Monday, 30 July 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
6 August 2018,
The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration by Adrienne Lord ... an icon in exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Monday next, 6 August 2018, is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Monday is also a Bank Holiday in the Republic of Ireland. The Book of Common Prayer allows Festival such as the Transfiguration to be celebrated on the Sunday in the same week (p 21), so some parishes may find these resources valuable for next Sunday [5 August 2018].

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Feast of the Transfiguration as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Psalm 97; II Peter 1: 16-19; Luke 9: 28-36.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The resources for Sunday 5 August 2018, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, were posted earlier this morning, and are available HERE.

Introduction: The Transfiguration, the Biblical story

The Transfiguration is described in the three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-8; Luke 9: 28-36). In addition, there may be allusions to the Transfiguration in John 1: 14 and in the New Testament reading provided for the Feast of the Transfiguration (II Peter 1: 16-19), in which the Apostle Peter describes himself as an eyewitness ‘of his sovereign majesty’ (verse 16).

Of course, there is an obvious question: Why is there no Transfiguration narrative in Saint John’s Gospel?

But then, there is no Eucharistic institution narrative in the Fourth Gospel either.

Perhaps we could say that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with the Transfiguration and the light of the Transfiguration, from beginning to end, just as it is shot through with Eucharistic narratives from beginning to end.

But should we describe the Transfiguration as a miracle? If we do, then it is the only Gospel miracle that happens to Christ himself. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas spoke of the Transfiguration as ‘the greatest miracle,’ because it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.

None of the accounts identifies the ‘high mountain’ by name. The earliest identification of the mountain as Mount Tabor was made by Saint Jerome in the late fourth century.

But does it matter where the location is? Consider the place of Mountains in the salvation story and in revelation:

● Moses meets God in the cloud and the burning bush on Mount Sinai, and there receives the tablets of the Covenant (Exodus 25 to 31);

● Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18);

● Elijah climbs Mount Sinai and finds God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice in the cleft of the Mountain (I Kings 19: 12);

● The Sermon, which is the ‘manifesto’ of the new covenant, is the Sermon on the Mount;

● The Mount of Olives is a key location in the Passion narrative;

● Christ is crucified on Mount Calvary;

● Saint John receives his Revelation in the cave at the top of the mountain on Patmos.

As for the cloud, as three Synoptic Gospels describe the cloud’s descent in terms of overshadowing (επισκιαζειν, episkiazein), which in the Greek is a pun on the word tents (σκηνάς skenas), but is also the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 35).

In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud leads the people through the wilderness by day, just as the pillar of fire leads them by night. Moses entered the cloud on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24: 18), the Shekinah cloud is the localised manifestation of the presence of God (Exodus 19: 9; 33: 9; 34: 5; 40: 34; II Maccabees 2: 8).

The cloud takes Christ up into heaven at the Ascension (Acts 1: 9-10).

Saint Paul talks about the living and the dead being caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord (I Thessalonians 4: 17).

The principle characters:

Christ is the focus of the Transfiguration, but who are the other principle characters in this story?

1, The Trinity: In Orthodox theology, the Transfiguration is not only a feast in honour of Christ, but a feast of the Holy Trinity, for all three Persons of the Trinity are present at that moment:

● God the Father speaks from heaven: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’ (Luke 9: 35).

● God the Son is transfigured;

● God the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a cloud.

The Transfiguration (Kirillo-Belozersk), anonymous, ca 1497 ... the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’

In this sense, the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’ – the ‘Great Epiphany’ being the Baptism of Christ, when the Holy Trinity appears in a similar pattern.

2, Moses and Elijah: At the Transfiguration, Christ appears with Moses and Elijah, the two pre-eminent figures of Judaism, standing alongside him. Saint John Chrysostom explains their presence in three ways:

● They represent the Law and the Prophets – Moses received the Law from God, and Elijah was a great prophet.

● They both experienced visions of God – Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel.

● They represent the living and the dead – Elijah, the living, because he was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire, and Moses, the dead, because he did experience death.

Moses and Elijah show that the Law and the Prophets point to the coming of Christ, and their recognition of and conversation with Christ symbolise how he fulfils ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 5: 17-19; cf Luke 16: 16). Moses and Elijah also stand for the living and dead, for Moses died and his burial place is known, while Elijah was taken alive into heaven in order to appear again to announce the time of God’s salvation.

It was commonly believed that Elijah would reappear before the coming of the Messiah (see Malachi 4), and the three interpret Christ’s response as a reference to John the Baptist (Matthew 17: 13).

3, The Disciples: Peter, James and John were with Christ on the mountain top.

Why these three disciples?

Do you remember how this might relate to Moses and Elijah? Moses ascended the mountain with three trusted companions, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, to confirm the covenant (Exodus 24: 1), and God’s glory covered the mountain in a cloud for six days (Exodus 25 to 31).

In some ways, Peter, James and John serve as an inner circle or a ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the Gospels.

They are at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1, Mark 9: 2; Luke 9: 28), but also at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 9: 2; Luke 6: 51), at the top of the Mount of Olives when Christ is about to enter Jerusalem (Mark 13: 3), they help to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22: 8), and they are in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 37).

They are the only disciples to have been given nickname by Jesus: Simon became the Rock, James and John were the sons of thunder (Luke 5: 10). Jerome likes to refer to Peter as the rock on which the Church is built, James as the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death, John as the beloved disciple.

They are a trusted group who also serve to represent us at each moment in the story of salvation.

The Ancient of Days (Ο Παλαιός των Ημερών) … a fresco in the Parish Church in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In today’s worldly ways, in our culture today, we may find it difficult to come to terms culturally with apocalyptic visions, and think they are only for people who have their heads in the clouds. But the Old Testament reading (Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14) and the Gospel story (Luke 9: 28-36) offer two visions that pull us in different directions.

The Prophet Daniel is caught up in an experience that is very much in the present, but that looks back to the past, and yet is full of promise for the future.

In his present predicament, Daniel has a vision of the Ancient One, the Ancient of Days (Ο Παλαιός των Ημερών). Most of the Eastern Church Fathers who comment on this passage interpret this figure as a revelation of the Son before his Incarnation.

Eastern Christian art sometimes portrays Christ as an old man, the Ancient of Days, to show symbolically that he existed from all eternity, that Christ is pre-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In experiencing the Divine presence in the present, Daniel looks back to the past with the title the Ancient One or the Ancient of Days (verse 9). But he also looks forward to the future, when Christ is given dominion that is everlasting, that shall not pass away, that shall never be destroyed (verse 14).

In a similar way, the Transfiguration is a moment that brings the experience of the past and the promise of the future together in the moment of the present.

I saw this last summer [2017] in two icons of the Transfiguration in two different places.

I was visiting a new church built in a village in the mountains above the tourist resorts in Crete. There I was shown an icon of the Transfiguration presented to that Church in 2007, shortly after it opened ten years ago.

A few weeks earlier, I was invited to open the summer exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, of icons by Adrienne Lord. The poster for this exhibition, and one of the principal exhibits, is an icon of the Transfiguration.

In both icons, we see on the left, Christ leading the three disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain; in the centre, we see these three disciples stumbling and falling as they witness and experience the Transfiguration; and then, to the right, Christ is depicted leading these three back down the side of the mountain.

In other words, we are invited to see the Transfiguration not as a static moment but as a dynamic event. It is a living event in which we are invited to move from all in the past that weighs us down, to experience the full life that Christ offers us today, and to bring this into how we live our lives as Disciples in the future, a future that begins here and now.

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process. The original Greek word for Transfiguration in the Gospels is μεταμόρφωσις (metamorphosis), which means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. Saint Paul uses the same word (μεταμόρφωσις) when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18).

This metamorphosis invites us into the event of becoming what we have been created to be. This is what Orthodox writers call deification. Transfiguration is a profound change, by God, in Christ, through the Spirit. And so, the Transfiguration reveals to us our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all people and all creation – to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendour of God himself.

The Transfiguration points to Christ’s great and glorious Second Coming and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation shall be transfigured and filled with light.

According to Saint Gregory Palamas, the light of the Transfiguration ‘is not something that comes to be and then vanishes.’ It not only prefigures the eternal blessedness that all Christians look forward to, but also the Kingdom of God already revealed, realised and come.

In a lecture in Cambridge some years ago [2011], Metropolitan Kallistos [Ware], the pre-eminent Orthodox theologian in England, spoke of the Transfiguration as a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, to the final glory of Christ’s second coming, because through the incarnation Christ raises our human nature to a new level, opens new possibilities.

The Incarnation is a new beginning for the human race, and in the Transfiguration we see not only our human nature at the beginning, but as it can be in and through Christ at the end, he told us.

But with the Transfiguration comes the invitation to bear the cross with Christ. Peter, James and John are with Christ on Mount Tabor, and they are with him in Gethsemane. We must understand the Passion of Christ and the Transfiguration in the light of each other, not as two separate mysteries, but aspects of the one single mystery. Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary go together; and glory and suffering go together.

If we are to become part of the Transfiguration, we cannot leave our cross behind. If we are to bring the secular, fallen world into the glory of Christ, that has to be through self-emptying (κένωσις, kenosis), cross-bearing and suffering. There is no answer to secularism that does not take account of the Cross, as well as taking account of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.

The Transfiguration provides a guideline for confronting the secular world, he said. And Metropolitan Kalistos reminded us of the story from Leo Tolstoy, Three Questions. The central figure is set a task of answering three questions:

What is the most important time?

The most important time is now, the past is gone, and the future does not exist yet.

Who is the most important person?

The person who is with you at this very instant.

What is the most important task?

‘This task is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!’

The light that shone from Christ on the mountaintop is not a physical and created light, but an eternal and uncreated light, a divine light, the light of the Godhead, the light of the Holy Trinity.

The experience on Mount Tabor confirms Saint Peter’s confession of faith which reveals Christ as the Son of the Living God. Yet Christ remains fully human as ever he was, as fully human as you or me, and his humanity is not abolished. But the Godhead shines through his body and from it.

In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. But at other points in his life, the glory is hidden beneath the veil of his flesh. What we see in Christ on Mount Tabor is human nature, our human nature, taken up into God and filled with the light of God. ‘So, this should be our attitude to the secular world,’ Metropolitan Kallistos said.

Or, as the Revd Dr Kenneth Leech (1939-2015) once said: ‘Transfiguration can and does occur “just around the corner,” occurs in the midst of perplexity, imperfection, and disastrous misunderstanding.’

Metropolitan Kallistos spoke that day of the Transfiguration as a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, opening new possibilities.

The Transfiguration shows us what we can be in and through Christ, he told us.

In secular life, there is a temptation to accept our human nature as it is now. But the Transfiguration of Christ offers the opportunity to look at ourselves not only as we are now, but take stock of what happened in the past that made us so, and to grasp the promise of what we can be in the future.

The Transfiguration is not just an Epiphany or a Theophany moment for Christ, with Peter, James and John as onlookers. The Transfiguration reminds us of how God sees us in God’s own image and likeness, sees us for who we were, who we are and who we are going to be, no matter how others see us, no matter how others dismiss us.

The Transfiguration is a challenge to remember always that we are made in the image and likeness of God. And, no matter what others say about you, how others judge you, how others gossip or talk about you, how others treat you, God sees your potential, God sees in you God’s own image and likeness, God knows you are beautiful inside and loves you, loves you for ever, as though you are God’s only child. You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased.

A modern icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov ... in Orthodox icons of the Transfiguration, we have drama and a moment full of movement

Luke 9: 28-36

28 Ἐγένετο δὲ μετὰ τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ [καὶ] παραλαβὼν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην καὶ Ἰάκωβον ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος προσεύξασθαι. 29 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτοῦ λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων. 30 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο συνελάλουν αὐτῷ, οἵτινες ἦσαν Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας, 31 οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ, ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ. 32 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ: διαγρηγορήσαντες δὲ εἶδον τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ. 33 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ διαχωρίζεσθαι αὐτοὺς ἀπ' αὐτοῦ εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Ἐπιστάτα, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι, καὶ ποιήσωμεν σκηνὰς τρεῖς, μίαν σοὶ καὶ μίαν Μωϋσεῖ καὶ μίαν Ἠλίᾳ, μὴ εἰδὼς ὃ λέγει. 34 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς: ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην. 35 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος, αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε. 36 καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος. καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν.

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Transfiguration … an icon in the parish church in Piskopiano on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White.

Penitential Kyries:

Your unfailing kindness, O Lord, is in the heavens,
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Your righteousness in like the strong mountains,
and your justice as the great deep.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light shall we see light.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Father in heaven,
whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured
before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain,
and spoke of the exodus he would accomplish at Jerusalem:
Give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross in this world,
that in the world to come we may see him as he is;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Christ will transfigure your human body,
and give it a form like that of his own glorious body.
We are the Body of Christ. We share his peace.
(Philippians 3: 21, I Corinthians 11: 27; Romans 5: 1)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
whose divine glory shone forth upon the holy mountain
before chosen witnesses of his majesty;
when your own voice from heaven
proclaimed him your beloved Son:

Post Communion Prayer:

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
May we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The God of all grace,
Who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus,
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith:

The Transfiguration, a Romanian copy of an icon in Stavronikita Monastery in Mount Athos

Suggested hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Feast of the Transfiguration in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Daniel 7: 9-10, 1314

6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
468, How shall I sing that majesty
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
132, Lo! he comes; with clouds descending
34, O worship the King, all–glorious above
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness 678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
323, The God of Abraham praise

Psalm 97:

34, O worship the King all–glorious above
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice

II Peter 1: 16-19:

501, Christ is the world’s true light
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
613, Eternal light, shine in my heart
654, Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart

Luke 9: 28-36:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is he
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
501, Christ is the world’s true light
205, Christ upon the mountain peak
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
331 God reveals his presence
209 Here in this holy time and place
101, Jesus, the very thought of thee
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
102, Name of all majesty
60, O Jesus, Lord of heavenly race
449, Thee we adore, O hidden Saviour, thee
112, There is a Redeemer
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

The Transfiguration by Aidan Hart ... in the Transfiguration, we see both the humanity and the divinity of Christ

Scripture quotations are 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.

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 5 August 2018,
Tenth Sunday after Trinity

‘I am the Bread of Life’ (John 6: 35) ... an image from Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral, Orlando (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 5 August 2018, is the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13B).

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted in the Church of Ireland, for next Sunday are:

Continuous readings: II Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 13a; Psalm 51: 1-13; Ephesians 4: 1-16; and John 6: 24-35.

Paired readings: Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78: 23-29; Ephesians 4: 1-16; and John 6: 24-35.

There is a link to readings HERE.


Although Saint Mark’s Gospel provides the main Gospel readings in the cycle of readings in Year B, for five successive Sundays, from 29 July (Proper 12) to 26 August (Proper 16), we are reading from Saint John’s Gospel and his description in Chapter 6 of the feeding of the multitude.

These readings began on Sunday 29 July (John 6: 1-21), and continue next Sunday (5 August 2018), with Saint John’s commentary on the feeding of the multitude (John 6: 24-35), with his image of ‘bread from heaven’ (John 6: 32) and the first of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35).

This reading brings together in one so many aspects: the Creator and the Creation; God and humanity; food and drink; agriculture and industry. Food and drink – both are dependent on God’s gifts and on human labour.

The work of the past sustains us in the food of the present and brings us the promise of the future. And so, the three Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, in their opening addresses to God as Father, first praise him and thank him for all his work in creation.

In the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in some Eucharistic texts in the Church of England and other traditions, there is an adaptation of traditional Jewish table-blessings, drawn in turn from the Bible, at the Taking of the Bread and Wine:

Priest: Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation:
through your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which earth has given and human hands have made (Ecclesiastes 3: 13-14).
It will become for us the bread of life (John 6: 35).

All: Blessed be God forever (Psalm 68: 36).

Priest: Blessed are you Lord, God of all creation:
through your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink (Luke 22: 17-18).

All: Blessed be God forever (Psalm 68: 36).

[See also Common Worship (Church of England), p. 291.]

Food and Water are provided by God to the Israelites during the Exodus ... Dieric Bouts (1410-1475)

The continuous readings:

II Samuel 11: 26 to 12:13a:

While David’s troops were away fighting the Ammonites, he has seduced Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and she is pregnant. When Uriah is home on leave, David tries to trick Uriah, so that he will think he is the father of the child. However, when this ruse fails, David ensures that Uriah is killed in battle.

David gains a wife and a son, but his actions earn him God’s displeasure (II Samuel 11: 27). The Prophet Nathan courageously tells David a simple parable designed to appeal to David’s sensibilities (II Samuel 12: 1-5).

David falls into the trap, and Nathan then identifies the rich man as David (12: 7) and gives him a message from God, warning of the consequences of his deceit and his deeds.

But God pardons David partially. He will live, but the son he has with Bathsheba will die. The son dies (12:18), but God shows his lasting love for David by giving him another son with Bathsheba, Solomon (12:24).

Psalm 51: 1-13:

This psalm is said to have been written after Nathan brings David to admit his guilt in his seduction of Bathsheba.

The psalmist seeks cleansing from iniquity and sin, which have made him ill. He even asks God to hide his ‘face from my sins,’ to be so gracious and compassionate. He asks God to restore him, bring him back to godliness, give him a clear conscience, a ‘clean heart,’ a ‘new ... spirit’ and joy and sustenance through his holy spirit.

The Library of Celsus in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ephesians 4: 1-16:

The Apostle Paul has told his readers in Ephesus of the present exalted state of Christ and the Church, the new unity of God’s people. The Church as an established growing structure where God dwells.

Now Saint Paul tells us the obligations of being members of this new humanity. He has spent time in prison in connection with preaching Christ. He now urges his readers ‘to lead a life worthy of’ their calling as Christians. Unity is paramount, and is to be fostered by the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love, unity and peace (verses 2-3).

He then lists the ways in which Christians live in unity (verses 4-7).

This portion of the text draws clearly on Deuteronomy 6: 4 (‘Hear, O Israel ... the Lord alone’), which in this period became the central rabbinic statement of faith. This repetitive formula is also reminiscent of the received rabbinic Sabbath afternoon prayer: ‘You are one and your name is one,and who is like your people Israel, one nation on earth?’

God as Father of all (verse 6), brings us together as brothers, and sisters, but with diverse gifts, including those of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (verse 11), so that the Church can be built up in unity and faith (verses 12-13), sharing a common faith, speaking in truth and love, and respecting each other’s gifts and skills in that unity (verses 14-16).
‘The bread of God ... gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33) ... fresh bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery in Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading, John 6: 1-21:

Sunday’s Gospel reading is set on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, and after many accounts of rowing on the lake, this reading opens with an interesting question from the crowd on the lake shore: ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ (verse 25).

In between all the rowing backwards and forwards, between Tiberias and Capernaum, the people in the crowd were so busy with eating their fill, with their own small world, that they have missed the bigger picture – they have taken their eyes off Jesus.

The question they now put to him is very similar in its thrust, in its phrasing, in its direction, to another set of questions in another Gospel story. In the parable of the Goats and Sheep, or the Judgment of the Nations, in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31-46), the righteous ask:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you to drink. And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ (Matthew 25: 44).

And again, the condemned ask:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ (Matthew 25: 37-39).

Sometimes we can be so focussed on our own agenda, our own practices of religion, we can be in danger of losing sight of who Christ should be for us.

Those questions in this reading and that parable of the Goats and Sheep are very disturbing.

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

When did I last see Christ among the strangers and the unwelcome, among the ragged children and refugees, among the sick who have their medical cards taken from them, among those isolated in rural poverty and loneliness, prisoners in their own homes? When did I last see you drowning in the sea off the coasts of the Mediterranean?

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

When did I see to it that they not only received the crumbs from my table, but the Bread of Life?

In this Gospel reading, we hear how God still wants to provide for us, no matter how we behave, no matter what our circumstances may be.

Christ’s words are addressed not to the Disciples, who later are going to find his teachings difficult (see John 6: 60, Sunday 26 August), but to the crowds, the multitude, the many, those who are on the margins and the outside, the very people the disciples first thought of sending away.

First, Christ feeds the many, the crowds, the 5,000, with bread on the mountainside that is multiplied for the multitude (John 6: 1-21, Sunday 29 July). And then in this passage, even though they took their eyes off him, Christ now continues to promise them real food, he promises them ‘the true bread from heaven’ (verse 33) and tells them:

‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (verse 35).

Care for the body and care for the soul go together to the point that they are inseparable.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well ... an icon in the Monastery of Arkadi, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The promise Christ gives the crowds on the shores of the lake re-echo the promises he gives earlier in this Gospel to the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4: 5-42).

The promise of the ‘the true bread from heaven,’ the promise of the ‘Bread of Life,’ come immediately after the promise to the Samaritan woman of ‘Living Water’ (see John 4: 10, 11, 14). We can even link those promises with the promise of the banquet of life in the Miracle at the wedding in Cana (see John 2: 1-11).

Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the best wine, the true vine.

So often Christ talks about himself in Saint John’s Gospel in terms of food and drink, bread and water and wine. We are invited to the banquet that follows the harvest, we are invited to the wedding with the Bridegroom.

But so often too, he emphasises that his invitation is to the outsider: those in the highways and the byways who are invited to the wedding banquet (see Matthew 22: 1-14; Luke 14: 15-24).

The Gospel message is especially for those in the wilderness. Where do you think the wilderness places are today in our society, on our island, in the world? For it is there that God seeks to provide the blessings that come with his manna from heaven, and seeks to give life, not just to us but to the world: ‘For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33).

The Samaritan woman at the well – marginalised because of her religion, her ethnicity and prejudices about her marital or sexual status – is brought to a wholeness of life. And, as a consequence, she becomes one of the most effective missionaries in the New Testament, bringing the Good News of Christ to her town.

‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ (John 6: 25) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Looking at the Gospel reading:

Verse 25:

The title rabbi is used at least nine times throughout this Gospel as a way of addressing Jesus (see John 1: 38, 49; 3: 2, 26; 4: 31; 6: 25; 9: 2; 11: 8; 20: 16). In Second Temple Judaism, this title does not indicate a religious functionary in the synagogue, but conveys respect towards a person who has teaching authority. As a title, it does not appear before the Midrash, so it is only later that the title Rabbi came to describe a person qualified to pronounce on Jewish law and practice.

Verse 26:

Here we have the characteristic Johannine mode of address for Christ: Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν (Amen, Amen). This is translated ‘Amen, Amen,’ in the RSV, but in the NRSV as: ‘Very truly.’ In Hebrew, Amen, Amen, ‘It is so,’ or ‘It is true,’ is used double emphasis, and its use in the Dead Sea Scrolls may have a liturgical function.

In a characteristic Johannine play on words, Christ will tell them in the following Sunday’s reading that he came here from heaven (see John 6: 41-42).

Verses 27-34:

But at this stage, we should notice how the conversation that unfolds parallels the earlier conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4: 5-42:

● Verse 27 parallels John 4: 13;

● Verses 30-31 parallel John 4: 12;

● Verse 33 parallels John 4: 14.

● Verse 34 parallels John 4: 15.

As always, the aspirations of the crowd are on the material level only. They see the miraculous level of the sign, but they fail to grasp its meaning. Once again in this Gospel, we have a contrast between seeing and believing.

When Christ tries to raise them above this materialistic outlook, he is met by their persistent inability to understand.

Verse 31:

They then introduce the theme of the Passover and the feeding in the wilderness with the Manna. The feast of the Passover was near (verse 6), but rabbinic literature also speaks of the expected Messiah repeating the miracle of the manna.

Verses 32-33:

However, these Galileans do not recognise that the Messianic Manna is the word of God, divine teaching and wisdom (see Deuteronomy 8: 3; Proverbs 9: 2-5). It is not the bread of the desert that was given by Moses but Christ who is the bread now given by the Father.

Verses 35-50:

In response to their request for bread, Christ begins his great discourse on the Bread of Life. This discourse is in two parts: (a) verses 35-50, what Raymond Brown describes as ‘the Sapiential theme,’ in which the nourishing heavenly bread is presented as the revelation or teaching of Christ; (b) verses 51-58, what Raymond Brown calls ‘the Sacramental theme,’ in which the nourishing heavenly bread is the Eucharist.

These two themes are complementary, and we see here the basic substance of our liturgy for the past 2,000 years: the proclaimed Word and the Word in the Sacrament. Perhaps this accounts for Saint John’s omission of an institution narrative in the Fourth Gospel.

Verses 35-50 could be described as Wisdom material. However, unlike the Wisdom writings in the Old Testament, Christ’s teaching nourishes forever.

Verse 35:

This is the first of the seven I AM (Ἐγώ εἰμι) sayings in Saint John’s Gospel, and is repeated in verse 48 in the reading for the following Sunday. These seven I AM sayings are traditionally listed as:

1, I am the Bread of Life (John 6: 35, 48);
2, I am the Light of the World (John 8: 12);
3, I am the gate (or the door) (John 10: 7);
4, I am the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11 and 14);
5, I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11: 25);
6, I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14: 6);
7, I am the true vine (John 15: 1, 5).

These I AM sayings are statements that give us a form of the divine name as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai before the first Passover (see Exodus 3: 14).

In fact, Christ says ‘I am’ (Ἐγώ εἰμι) 45 times in this Gospel, including those places where other characters quote Christ’s words. Of these, 24 are emphatic, explicitly including the pronoun ‘I’ (Ἐγώ), which would not be necessary grammatically in Greek.

‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves’ (John 6: 26) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A closing reflection and some questions:

In this Gospel reading next Sunday (John 6: 24-35), we follow the multitude after they have been fed by Christ, a Gospel story that we heard the previous Sunday (John 6: 1-21). The crowds get into the boats, and the people follow Christ from Tiberias to Capernaum on the other side of the lake.

The symbolism of the boat would not have been missed on those who heard this story for the first time in the Early Church: the boat was often used as a symbol of the Church, the community of faith.

And these people, having embarked on a journey of searching that ought to lead to faith, having been fed physically, are now looking for something more. The want to have their deeper, inner needs fed.

The symbolism of Capernaum would also have been obvious in the Early Church. At one time, this town had been the home of Christ. And so these people were leaving their own homes and going home truly to be in the family of God.

Going to the other side is also like turning around, finding a new sense of direction, being converted, setting out with a new set of priorities.

These are people who are hungry. Having already been fed by Jesus, they are now hungry for spiritual feeding and knowledge, and instead are challenged to accept the offer of new life. All that Jesus asks them to do is to believe in God the Father who has sent him. And they can accept Christ in a number of ways.

1, Firstly, Christ offers himself to them, and to us, he makes himself present, in the words he speaks.

The Word of God has become flesh, and his arrival is the Good News that we know as the Gospel.

2, Secondly, he offers himself to them, and to us, sacramentally. Christ is present when he feeds them and us in the Eucharist, symbolised by the feeding of the multitude and the desire of the crowd now to be fed again.

This sacramental presence is found throughout Saint John’s Gospel:

● For example, as you will recall, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he is the Water of Life.

● The waters of the lake that the people pass over not only recall the Exodus story of passing through the waters of the Red Sea from slavery to freedom, but symbolise too the waters of baptism that incorporate us into the body of Christ, that makes the many one.

● And, at the wedding feast of Cana, there is an interplay between the sacramental symbolism and significance of the water of baptism and the wine of the Eucharist.

3, But, thirdly, Christ also makes himself present to us when we become his disciples truly, when the people who have been baptised into and incorporated into the Body of Christ at baptism become his disciples by living out our faith in discipleship.

It is not just enough to believe – that belief must find expression in how we live as Christians.

If we believe and accept Christ’s promise that the ‘bread of God … that … comes down from heaven … gives life to the world’ (John 6: 33), then how do we show that?

How do we give practical expression to that?

How do we, as those who have been baptised and invited to the Eucharistic banquet, show that those who are invited to come to him, that the whole world which is invited into the Kingdom of God, ‘will never be hungry, and … will never be thirsty’?

Would it make any difference if the world was truly called into the kingdom?

If we believe that it would make, literally, a world of difference, then how do we show it?

Or would things just go on as they are going on?

As the Church we seek not new members, but new disciples.

Perhaps there was no point in the people crossing the water from Tiberias to Capernaum, there was no point in them asking to continue to be fed on the bread that Christ offers, there was no point in them listening to what Christ had to tell them, unless they believed in it all to the point of putting it into practice.

Christ is the bread of life and the life of the world, and we must see that bread not as some arcane, insiders-only rite. We must also offer the life that he offers us to the world.

Would it make any difference if the Church not only preached what it believes, but worked actively to see these beliefs put into practice?

Our response to the love we receive from God – a risky outpouring that is beyond all human understanding of generosity – can only be to love. In the Epistle reading the Apostle Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, bearing with one another in love (verse 2).

That call to love is not just to love those who are easy to love. It is a call to love those who are difficult to love too, to love all in the world … and to love beyond words.

‘Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness’ (John 6: 31) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 6: 24-35:

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”.’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

They found him on the other side of the lake (John 6: 25) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

O God,
as we are strengthened by these holy mysteries,
so may our lives be a continual offering,
holy and acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for next Sunday in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

II Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 13a:

548, Drop, drop, slow tears
550, ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive’
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
385, Rise and hear, the Lord is speaking

Psalm 51: 1-13:

397, Alleluia! Alleluia! Opening our hearts to him
297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
208, Hearken, O Lord, have mercy upon us
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
638, O for a heart to praise my God
557, Rock of ages, left for me

Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15:

325, Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
588, Light of the minds that know him
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
445, Soul, array thyself with gladness

Psalm 78: 23-29:

549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
435, O God, unseen, yet ever near

Ephesians 4: 1-16:

518, Bind us together, Lord
86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
501, Christ is the world’s true light
519, Come, all who look to Christ today
294, Come down, O Love divine
408, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
318, Father, Lord of all creation
413, Father, we thank thee, who hast planted
298, Filled with the Spirit’s powder, with one accord
520, God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
521, I am the Church! You are the Church!
522, In Christ there is no east or west
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
440, One bread, one body, one Lord of all
441, Out to the world for Jesus
507, Put peace into each other’s hands
308, Revive your Church, O Lord
526, Risen Lord, whose name we cherish
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
528, The Church’s one foundation
313, The Spirit came, as promised
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow
529, Thy hand, O God, has guide
d 530, Ubi caritas et amor
531, Where love and loving–kindness dwell

John 6: 24-35:

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
401, Be known to us in breaking bread
403, Bread of the world in mercy broken
379, Break thou the bread of life
408, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
411, Draw near and take the body of the Lord
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
420, ‘I am the bread of life’
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky
422, In the quiet consecration
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
588, Light of the minds that know him
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
435, O God unseen, yet ever near
443, Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing
445, Soul, array thyself with gladness
624, Speak, Lord, in the stillness
451, We come as guests invited

Scripture quotations are 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.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 29 July 2018,
Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Feeding the 5,000 ... a modern Greek Orthodox icon

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 29 July 2018, is the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IX). The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity IX as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Continuous readings: II Samuel 11: 1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3: 14-21; John 6: 1-21;

Paired readings: II Kings 4: 42-44; Psalm 145: 10-19; Ephesians 3: 14-21; John 6: 1-21.

There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

Introducing the readings:

We all love parties and anniversaries.

Recently, I have been blessed with a number of baptisms and weddings in my group of parishes.

In recent weeks too, I have also enjoyed taking part in the events marking the 850th anniversary of the foundation of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

And, on Sunday next, because it is the Fifth Sunday in a summer month, my group of parishes is coming together for a joint celebration of the Eucharist in the Rectory Garden, followed by the parish summer barbecue – which may add extra context and relevance to any sermon I attempt to preach on the Gospel story of the feeding of the multitude.

Birthdays, baptisms, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, retirements – we all enjoy a good party. Why, if we allow ourselves to admit the truth, we even enjoy the ‘afters’ at funerals.

Parties affirm who we are, where we fit within the family, and mark the rhythm of life and the continuity of community.

It is not only the eating or the drinking. It is very difficult to sit beside someone at the same table after a funeral, or to stand beside someone at the bar at a wedding, and not to end up getting to know them and – as we say in Ireland – ‘their seed, breed and generation.’

King David (left) and King Solomon (right) in a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

II Samuel 11: 1-15:

Leonard Cohen’s popular song and poem Hallelujah begins by evoking King David composing a song that ‘pleased the Lord’ and draws on the stories of Bathsheba and Samson.

When we come to this reading from II Samuel, David has enjoyed military success over most of the neighbouring nations. This time, he sends Joab, his commander, with even his officers and the whole army to besiege Rabbah (present-day Amman in Jordan).

However, David stays behind in Jerusalem. While Uriah the Hittite is with the army, David lusts after Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. She was a gentile – a Gilonite and the wife of a Hittite; she was the wife of another man; the law said a woman was ritually unclean for seven days after menstruation; and the text is not clear whether Bathsheba consents, or whether this is rape.

Bathsheba conceives, and so David tries to hide what he has done, hoping he can deceive Uriah into thinking Bathsheba’s child is his own. But Uriah abides by the ritual laws, he refuses to break the ritual purity of the warrior, and he sleeps outside. David now schemes with Joab so that Uriah is in a vulnerable place in the front line of battle and is killed.

David’s sin costs Uriah his life. We hear of further consequences the following week.

David married Bathsheba, but the child dies soon after birth. Later, Bathsheba and David are the parents of Solomon, who becomes king instead of David's elder surviving sons by his other wives, and who builds the Temple that David imagined but never built.

But the unforeseen consequence of this story is that Bathsheba is the fourth of the four marginalised and despised women beside Mary from whom Jesus is descended, according to the genealogy in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. The Son of God is the Son of Man, he is truly human and truly divine (see Matthew 1: 1-17).

Psalm 14:

Psalm 14 laments the breakdown of the moral order. For the psalmist, the world is full of ‘fools’ who deny that God is concerned with human behaviour, people who are corrupt and do terrible things. God sees no one who seeks to follow God’s ways, so do these wicked people not understand God at all?

But God is in the community of those who follow his ways, and God will protect them and deliver the oppressed from the ungodly. When he does, all Israel, Jacob’s descendants, will rejoice.

The ruins of the Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist on the slopes of the Hill of Ayasuluk and looking down on the ruins of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ephesians 3: 14-21:

Even though Saint Paul alludes in this passage to the fact that there are different families, he reminds us that there is a unique way in which we, as Christians, are members of the same family, a particular family, the Church, the family of God.

Families share names, share stories, share memories, share identities, share anniversaries. And that is not all in the past. These celebrations allow us to express and share our hopes for the future too ... is that not what baptisms and weddings are about in every family – hope for the future, hope for life itself?

Earlier in this chapter, Saint Paul has insisted on the equality in the Church of Gentiles and Jews in the Church. He has written: ‘Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise of Christ Jesus in the Gospel (Ephesians 3: 6).

Saint Paul now prays on bended knees to God the Father (πατήρ, pater), the source of life itself and every family (πατριά, patria). This is an explicitly Trinitarian passage in its scope, understanding and application. He prays:

● that they may have inner strength through the Holy Spirit;

● for the Christ may make them rooted and grounded in love;

● that they may the universal scope, capacity and totality of Christ’s love for all humanity;

● that this love rooted in Christ will fill them with fullness of God.

Saint Paul’s prayer concludes with a doxology that gives praise to God, for whom there are no limits to what can be achieved and whose actions we cannot limit.

‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ (John 6: 5) … bread on sale in a bakery in Platanes near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 1-21:

The stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and of Christ walking on the water are familiar to us from the other gospels. But Saint John presents these stories in a slightly different way. For example, he refers to the Sea of Tiberias. This was the official Roman name for the Sea of Galilee. Saint John is concerned to locate the events precisely, in place and in time.

The setting is at the time of the Passover (verse 4), so we can expect stories that have a Eucharistic context, if we are reading it in the time of the Johannine community, and we can expect Exodus resonances if we are thinking of the significance of the Passover for the first readers: these would include an Exodus of large number of people (see verse 2), crossing water to new freedom (verses 1 and 17), feeding with bread in the wilderness (verses 5 to 14), climbing a mountain (verses 3 and 15) and the giving of new commandments of a covenantal relationship. The 12 baskets represent both the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples, and Philip and Andrew relate to Jesus as Aaron relates to Moses.

When the people belice Jesus to be ‘the prophet,’ we are invited to recall how God tells Moses that he will raise a prophet like Moses who will speak what God commands (Deuteronomy 18: 18). When Christ says ‘It is I’ (verse 20), the phrase Ἐγώ εἰμι (ego eimi) uses the words God uses to identify himself to Moses in the Greek translation of Exodus 3: 14. It also precedes the first of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings in Saint John’s Gospel (‘I am the bread of life,’ John 6: 35).

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle – apart from the Resurrection – recorded in all four Gospels (see also Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 32-44; Luke 9: 10-17), with only minor variations on the place and the circumstances.

The story of the multiplication of the loaves as Saint John alone tells it has a number of key details, such as a Passover context, that are there to remind us of our feeding at the Eucharist and of Messianic hope for the future.

Christ lifts up his eyes. Earlier in this Gospel, when the disciples came back to Christ at the well in Sychar, they found him talking with the Samaritan woman. He told them to ‘lift up their eyes’ and to see the ‘harvest’ of the seed he had been sowing.

Now in this story, just as at Jacob’s Well, the disciples have failed to buy or produce enough bread for a meal. In this story, Christ responds not by sympathising but by demanding great generosity, so great that it would take six months’ wages to be so generous.

Barley loaves were the food of the poor, and so the boy’s offering symbolises the poverty of the people, while the disciples fail to offer from the riches of the kingdom.

Christ, who has told the woman at Sychar that she shall no longer thirst, is now going to tell the people he feeds, and the disciples too, that he is the bread of life, and that whoever comes to him will never be hungry, whoever believes in him will never be thirsty (see John 6: 35).

The feeding with the fish looks forward too to a later meal by the shores of Tiberias … that breakfast with the disciples when the Risen Christ feeds them with bread and fish. The fish is an early symbol of faith in the Risen Christ: Ichthus (ἰχθύς, ΙΧΘΥC) is the Greek word for fish, and can be read as an acrostic, a word formed from the first letters of words spelling out ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ (Iēsous Khristos Theou Huios, Sōtēr), ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’.

Christ asks the disciples to make the people sit down – well, not so much to sit down as to recline. They are asked to recline on the grass as they would at a banquet or at a feast – just as Christ does with the disciples at the Last Supper.

And then, in a Eucharistic sequence, he takes the bread, blesses or gives thanks, breaks it and gives it. John here uses the word εὐχαριστήσας (eucharistisas, verse 11), from the verb εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteo), ‘to give thanks,’ the very word from which we derive the word Eucharist in the liturgy.

Saint John alone tells us that Christ later tells the disciples to gather up the fragments lest they perish. Gathering is an act of reverential economy towards the gifts of God; but gathering also anticipates Christ gathering all to himself (John 6: 39; see also John 17: 12).

Look at the amount that is left over in the outpouring of God’s generosity. There are 12 baskets – one for each tribe of Israel and one for each of the 12 disciples. God’s party, the Eucharist, is a looking forward to the new Israel, not the sort of earthly kingdom that the people now want but the Kingdom of God.

In the next chapter, when the crowds follow Christ to Capernaum, he tells them: ‘I am that bread of life’ (John 7: 48). In this way, the Feeding of the Multitude connects with the feeding of the freed slaves in the wilderness and the coming of freedom, and with the heavenly banquet and the coming of the kingdom.

The earlier food miracle in this Gospel is the Wedding in Cana (John 2: 1-12), when Christ turns the water into wine. Now we have a miracle with bread. The Eucharistic connection of bread and wine is so obvious.

Saint John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves has a number of key details that remind us of the Eucharist.

When Christ asks the disciples to gather up the fragments, he uses the word συνάγω (synago, to gather up) – the same as the word συναγωγή (synagogue) for the assembly of faith, and as the word σύναξις (synaxis) for the gathering or first part of the Liturgy.

Christ puts no questions of belief to the disciples or to the crowd when he feeds them on the mountainside. They did not believe in the Resurrection – it had yet to happen. But he feeds them, and he feeds them indiscriminately. The disciples wanted to send them away, but Christ wants to count them in. Christ invites more people to the banquet than we can fit into our churches.

When we invite people into the Church, we have so much to share – must more that the meagre amount people may think we have in our bags.

Saint John the Evangelist with the poisoned chalice above the main gate at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Connecting the Readings:

For me, the readings from the Letter to the Ephesians and Saint John’s Gospel make a connection with another story about Saint John and the Church in Ephesus.

This recalls the legend that Saint John was tested by the high priest of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, who gave him a poison chalice to drink. Saint John blessed the chalice, the poison escaped in the form of a winged dragon, and Saint John then drank safely.

But there is another poison that can damage the church today – we can fail to love.

Saint Jerome tells us that Saint John continued preaching in Ephesus even when he was in his 90s. He was so enfeebled in his old age that the people had to carry him on a stretcher into the Church in Ephesus, on the hill above the Temple of Artemis. And when he was no longer able to preach, he would lean up on one elbow and say simply: ‘Little children, love one another.’

This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his deathbed. Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out. Every week, the same happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, with the same message: ‘Little children, love one another.’

One day, the story goes, someone asked: ‘John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, “little children, love one another”?’ And he replied: ‘Because it is enough.’

There we have the basics of living as a Christian in a nutshell. All we need to know is ‘Little children, love one another.’ If we want to know the rules, there it is: ‘Little children, love one another.’

In his old age, that is all Saint John preached in Ephesus, week after week.

And if we live by that, then all those Christ wants to feed, all those Christ wants to gather into his family, into the Church, into the Kingdom of God, will be fed and gathered and become one with us at his banquet in the kingdom.

That is why we build churches and cathedrals, that is why as a church we celebrate and have parties, why we celebrate anniversaries, why we are gathered in to share the Word and to share the Sacrament.

And so, in Saint Paul’s words in the epistle reading:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3: 16).

‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish’ (John 6: 9) … fish on a stall in the market in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 1-21 (NRSV):

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ 10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

A variety of fish on sale on a stall in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who sent your Holy Spirit
to be the life and light of your Church:
Open our hearts to the riches of his grace,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy Father,
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
In that new world where you reveal the fulness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share in the eternal banquet
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

A variety of bread in a shopfront in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for Proper 12 (Year B) in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

II Samuel 11: 1-15:

551, How can we sing with joy to God

Psalm 14:

649, Happy are they, they that love God

II Kings 4: 42-44:

44, Praise and thanksgiving, Father, we offer
497, The Church of Christ in every age

Psalm 145: 10-19

24, All creatures of our God and King
42, Good is the Lord, our heavenly King
80, Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

Ephesians 3: 14-21:

294, Come down, O Love divine
454, Forth in the peace of Christ we go
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
616, In my life, Lord, be glorified
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
168, Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour
621, O Love divine, how sweet thou art
105, O the deep, deep love of Jesus
307, Our great Redeemer, as he breathed
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers
313, The Spirit came, as promised
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done

John 6: 1-21

665, Ag Críost an síol (The seed is Christ’s)
612, Eternal Father, strong to save
39, For the fruits of his creation
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult
587, Just as I am, without one plea
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
428, Let us break bread together, we are one
657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand

‘Let us break bread together, we are one’ (Hymn 428) … bread in the window of Hindley’s Bakery and Café, Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are 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.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 22 July 2018,
Eighth Sunday after Trinity,
Saint Mary Magdalene

He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’ (Mark 6: 31) … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 22 July 2018, is the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VIII). The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity VIII as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Continuous readings: II Samuel 7: 1-14a; Psalm 89: 20-37; Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56.

Paired readings: Jeremiah 23: 1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2: 11-22; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56.

There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

Sunday is also the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene (22 July 2018), when the appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Song of Solomon 3: 1-4; Psalm 42: 1-10; II Corinthians 5: 14-17; John 20: 1-2, 11-18.

There is a link to these readings HERE.

Trinity VIII:

Christ ‘has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us’ … flowers on a wall at the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

II Samuel 7: 1-14a

King David has been installed as king in Jerusalem, and is secure living in a palace built of cedar, then regarded as the best building material of the time. But David is conscious that while he is living in a lavish house, the Ark of God remains in a tent.

David consults his court prophet, Nathan, and confides in him his plan to build a temple for the Ark. Nathan agrees, but that night in a vision God tells Nathan to bring a message to David.

Nathan is to tell David that he is not the person to build a temple for God. Ever since the Exodus, God has not had a temple, nor has he ever asked for one.

Nathan is to remind David how God raised him from being a shepherd boy to being king, that God has always been with him wherever he goes, and he has defeated all his enemies. There are more promises to follow: God will also give his people a settled life, peace and security, and he will make David the founder of a royal ‘house’ or dynasty, and David’s kingdom will be God’s for ever.

There is an interesting play on words here: the word ‘house’ (bayith in Hebrew) refers to:

● a palace (verse 1),
● a temple (verse 4),
● a dynasty or royal house (verses 11 and 13).

This chapter is important for Christological reasons. God is soon to make a covenant with David. Chapter 7 connects all that has gone before with all that is about to come after.

God’s next covenant is with David and is a commitment to bringing about a kingdom and a dynasty among his descendants. A short-sighted interpretation would limit these promises to David and Solomon before the fall of the kingdom. But as Saint Paul makes clear, the great rule of David’s dynasty is completed in Christ Jesus and is a kingdom for Jew and Gentile alike (see Romans 1: 1-6).

The first Christians believed that Christ is the ‘Son of David’ and that through him they were the heirs to this promise to David.

Psalm 89: 20-37:

Psalm 89 recalls how God spoke to David through his words with the Prophet Nathan in our Old Testament reading (Psalm 89: 19).

Sunday’s portion of Psalm 89 recalls how God anointed David as his regent, and God will be constant in his love for him. Through God, David will be victorious, he will rule from the sea to the river (verse 25), from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia. David will acknowledge God as Father, and God will adopt him as his firstborn. David will be closer to God than any other king, no matter what he and his descendants do. David’s line will continue forever, as the moon endures in the heavens (verse 37).

‘You are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2: 19-20) … the cross on a corner stone in the church in Vlatadon Monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Ephesians 2: 11-22:

The theme of the house of God is taken up by Saint Paul again in the New Testament reading (Ephesians 2: 11-22). Here Saint Paul reminds us that Jews and Gentiles are both heirs to the Covenants God has made in the past, which would include God’s covenant with David in II Samuel 7.

But the true Temple is not the one David had a vision for, or the one built by Solomon. It is a Temple that is ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone’ (verse 20).

This is the household of God, in which we are citizens with the saints and full members, regardless of whether we are Jews or Gentiles. We were once aliens and strangers, but now we are all insiders, full members of the household of God, because of God’s love for us.

Christ, the head and the cornerstone, along with the Church, the body and the foundation, replace the physical Temple in Jerusalem that David wanted to built. Now cultural differences are no longer relevant. What matters now is that we are ‘one new humanity’ (verse 15). The old divisions are gone, and Christ brings us together ‘in one body’ (verse 16). This is a message of peace in a divided, broken, divided and sinful world (verse 14).

Think about how the word ‘house’ is used in our Old Testament reading. The words used in the Epistle reading for household, οἰκεῖος (oikeios), and for building, οἰκοδομή (oikodomí), are from the same root as the word that gives us ecumenism. Our ecumenism, our ecumenical endeavours, our seeking for common ground in mission and ministry, in sacrament and in service, seek to draw us into one family, one household, where Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone.

But this is a household at the service of the many. Saint Paul tells us we are being grown into a holy temple, into a dwelling-place for God. And when I think of that Temple, I think not just of David’s vision for building a Temple in our first reading, but the vision of the Temple in Revelation, when ‘people will bring into it the glory and honour of the nations’ (Revelation 21: 22-26).

That is the glory we should be seeking, that is the honour that we should be seeking, and it is the task of the Church as servant, in its ministry, not to see that you and I sit at the right and left hand of glory, but that as servants we bring the needs of the world, the needs of the nations, to the Church, and bring the hurch to serve the needs of the many.

‘When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat’ (Mark 6: 53) … a moored boat in the harbour in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56:

On the Sunday before last (8 July 2018), we read earlier in this chapter (Mark 6: 1-13) how Christ sent out the disciples, two-by-two, giving them authority over all that is evil in the world. Saint Mark’s narrative then diverted briefly last Sunday (15 July 2018) to the story of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29). Now, Saint Mark returns to the main story (Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56).

The Lectionary portion next Sunday omits the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (verses 35-52). Instead, the feeding of the multitude is the story in the Gospel reading from Saint John’s Gospel the following Sunday (John 6: 1-21). But it is worth mentioning here that each of Saint Mark’s feeding miracles is joined with a water miracle, evoking the Exodus stories, including God parting the waters (Exodus 14: 19-31) and God feeding the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16: 31-21), and the disciples’ misunderstanding is a serious condition, akin to Pharaoh’s misunderstanding that is linked to his oppression of the enslaved people (see Exodus 7 to 11).

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Christ debriefs the disciples after their return, having been sent out (verse 30). In Mark 3: 20, Christ has no time to eat, and now neither do the disciples (verse 32), such is Christ’s popularity as a healer and a wonder-worker.

Saint Mark puts his emphasis here on the crowd: many people recognise Christ and the disciples (verses 33, 55), they hurry to meet them as they disembark from boat, and Christ has compassion for them, for they are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ (verse 34). They bring the sick with them, and beg Jesus to heal them (verse 56). He has compassion on them, begins to teach them, and heals the sick.

In the midst of all this, the disciples are on a boat on their way to Bethsaida when they are caught in a storm on the lake. Jesus walks on the water, calms their fears and shows his divine power – in this case over the stormy, choppy seas (verses 45-52).

The fringes on Christ’s cloak (verse 56) are the blue threads (tzitzit that show how he obeys God’s commandments: Israelite men were to wear fringes at the corners of their cloaks (see Numbers 15: 37-40; Deuteronomy 22: 12). In touching his cloak, the sick people are making him ritually unclean, but those who touch him are healed. In the following chapter, Saint Mark shows how the religious authorities are more concerned with legalistic ritual purity than with the needs of the common people, and how in touching Christ they are ‘touched’ by God’s power.

But as with our reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the call is to all, Christ breaks down all barriers, and we are all invited to be part of the household of God, to enter his holy Temple, which is ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.’

When they got out of the boat, people at once recognised him (Mark 6: 54) … a replica of a fishing boat in a restaurant in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 (NRSV):

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognised them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognised him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

‘Noli me Tangere’, by Mikhail Damaskinos, ca 1585-1591, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Mary Magdalene (22 July 2018):


A new biblical drama film, Mary Magdalene was released earlier this year [2018]. The script is by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, the film was directed by Garth Davis, and it stars Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene, Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Saint Peter and Tahar Rahim as Judas.

The film had its world premiere at the National Gallery, London, on 26 February 2018, was screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on 28 February 2018, and was released in Britain on 16 March 2018.

In a review in the Guardian [27 February 2018], Peter Bradshaw said the movie ‘sets itself a bold task: to rescue Mary Magdalene from an age-old tradition of patriarchal condescension and misinterpretation. And yet it winds up embracing a solemn, softly-spoken and slow-moving Christian piety of its own.’

Of course, Mary Magdalene was an intimate witness to some of the most important events in the life of Christ, including his Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection. But she has been wrongly recast in popular tradition as a ‘fallen woman’ and ‘prostitute.’

Saint Mary Magdalene mentioned by name 12 times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles. Her epithet Magdalene most likely means that she came from the town of Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

In the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene was conflated in western tradition with Mary of Bethany and the unnamed ‘sinful woman’ who anoints Jesus’s feet (see Luke 7: 36-50), resulting in a widespread but inaccurate belief that she was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman.

This caricature of Mary Magdalene probably reached its low point in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar with Mary’s song ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him,’ with its startling lines: ‘He’s a man, he’s just a man, and I’ve had so many men before, in very many ways …’

The feast of Saint Mary Magdalene next Sunday may also offer an opportunity to address the way many women were treated in the past in the ‘Magdalene Laundries’ in Ireland.

John 20: 1-2, 11-18:

Early on the Sunday morning (‘the first day of the week’) after the Crucifixion, before dawn, Mary Magdalene, who has been a witness to Christ’s death and burial, comes to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away.

Initially it seems she is on her own, for she alone is named. But later she describes her experiences using the word ‘we,’ which indicates she was with other women.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, these women are known as the Holy Myrrh-bearers (Μυροφόροι). The Myrrh-bearers are traditionally listed as: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, and Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna, although it is generally said that there are other Myrrh-bearers whose names are not known.

Mary and these women run to tell Saint Peter and the other disciple – presumably Saint John the Evangelist – that they suspect someone has removed Christ’s body. The ‘other disciple’ may have been younger and fitter, for he outruns Saint Peter. The tidy way the linen wrappings and the shroud have been folded or rolled up shows that the body has not been stolen. They believe, yet they do not understand; they return home without any explanations.

But Mary still thinks Christ’s body has been removed or stolen, and she returns to the grave. In her grief, she sees ‘two angels in white’ sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head, and one at the feet. They speak to her and then she turns around sees Christ, but only recognises him when he calls her by name.

Saint Peter and Saint John have returned without seeing the Risen Lord. It is left to Mary to tell the Disciples that she has seen the Lord. Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the Resurrection.

All four gospels are unanimous in telling us that the women are the earliest witnesses to the Risen Christ. In Saint John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ sends Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen. Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

The word apostle comes from the Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstólos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, ‘from’) and the root στέλλω (stéllō, ‘I send,’ ‘I depart’). So, the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apóstolos) or apostle means one sent.

In addition, at the end of the reading (verse 18), Mary comes announcing what she has seen. The word used here (ἀγγέλλουσα, angéllousa) is from the word that gives us the Annunciation, the proclamation of the good news, the proclamation of the Gospel (Εὐαγγέλιον, Evangélion).

Mary, in her proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, is not only the apostle to the apostles, but she is also the first of the evangelists.

In Saint John’s Gospel, when Mary first sees Christ, she does not recognise him. In this reading, the Greek is regularly phrased in the present tense: Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb (verse 1), she sees (verse 1), she runs, she comes, and she says (verse 2); John sees (verse 5), Simon Peter then comes, and he sees (verse 6); Mary sees the two angels (verse 12), they say to her and she says to them that she does not know (verse 13); she then sees Jesus (verse 14); Jesus says to her (verse 15, and again verses 16 and 17) – notice this is three times in all; and she then comes announcing what she has seen and heard.

The language is constantly punctuated with the word ‘and,’ giving it a rapid, fast-moving pace, rather like the pace in Saint Mark’s Gospel. This is a present, real, living experience for all involved, and not one single episode that be relegated to the past.

The Risen Christ does things he did not do before: he appears in locked rooms, there is something different about his appearance, his friends do not realise immediately who he is. This is the same Jesus, but something has changed.

Why does Jesus tell Mary (verse 17): ‘Do not hold onto me’ (Μή μου ἅπτου, Noli me tangere)?

How do we recognise new life in the Risen Christ?

How do we understand the invitation from the Risen Christ to feast with him?

When we accept the new life Christ offers, how does our vision change?

Where do we see the presence of the Risen Christ?

Do we see his presence in the people and places we like and that please us?

Can we see him in the people we do not like and in the situations we find challenging? – the hungry child, the fleeing refugee, the begging person on the street, the homeless addict sleeping on the street or in the doorway?

Is my heart changed by the Risen Christ?

Where do I see the broken and bruised Body of Christ needing restoration and Resurrection?

Do I know him in the word he speaks to me and in the breaking of the bread?

Is the presence of the Risen Christ a living experience for us this morning?

Can Easter be an every-morning, every-day, living experience for us?

The women at the tomb … a stained glass window in Saint Ann’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 1-2, 11-18 (NRSV):

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

‘Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands that holy things have taken’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Resources (Trinity VIII):

Liturgical colour: Green


Blessed are you, O Lord,
and blessed are those who observe and keep your law:
Help us to seek you with our whole heart,
to delight in your commandments
and to walk in the glorious liberty
given us by your Son, Jesus Christ.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that holy things have taken;
may the ears which have heard your word
be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen the tokens of your love
shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed with your body
be refreshed with the fulness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

Early on the first day of the week … Mary Magdalene came to the tomb (John 20: 1) – a window in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources (Saint Mary Magdalene):

Liturgical colour: White


Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body
and called her to be a witness to his resurrection:
Forgive our sins and heal us by your grace,
that we may serve you in the power of his risen life;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are loving to all.
and your mercy is over all creation. Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your faithful servants bless your name,
and speak of the glory of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow-citizens with the saints,
and of the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached to those who were far off
and those who were near. (Ephesians 2: 19, 17)


In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that, rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory:

Post-Communion Prayer:

God of life and love,
whose risen Son called Mary Magdalene by name
and sent her to tell of his resurrection to his apostles:
In your mercy, help us,
who have been united with him in this Eucharist,
to proclaim the good news
that he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


God give you the grace
to share in the inheritance of Saint Mary Magdalene and of his saints in glory:

Suggested Hymns (Trinity VIII):

The hymns suggested for Proper 11 (Year B) in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

II Samuel 7: 1-14a:

342, Sweet is the solemn voice that calls
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
343, We love the place, O God

Psalm 89: 20-37:

670, Come, worship God who is worthy of honour
2, Faithful one, so unchanging
668, God is our fortress and our rock
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me

Jeremiah 23: 1-6:

250, All hail the power of Jesus’ name
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel
442, Praise the Lord, rise up rejoicing
197, Songs of thankfulness and praise
323, The God of Abraham praise
20, The King of love my shepherd is

Psalm 23:

644, Faithful Shepherd, feed me
645, Father, hear the prayer we offer
466, Here from all nations, all tongues, and all peoples
467, How bright those glorious spirits shine
655, Loving Shepherd of your sheep
433, My God, your table here is spread
235, O sacred head, sore wounded
365, Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation
20, The King of love my shepherd is
21, The Lord’s my shepherd; I’ll not want
448, The trumpets sound, the angels sing

Ephesians 2: 11-22:

326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
327, Christ is our corner–stone
87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
501, Christ is the world’s true light
421, I come with joy, a child of God
522, In Christ there is no east or west
306, O Spirit of the living God
675, Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
507, Put peace into each other’s hands
340, Sing and be glad, for this is God’s house!
528, The Church’s one foundation
313, The Spirit came, as promised
493, Ye that know the Lord is gracious

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56:

211, Immortal love for ever full
513, O Christ, the healer, we have come
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing

Mary Magdalene at Easter … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns (Saint Mary Magdalene, 22 July):

The hymns suggested for Saint Mary Magdalene (22 July) in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Song of Solomon 3: 1-4:

592, O Love that wilt not let me go

Psalm 42: 1-10:

607, As pants the hart for cooling streams
606, As the deer pants for the water
15, If thou but suffer God to guide thee
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
434, My Jesus, pierced with love of me

II Corinthians 5: 14-18:

416, Great God, your love has called us here
268, Hail, thou once-despisèd Jesus
522, In Christ there is no east or west
226, It is a thing most wonderful
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
306, O Spirit of the living God
528, The Church’s one foundation

John 20: 1-2, 11-18:

74, First of the week and finest day
460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2l, 3)
273, Led like a lamb to the slaughter
74, Light’s glittering morning bedecks the sky
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son
115, Thou art the Way: to thee alone
290, Walking in a garden at the close of day

Hymns that are also suitable include:

459, For all the saints who from their labours rest
461, For all thy saints, O Lord
576, I heard the voice of Jesus say
272, Jesus lives: thy terrors now
58, Morning has broken
237, O my Saviour, lifted
279, O sons and daughters, let us sing (vv. 1–3, 9)
471, Rejoice in God’s saints, today and all days
246, Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The Second Court in Magdalene College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are 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.