your name,’ by his authority and as his representatives. The Father has given Christ this authority. He has protected them, except for one: Judas.

In fulfilment of ‘the scripture’, or by God’s will, he asks the Father to set them apart or sanctify them as they are sent out into the world … a theme we face again the following Sunday, the Day of Pentecost.

The Last Supper depicted on the reredos in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford, carved 100 years ago in 1918 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White, or Gold.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect (Easter 7):

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal Giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year B), in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26

461, For all thy saints, O Lord
460, For all your saints in glory (verses 1, 2f, 3)

Exodus 28:1-4, 9-10:

643, Be thou my vision

Psalm 1:

649, Happy are they, they that love God
56, Lord as I wake I turn to you
383, Lord, be thou my word, my rule

I John 5: 9-13:

613, Eternal light, shine in my heart

John 17: 6-19

518, Bind us together, Lord
326, Blessed city, heavenly Salem
415, For the bread which you have broken
438, O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray
526, Risen Lord, whose name we cherish
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
531, Where love and loving-kindness dwell

Saint Peter depicted in one of the paired east windows in Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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