Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Advent resources and
praying at the Advent
Wreath and candles

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

Patrick Comerford

During discussions on ‘Preparing for Advent’ last year [20 November 2017], there were requests for prayer resources suitable for using at the lighting of the candles on the Advent Wreath on each Sunday in Advent.

A new resource on this theme is produced each year by the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). USPG, which was founded in 1701, partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential and champion justice.

The USPG Prayer Card for Advent offers prayers to use with the Advent wreath and candles and highlights health work with mothers and children in Ghana

The USPG Prayer Card for Advent 2018, ‘Pray With the World Church at Advent,’ suggests that as we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission of the world church as it responds to the needs of the people and communities it sreves.

We remember the plight of mothers and babies around the world, many of whom struggle with ill health and little access to health services.

For example, in Ghana, Gloria benefitted from the Diocese of Cape Coast’s Integrated Health Programme, which is supported by USPG. Children in Gloria’s village were often falling sick. Then the diocese ran a workshop to explain the importance of washing fruit and vegetable bought at market and washing children’s hands before meal times. Gloria’s children became healthier – and the incidence of waterborne diseases in her village fell dramatically.

These prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent could also help continue our themes from Mission Sunday last Sunday.

First Sunday of Advent, 2 December 2018 (Purple Candle):

The Patriarchs and Matriarchs

O God of Abraham and Sarah,
we thank you for your faithfulness
throughout all time.
As today we begin our Advent journey,
may the light of your love
surround us and all for whom we pray,
as we watch and wait for your kingdom.

Second Sunday of Advent, 9 December 2019 (Purple Candle):

The Prophets

Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.

Third Sunday of Advent, 16 December 2018 (Pink Candle):

Saint John the Baptist

Lord Jesus, your cousin John
prepared the way for your coming.
Bless all who speak out against
injustice and wrong:
so may the light of your truth
burn brightly, and the world become
a fairer and just home for all.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, 23 December 2018 (Purple Candle):

The Virgin Mary

Lord Jesus, your mother Mary
carried you on with tender determination
on the dangerous road to Bethlehem.
May the same flame of love
that drove her on, now bring
courage and hope
to all who carry and nurture children today.

Christmas Day (White Candle):

Jesus Christ

Holy God, your only son was born
with no home and laid in a manger;
fill us with compassion
for all in need today.
Bless all who work for dignity,
healing and peace
and give us generous hearts
to respond to your most generous gift,
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

An Advent gift to USPG could bring health and hope to mothers and babies around the world.

For further copies of this prayer card and to download Advent resources visit:

Monday, 26 November 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 2 December 2018,
the First Sunday of Advent

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves’ (Luke 21: 25) … the setting sun and the waves on the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday (2 December 2018), is the First Sunday of Advent.

This is the beginning of a new Church Year, and the beginning of a new cycle of lectionary readings this year, Year C, drawing mainly on Saint Luke’s Gospel.

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

Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Psalm 25: 1-10; I Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Luke 21: 25-36.

These readings can be found HERE

‘This most tremendous tale of all, / Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the Readings:

The English Poet Laureate John Betjeman loved to tell the story of a Japanese prince who arrived at Magdalen College, Oxford, as an undergraduate in 1925, the same year as Betjeman came up.

The President of Magdalen, Sir Thomas Herbert Warren (1853–1930), was known as a poet too, albeit a bad poet although he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He was also an insufferable snob, and Jeremy Paxman says he ‘was perhaps the greatest snob in England.’

When Prince Chichibu arrived at Magdalen in 1925, Herbert Warren hoped he would soon be followed by his elder brother, the future Emperor Hirohito. The prince told Warren he was a direct descendant of the sun goddess Ametarasu, and let him know: ‘At home I am called the son of God.’

Warren took a deep breath, coughed and put the prince in his place: ‘You will find, your highness, that we have the sons of many famous fathers here.’

The Gospel reading next Sunday (Luke 21: 25-36) tells the story of the arrival of the Son of God on earth, not as a child in a Christmas nativity story or in a decorative crib, but ‘with power and great glory.’

We are warned to be on guard for that coming of Christ and his Kingdom so that our hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch us unexpectedly, like a trap.

But, as we prepare for the coming of Christ, are we trapped?

Are we trapped in the commercialism of Christmas?

There are 12 days of Christmas. But not one of them is in November. Yet for many weeks now, we have been inundated with Christmas catalogues and advertising.

I hope I am not like the Grinch or an insufferable snob. But I cannot go into a shop anywhere in this city for some weeks now without being polluted with cheap Christmas jingles that are a travesty of the original Christmas carols they represent.

Does the decoration of our shops, even of our churches, lead our eyes to the coming Christ or away from him?

To return to John Betjeman: he spent time in Dublin during World War II as the British press attaché, and was an active parishioner in Saint John’s, Clondalkin. In a lecture to the clergy of the Church of Ireland in 1943, he said the ‘fabric of the church is very much concerned with worship. The decoration of a church can lead the eye to God or away from him.’

Betjeman’s poems are often humorous, with a wry, comic verse often marked by satire. He is one of the most significant literary figures of our time and was a practising Anglican, and his beliefs and piety inform many of his poems.

It is appropriate then to invite us to consider Betjeman’s poem ‘Christmas.’ In the first few verses, he describes the frivolous ways we prepare for Christmas:

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

Magdalen College, Oxford ... waiting for the son of God? John Betjeman was an undergraduate, and CS Lewis was his tutor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Jeremiah 33: 14-16:

The Prophet Jeremiah preached around the time that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC. In bad times, he told of God’s love for his people. The restoration of the city is mentioned earlier in the chapter (verses 6-9): ‘... this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory ...’

This Sunday’s reading is a passage that was edited or written centuries later.

Here we hear that it is a certainty that a time will come when God will complete his obligations and fulfil the promise he has made through his covenant with his people (verse 14).

Here, in verses 15-16, we hear an earlier prophecy (see Jeremiah 23: 5-6), but this time with a difference. In the earlier version, we heard of Judah and Israel, but now we hear of here it is Judah and Jerusalem. The ‘righteous branch’ (verse 15) is a king or messiah of David’s line; both kings and the messiah were expected to be just and righteous. Judah will be restored to prosperity, and Jerusalem will be protected.

In the verses immediately after this reading (verse 17-18), we hear the promise of the permanence of the Davidic monarchy, and of priests offering sacrifice. God’s covenant with his people is forever, or at least until the end of the age, until the start of the messianic era. God will never break this promise and covenant, even when the people stray from it.

‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths’ (Psalm 25: 3) … a pathway through the woods in the Devon estate in Newcastle West, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 25: 1-9:

In Psalm 25, the psalmist seeks deliverance from personal enemies. He trusts in God, and he asks that God may never allow the ungodly or the treacherous to claim victory over him.

He wants to be taught to follow God’s ways, and to find God’s everlasting compassion and love, despite his sinful ways in the past.

Saint Paul preaching in Thessaloniki, a fresco in the Cathedral Church of Saint Gregory Palamas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Thessalonians 3: 9-13:

Saint Paul’s first letter to the Church in Thessaloniki may be the oldest book in the New Testament. Saint Paul, along with Silvanus and Timothy, founded the church there during his second missionary journey, and Acts 17 recalls how he was forced to leave the city because of persecution. He wrote this letter from Athens to the Church in Thessaloniki to strengthen the new Christians in their faith.

While he was in Thessaloniki, Saint Paul predicted that some Christians there would be persecuted. This has now happened. He has sent Timothy to ‘strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so no one would be shaken by these persecutions’ (verses 2-3).

Timothy has now returned to Saint Paul in Athens, and has brought with him ‘the good news of your faith and love’ (verse 6). Indeed, their faith has encouraged Saint Paul who is now facing persecution himself.

‘Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith’ (I Thessalonians 3: 10) … candles in a church in Thessaloniki at night-time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Now, in this Sunday’s reading, Saint Paul considers the prayer for him by the people in Thessaloniki to be a debt to be repaid (verse 9). Even though he lives night and day in gratitude to God and in dependence on God, all the joy their faith brings to him is hard to repay, yet he still gives thanks. He prays that he may visit them soon them face to face, and to deepen their knowledge of the faith and to teach them further.

Then, in verses 11-13, Saint Paul prays to God on behalf of the Christians in Thessaloniki:

● that he may visit them again;
● that they may have an abundance of love for other Christians and for all, as Paul, Timothy and Silvanus have for them;
● that their hearts may be so filled with holiness that they may be ‘blameless’ or free from sin before God when Christ comes again with all the saints.

‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near’ (Luke 21: 29-30) … fresh summer figs in a supermarket in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 21: 25-36:

Earlier in this chapter, Christ has spoken about the destruction of the Temple, and of events expected at the end of the era. Christians will be persecuted by religious and civil authorities, there will be ‘wars and insurrections,’ natural disasters, and Jerusalem will fall.

Now he foretells unnatural events in the skies and in the seas, with fear and foreboding across the world. People will fear what will happen next, but the Son of Man, Christ himself, will come from heaven, with power over all events and happenings. Just as the fig tree comes to fruit and is a sign that summer is coming, all these events will be signs that the kingdom of God is near. In winter, the fig trees look dead, but in spring they sprout.

Christ advises us to be vigilant and to be prepared for that day, so that we may stand before the Son of Man on the day when Christ comes again.

‘Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory’ (Luke 21: 27) … an image of Christ the King in a stained-glass window in the Cathedral in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Looking at the Advent Gospel:

The uncertainty of ‘Brexit’ and the uncertainty created by the Trump presidency means many people, not just in the UK and the US, but throughout the world feel insecure and threatened and are looking for hope. But it is hope that cannot be found in the shops and the magazines, in the jingles and the baubles. Those things have little to do with the coming of Christ and his kingdom, or how we can show that we believe in his coming and show in our actions what we think are the priorities of the Kingdom of God, how they challenge the present state of the world.

The Gospel reading on the First Sunday of Advent (Luke 21: 25-36) speaks not of baubles and fripperies but speaks frighteningly about the state of the world today, telling us how ‘on the earth [there is going to be] distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.’

It might be more accurate, and true to the original Greek to translate this verse so that it speaks about the people on the earth being perplexed by the sound and the echoes of the sea and the surf.

It is not difficult to think of the people from many nations who are confused and endangered by the sea and the surf and the waves: the people fleeing war and violence and mass murder in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, or who are being washed up against the European shores of the Mediterranean.

David Hamid, an Anglican suffragan bishop in the Diocese in Europe, recently warned that this is the ‘largest crisis that Europe has had to face since World War II.’

Last week, I was in London at a meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). It was a residential meeting at the Kairos Spirituality and Conference Centre in Roehampton, and was followed by a one-day meeting with USPG volunteers in Birmingham Cathedral. During those three days, I heard again and again of the work USPG is doing with refugees throughout the Diocese in Europe, from Morocco in North Africa, through Europe and the Mediterranean into Turkey and Asia.

Rebecca Boardman of USPG’s Global Relations spoke in Birmingham Cathedral of USPG’s work with the Diocese in Europe as it works with migrants and responds to changes in migration, focussing on this work in Greece, France and Morocco.

As she pointed out, migration has always existed, and the Bible is a story of people on the move. It is not a new trend in Europe, but since 2015 received major attention in Britain and Europe.

Today, in 2018, an estimated 68.5 million are forcibly displaced worldwide, including migrants and refugees, and this figure may be underestimated. Often they are forcibly displaced because of climate change, crop failure and an increasingly hostile environment.

Nor are migrants always crossing national borders. Of the 68.5 million people, 40 million are internally displaced, meaning almost 60 per cent of migrants remain in their own country, and many unwilling to leave their own country.

Germany hosts about 1 million, but Turkey hosts 3.5 million refugees, while the UK has only 20,000 to 30,000 people – a hugely incomparable figure.

In 2015, the photograph of Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach woke Europe up to the plight of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean. That year [2015], about 1 million arrived in Greece, mainly on the Aegean islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios and Kos, from Turkey. By 2018, the number of people moving through Greece has fallen to 17,000, even though the same problems remain in Syria, Afghan, Iraq and other countries.

Many people are prevented from moving on from Turkey because of the impact of an agreement between the EU and Turkey. Borders across Europe have started to shut down, barbed wire fences have gone up, and there is a knock-on impact.

There are common European asylum agreements about redistributing people across Europe, but Britain has opted out of all these agreements, has its own legal framework.

The number of people crossing into Greece dropped significantly last year [2017], and more people are crossing into Italy, and now from Morocco into Spain. The route is moving from the East Mediterranean to the West Mediterranean, and the routes have become more dangerous, with people taking more risky and dangerous journeys, and reports of people trafficking, sex trade and slavery in Libya, Turkey and other countries where people are held back.

The Diocese in Europe works in 40 countries, from Morocco in north Africa through Europe and Turkey into the former Soviet Union. Many of the churches are small chaplaincies, with few people able to give substantially, and USPG is engaged with a number of critical locations in the diocese: Athens, Calais, and Tangier and Casablanca.

The numbers travelling through Europe rose rapidly in 2015, and Father Malcolm Bradshaw, then the Anglican chaplain in Athens, saw tents appearing in the main squares close to Saint Paul’s Church. The Diocese in Europe responded by calling on USPG to work with the Anglican presence in Greece.

The context in Greece changed substantially. Many people have been resettled or re-homed and have access to jobs and the opportunities to sustain themselves. The work in Greece has strengthened co-ordination between churches, with long-term key partnership with the Greek Orthodox Church. Working together for the past three years has gone beyond meeting humanitarian and has brought the Churches to work together.

In France, Canon Kirilie Reed has been appointed the chaplain and Refugee Project Officer in Pas-de-Calais, with the support of the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG.

In Morocco, USPG is supporting Saint Andrew’s Chaplaincy in Tangier, where Father Denis has been seconded from Nigeria to work with west Africans and provide pastoral support and care, as well as working with the Roman Catholic church in Tangier.

Other work supported by USPG includes supporting a church working with Sudanese refugees northern Finland, and a women’s hostel in Istanbul.

I listened throughout last week to these stories of how USPG and the Diocese in Europe are trying to be lights of hope in this dismal, dark winter.

The Advent candles on the Advent wreath represent the Patriarchs, the Prophets, Saint John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary, all pointing to Christ in the midst of darkness, despite the disasters of famines, earthquakes and wars.

We can be beacons of hope. We can show in how we live our lives this Advent that we believe, that we want, good to triumph over evil, and to show that the Light of Christ shines in our hearts.

In the last three stanzas of his poem ‘Christmas,’ John Betjeman proclaims the wonder of Christ’s birth in the form of a question: ‘And is it true...?’

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

‘God was man in Palestine / And lives today in Bread and Wine’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 21: 25-36:

25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

‘The Son of Man coming in a cloud’ (Luke 21: 27) … the window in the Mortuary Chapel in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone, depicting Christ in Judgment, by Earley of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Purple (Violet)

The Collect:

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

Note: This collect is said after the Collect of the day until Christmas Eve.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

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

Liturgical resources:

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

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

Penitential Kyries:

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

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

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

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

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

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

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


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


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

‘God our deliverer, awaken our hearts to prepare the way for the advent of your Son’ (the Post-Communion Prayer) … Christ in Glory depicted in the mosaics in the apse of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Jeremiah 33: 14-16:

642, Amazing grace (how sweet the sound!)
323, The God of Abraham praise

Psalm 25: 1-9:

11, Can we by searching find out God
17, Lead me, Lord, lead me in thy righteousness (Treoraigh mé, treoraigh mé, a Thiarna)
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord

I Thessalonians 3: 9-13:

675, Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
343, We love the place, O God

Luke 21: 25-36:

567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
668, God is our fortress and our rock
126, Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
127, Hark what a sound and too divine for hearing
131, Lift up your heads, you mighty gates
132, Lo! he comes with clouds descending
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
488, Stand up, stand up for Jesus
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
140, The Lord will come and not be slow
509, Your kingdom come, O God

‘Lo! he comes with clouds descending’ (Hymn 132) … the East Window in the Round Church, Cambridge, depicts the Risen Christ in Majesty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Christ in Majesty at the Last Judgment … a fresco in the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 19 November 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 25 November 2018,
the Sunday before Advent,
the Kingship of Christ

Christ before Pilate (John 18: 33-37) … an image on the façade of Gaudí’s Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 25 November 2018, is the Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ, with the Liturgical Provisions for Proper 29.

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

Continuous readings: II Samuel 23: 1-7; Psalm 132: 1-12 (13-18); Revelation 1: 4b-8; John 18: 33-37.

Paired readings: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1: 4b-8; John 18: 33-37.

These readings can be found HERE.

In the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert, next Sunday is also being marked as Mission Sunday.

Whichever reading you decide to emphasise next Sunday, in your sermon, your intercessions, or your choice of hymns, you may seek to make connections with each of the readings. You may decide, for example, to preach on the Gospel reading. But it may be that one of the other readings catches the imagination of the people you need to reach.

Making connections helps to bring people on the journey with us. So, these notes include ideas for the readings for the Sunday before Advent, including the Gospel reading, as well as themed hymns, the Collect and Post-Communion Prayer, suggested hymns, and images that may be downloaded to use on parish bulletins and in service sheets.

In addition, there are extra resources to help plan around the theme of Mission Sunday, with an introduction to this year’s theme, the appropriate Collect and Post-Communion Prayer, and suggested hymns

Christ enthroned between two archangels, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, in the south apse in the Church of Santa Fosca in Torcello in the Lagoon of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)


Already the Christmas decorations, including trees and lights, are up in the streets and the shops. Vicky Phelan bravely turned up to switch on the Christmas Lights in O’Connell Street in Limerick last night [18 November 2018]. Next Sunday, 25 November, is still a full calendar month away from Christmas Eve, but already the Shopping Centres would have us believe Christmas has arrived as shop owners and traders try to breathe a festive air into our lives.

Unlike some friends in England who have already got their first Christmas card, I have yet to receive my first Christmas card. But An Post and the Royal Mail have posted warnings on their websites about the latest dates for posting for Christmas – and some of those dates for surface mail have already passed!

Plans for carol services and Christmas services are well advanced in most parishes. We all look forward to Christmas … it is holiday time, it is family time, it is a time for gifts and presents, for meeting and greeting, for family meals.

In every Church, we shall see more people coming through the doors than at any other time of the year. People love the carols, the tradition, the goodwill and the good feelings we get from even just thinking about Santa Claus and the elves, the tree and the lights, the crib and the Baby Jesus.

Even the most secular of revellers will admit, without much compulsion, that Christ is at the heart of Christmas, and that waiting for Christ, anticipating Christ, should be at the heart of the Advent season, which begins on Sunday 2 December.

The statue of Christ the King beside Saint Joseph’s Church, Limerick, was erected in 1930 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Preparing for Christ’s coming

Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, and in the weeks beforehand we even prepare for Advent itself, with Lectionary readings telling us about the Coming of Christ.

We have made Christmas a far-too comfortable story. It was never meant to be, but we have made it comfortable with our Christmas card images of the sweet little baby Jesus, being visited by kings and surrounded by adoring, cute little animals. The reality, of course, is that Christmas was never meant to be a comfortable story like that.

Christmas is a story about poverty and about people who are homeless and rejected and who can find no place to stay.

It is a messy story about a child born surrounded by the filth of animals and the dirt of squalor.

It is a story of shepherds who are involved in dangerous work, staying up all night, out in the winter cold, watching out for wolves and sheep stealers.

It is a story of trickery, deceit and the corruption of political power that eventually leads to a cruel dictator stooping to murder, even the murder of innocent children, to secure his own grip on power.

But these sorts of images do not sell Christmas Cards or help to get the boss drunk under the mistletoe at the office party.

That is why in the weeks before Advent we have readings reminding us about what the coming of Christ into the world means, what the Kingdom of God is like, and how we should prepare for the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Boris Anrep’s image of Christ the King in a mosaic draws in the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar … his composition draws on Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Visitation of Abraham or the Old Testament Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Feast of Christ the King

On Sunday [25 November 2018], we are marking the Kingship of Christ. This feast is a recent innovation in the Church calendar. It was first suggested at the end of 1925 when Pope Pius XI published an encyclical, Quas Primas, in which he castigated secularism in Europe and declared that the secular powers ought to recognise Christ as King and that the Church needed to recapture this teaching.

At the time, the entire idea of kingship was quickly losing credibility in western societies, not so much to democracy but to burgeoning fascism – Mussolini was in power in Italy since 1922, and a wave of fascism was about to sweep across Europe.

When the new Roman Catholic cathedral in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, was formally opened and dedicated on 6 September 1936, at the request of Pope Pius XI it became the first cathedral in the world dedicated to Christ the King.

The mere mention of kingship and monarchy today may evoke images of either the extravagance of Louis XVI in Versailles, or the anachronism of pretenders in Ruritanian headdress, sashes and medals claiming thrones and privilege in Eastern Europe.

But since 1925, the celebration of Christ the King or the Kingship of Christ has become part of the calendar of the wider Western Church. It received an ecumenical dimension from 1983 on with its introduction to Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and others through the Revised Common Lectionary.

Marking the Sunday before Advent by crowning Christ as King helps us to focus on Advent from the following Sunday, and Advent is supposed to be a time and a season of preparing for the coming of Christ.

Kingship may not be a good role model in this part of the island or for people living in modern democratic societies where the heads of state are elected. Nor are the models of kingship in history or in contemporary society so good. It is worth considering three examples:

● We are familiar with a model of monarchy that paradoxically appears to be benign on the one hand and appears aloof and remote on the other hand, at the very apex of a class system defined by birth, title and inherited privilege.

● In other northern European countries, the model of monarchy is portrayed in the media by figureheads who are slightly daft do-gooders, riding around on bicycles in parks and by canals in ways that threaten to rob kingship of majesty, dignity and grace.

● Or, take deposed emperors from the 20th century: Halie Selassie, who died in 1975, sat back in luxury as the people of Ethiopia starved to death; Emperor Bokassa, who died in 1996, was a tyrant accused of eating his people in Central Africa and having them butchered at whim.

Is it any wonder that some modern translations of the Psalms avoid the word king and talk about God as our governor?

Truth Pilate said to Jesus What is Truth … Station 1 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the Readings:

Sunday next is the last Sunday at the end of our journey in the lectionary with Christ on his way to Jerusalem. We will begin it all again the following Sunday, but we have time to pause and reflect on the fact that we have followed Christ for seven months or so on this journey to Jerusalem as told in Saint Mark’s Gospel.

In this Gospel reading, we are at the moment when Christ is on trial before Pilate. At first reading, this might appear a more appropriate reading for Holy Week than the week before Advent, a more appropriate preparation for Easter than for Christmas.

But at this stage, Pilate demands to know whether Christ is a King: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ (John 18: 33).

And he answers Pilate: ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here ... You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’ (John 18: 36-27).

Before this, the promise of Advent is emphasised in the reading from the Book of Revelation:

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1: 4b-8)

Christ ‘coming with the clouds’ … the window in the Mortuary Chapel in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone, depicting Christ in Judgment, by Earley of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Christ comes not just as a cute cuddly babe wrapped up in the manger and under the floodlights of a front window in a large department store. We are also preparing for the coming of Christ as King.

In this Gospel reading, Christ rejects all those dysfunctional models of majesty and kingship. He is not happy with Pilate trying to project onto him models of kingship that are taken from the haughty and the aloof, the daft and the barmy, or the despotic and the tyrannical.

As he is being tortured and crucified, his tormentors and detractors still try to project these models of kingship onto Christ as they whip him and beat him to humility, as they crown him with thorns and mock him, and finally as he is crucified for all the world to see.

What sort of a king did Pilate expect Christ to be?

Indeed, what does majesty and graciousness mean for you today?

Christ the King … a stained glass window by John Hayward above the High Altar in Saint Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A set of sermon illustrations

Sunday 28 November 2018 is also International Day for the Elimination of Violence of Women. The sufferings and compassion of three mothers in recent years have illustrated for me how loving parents can be reflections of divine majesty and grace.

When her son Sebastian was murdered in Bray almost ten years ago, in 2009, Nuala Creane spoke movingly at his funeral as she told her story, telling all there that ‘my story, my God is the God of Small Things. I see God’s presence in the little details.’

It was a beautiful and well-sculpted eulogy, carved with all the beauty, precision, delicacy and impact of a Pieta being sculpted by a Michelangelo. She spoke of how the God of Small Things had blessed her with a sunny child, was saying, is saying, let the child inside each of us come to the surface and play.’

She understood generously and graciously, and with majesty, the grief of those who loved the young man who had killed her son and then killed himself, believing these young men ‘both played their parts in the unfolding of God’s divine plan.’

She spoke of the heartbreak and the choice that faces everyone confronted with the deepest personal tragedies, asking herself: ‘Do we continue to live in darkness, seeing only fear, anger, bitterness, resentment; blaming, bemoaning our loss, always looking backwards, blaming, blaming, blaming, or are we ready to transmute this negativity? We can rise to the challenge with unconditional love, knowing that we were born on to this earth to grow ... Our hearts are broken but maybe our hearts needed to be broken so that they could expand.’

Broken hearts, expanding hearts, rising to the challenge with unconditional love … this is how I hope I understand the majesty and the glory of Christ, at the best of times and at the worst of times.

When the Cork All-Star hurler Donal Óg Cusack published his biography, Come What May, his mother went on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ and spoke movingly about how ‘very difficult’ it is for his father to accept that their son is gay.

Bonnie Cusack spoke honestly of how ‘very sorry’ she feels for her husband who was finding the situation tough to deal with. But while her husband did not find their son’s decision to go public easy to accept, they both fully supported Donal Óg, and she proudly described her son’s courage as the ‘most important quality a man can have.’

Bonnie Cusack said she knew that her son was gay from the time he was aged about 16. But in the face of the discrimination and the taunts her son suffered at matches, despite the lost hopes for the future, of ever having a daughter-in-law, of ever having grandchildren, she is proud of her son and his courage. She loves him unconditionally.

And her dignity on the Marian Finucane Show was regal and majestic … a lesson for every mother on how to publicly show love for a son who has made a difficult yet public decision.

Around the same time, an Irish backpacker was killed in Australia, evoking a graceful, majestic, regal response from his compassionate and loving mother.

Gearóid Walsh (23) suffered severe head injuries and died in hospital in Sydney. He had been drinking in beachside bars and pubs before getting into an argument with someone else outside a kebab shop. Initially, he walked away, but then returned a moment later to continue the argument. He was punched once, stumbled, fell and hit his head on the ground.

His widowed mother, Tressa Walsh, flew out to Sydney immediately. Mrs Walsh was filled with emotion as she appealed for the man who hit her son to give himself up. And then she explained, with grace and majesty: ‘I’d really like to say that as a mother I really feel for this guy who got into a fight with Gearóid.’

She was holding back tears as she said: ‘I am heart-broken for him because we don’t blame him, we don’t want him to serve time in prison. I think he was just very, very unlucky. We don’t want him to torture himself over this. I don’t see this as a murder.’

She said her son was tall … ‘he had a long way to fall.’

In her love for her son, she had compassion and mercy for the man who later handed himself into police in Sydney. And she could see how darkness can lead to light, bad things can be turned around to good, despair can lead to hope, for after she accepted that her son was being taken off life support, she also allowed his vital organs to help six Australians who might otherwise have died to live.

In our world today, refusing to seek revenge is seen as passive acceptance. We confuse seeking the best for ourselves and those we love with being insensitive to and trampling on the hurt and grief of others.

When Christ comes to us this Advent, as the poor suffer because of the recession, as the homeless and those on housing lists are added to our lists on Mission Sunday this year … who will he identify with?

In his glory and his majesty, I expect he will understand those who suffer, those who grieve, those who forgive.

At his birth, he was born in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem, he showed how much he has in common with the poor who will suffer this Christmas.

At his death, he rejected the thrones and palaces of the Pilates and the Herods. As Michelangelo’s Pieta shows us, he had a more dignified throne.

And when he comes again at his Advent, his glory and his majesty is reflected in those who are filled with grief, with compassion, with love and with understanding.

A copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 18: 33-37

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’

‘Condemned’ … Christ before Pilate in Station 1 of the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White

The Collect:
Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing the fruit of good works
they may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland)

The sculpture of the ‘Majesty of Christ’ by Alan Durst in Great Saint Mary’s University Church, Cambridge, draws on imagery in the Book of Revelation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

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

II Samuel 23: 1-7:

125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed

Psalm 132: 1-12 (13-18):

218, And can it be that I should gain
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
457, Pour out thy Spirit from on high

Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14:

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 93:

553, Jesu, lover of my soul
276, Majesty, worship his majesty
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

Revelation 1: 4b-8:

261, Christ, above all glory seated!
454, Forth in the peace of Christ we go
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
381, God has spoken – by his prophets
127, Hark what a sound and too divine for hearing
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
132, Lo! he comes with clouds descending
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

John 18: 33-37:

684, All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine
263, Crown him with many crowns
268, Hail, thou once despisèd Jesus
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
227, Man of sorrows! What a name
231, My song is love unknown
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
245, To mock your reign, O dearest Lord
184, Unto us is born a Son
292, Ye choirs of new Jerusalem

Christ the King of Kings and Great High Priest … an icon in the old parish church in Piskopiano in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mission Sunday:

In the United Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe, Ardfert and Clonfert, the Diocesan Council for Mission has sent resources to all parishes in the hope that Sunday 25 November 2018 is also marked in parishes as Mission Sunday. These resources include a poster, an A4 leaflet outlining the Mission Sunday Project 2018, and envelopes for a designated collection.

In the past, this diocese has supported the work of the Diocese of Swaziland in southern Africa, continuing links with Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, who visited this diocese in 2013.

Last year, this diocese raised €6,000 for the installation of water tanks in schools in the Diocese of Swaziland. The boys and girls of Oxmantown School, Birr made an additional donation of €1,200, bringing the total amount to more than €7,000.

This year, the Diocesan Council for Mission has decided to concentrate on mission at home. Considering the present housing and homeless crisis in Ireland, especially among families and young children, the council has agreed to donate all the proceeds from Mission Sunday this year to the Peter McVerry Trust, which is working at the coalface of this crisis.

The council hopes that in March or April 2018, Father Peter McVerry will attend a council meeting to receive this donation and to provide an update on the work of the trust.

The south transept window by Charles Eamer Kempe depicting Christ in Glory was installed in Lichfield Cathedral in 1890 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical resources:

A prayer mission in the USPG Prayer Diary for Sunday:

Loving God, you long for us to live in peace,
we grieve with you for the violence in our world,
Help us to protect the vulnerable and all who suffer,
offering with love a safe place to all in need.

Mission Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your Church to witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
Help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland)

Post-Communion Prayer (Mission):

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

A Prayer for Mission in the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give commandment to the apostles, that they should go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; Grant to us, whom thou hast called into thy Church, a ready will to obey thy Word, and fill us with a hearty desire to make thy way known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Look with compassion on all that have not known thee, and upon the multitudes that are scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.

O heavenly Father, Lord of the harvest, have respect, we beseech thee, to our prayers, and send forth labourers into thine harvest. Fit and prepare them by thy grace for the work of their ministry; give them the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind; strengthen them to endure hardness; and grant that thy Holy Spirit may prosper their work, and that by their life and doctrine they may set forth thy glory, and set forward the salvation of all people; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland)

Suggested Hymns:

In the Church Hymnal, Section 6 is suitable for theme of the Church’s Witness and Mission. In particular, there are hymns related to Proclaiming the Faith (478-493) and Social Justice (494-500). Some of the hymns in this section are among those recommended for the First Sunday before Advent:

491: We have a gospel to proclaim
495: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
499: When I needed a neighbour, were you there

A mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna shows Christ enthroned in Byzantine style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Christ on trial before Pilate … Station I of the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel at the Kairos Centre in Maryfield Convent, Roehampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Monday, 12 November 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 18 November 2018,
Second Sunday before Advent

‘Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down’ (Mark 13: 2) … classical remains in the Forum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Rome, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday,18 November 2018, is the Second Sunday before Advent, with the Liturgical Provisions for Proper 28.

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

Continuous readings: I Samuel 1: 4-20; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-14, (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13: 1-8.

Paired readings: Daniel 12: 1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-14, (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13: 1-8.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘Through the night of doubt and sorrow’ (Hymn 661) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Wexford)

Introducing the Readings:

We are coming towards the end of the Year B cycle of Lectionary readings. On Sunday next and the following Sunday, we have two short introductions to the Books of Samuel (I Samuel 1: 4-20 on the Second Sunday before Advent and II Samuel 23: 1-7 on the First Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ.

Sunday next also brings us to our last reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, which we have been reading since early October; the next New Testament is from the Book of Revelation.

We are also come to the end of the Year B readings from Saint Mark’s Gospel; on the following Sunday, the last in Year B, we are reading from Saint John’s Gospel.

This Sunday’s readings raise a number of questions and pose a number of challenges:

● What can we pray for?

● Who can we ask to pray for us?

● Do we only pray for people and causes we regard as worthy and deserving?

● Are there some things we should not ask for in prayer?

● How do we respond when prayers are answered?

● How do we respond when prayers do not seem to be answered?

● How do we respond to those who seem to pray against us?

● Should prayer be accompanied by an offering or a promise of an offering?

● How does prayer relate to our hopes for the future … for ourselves, our families, our communities, our future?

● How do we pray in times of doubt, in times of fear?

● How do we respond if others seem to have led us astray in our prayers and in our religious hopes?

● What if the way they have led us astray is related in negative or destructive ways not only to our futures, but to the future of the world?

As the Collect of the Day reminds us, prayer is about shaping us in Christ’s image rather than bringing a shopping list to God.

But, on the other hand, if we cannot bring everything to Christ in prayer, how can we possibly be prepared to celebrate him the following Sunday as Christ the King?

Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest Eli, Jan Victors (Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1645)

I Samuel 1: 4-20:

The four books I and II Samuel and I and II Kings come together as a single collection, presenting us with an account of Israel’s monarchy and telling us the story of Israel’s kings.

The story of Samuel (I Samuel 1-2) marks the period of transition before the monarchy. It is followed immediately by the story of Saul, Israel’s first king (I Samuel 13-31) leads us into the story of David.

Despite God’s reluctant agreement to kingship, David, whose reign beings in II Samuel 5, represents the highest expression of a kingdom under the rule of God. The covenantal bond between God and his people is first sealed through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then it is refined through Moses. Now it is about to be worked out in a nation with roots that draw nourishment from its religious ideals, beliefs and customs.

There are several stories in the Bible of once-barren women who have unusual births and children late in life who are seen as a special favour from God, including:

● Sarah (Genesis 17:16-19);
● Rebekah (Genesis 25: 21-26);
● Rachel (Genesis 29: 31; 30: 22-24);
● The mother of Samson (Judges 13: 2-5);
● Elizabeth (Luke 1: 5-17).

An unusual birth was thought to be symbolic of the importance of the person in later life. This reading is a good reminder of this in these weeks as we are beginning to prepare to celebrate Christmas of the birth of Christ.

This collection of books on the monarchy opens in the time before the monarchy, when the Temple in Jerusalem has not yet been built. We might read here that Elkanah is a member of the tribe of Ephraim, rather than a godly descendant of Levi who lives in the hill country of Ephraim. Because of his place of residence, he is known as an Ephraimite, but he is really of the tribe of Levi (see I Chronicles 6: 33-38).

Elkanah is on a visit to the Temple at Shiloh for one of the three great Jewish festivals. He takes with him his two wives, Hannah and Peninnah, and the children of his younger wife, Peninnah (I Samuel 1: 1-4).

Polygamy was not common, but we know it was permitted. For example, we read:

‘If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn’ (Deuteronomy 21: 15-17, NRSV).

Shiloh was 20-25 miles north of Jerusalem, and the Ark was kept there (see I Samuel 3: 3). There also were temples in Shiloh, Bethel and Mizpah, and Shiloh is mentioned in other places as a centre of worship (Joshua 18: 1; Judges 21: 19; Jeremiah 7: 12; Psalm 78: 60).

At Shiloh, Elkanah takes part in a sacrificial meal. We are told that God has made Hannah childless (verse 5). In spite of this, Elkanah ‘loved her’ and he gives Hannah ‘a double portion’ of food and drink.

This festival is a special time for rejoicing, when sadness is prohibited (Deuteronomy 12: 17-18). But Hannah is sad. For many years, Peninnah taunts Hannah about being barren. In spite of her husband’s love and considerate attitude, Hannah has been so provoked and irritated that she has reached the point where she can take it no longer.

This time round, after the meal, Hannah goes to the entrance of the temple in Shiloh, where she meets Eli, the priest (verses 9-10).

‘How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine’ (I Samuel 1: 14) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Seville, 2018)

Hannah prays to God and makes a vow: if God will grant her a son, she will make him a nazirite (verse 11). A nazirite was dedicated or consecrated to God, refrained from strong drink, and was not allowed to have his head shaved.

A first-born son was always dedicated to God, but he was not expected to go as far as becoming a nazirite. However, Hannah offers more: he will be a nazirite throughout his life.

It is presumed at that time that prayer was usually said out loud. Knowing that everyone has been drinking, Eli thinks Hannah’s silence in prayer is because she is drunk (verse 13-14). When she answers him very coherently (verse 15-16), Eli realises the error of his judgment, and intercedes with God on Hannah’s behalf (verse 17).

Hannah trusts in God to grant her wish (verse 18). After returning home (verse 19), Samuel is born to Hannah and Elkanah, and Hannah now knows that her desperate prayer has been answered (verse 20).

Later in this chapter, after this reading, Hannah fulfils her promise. When Samuel is weaned, she takes him to Eli in the Temple and gives him to the Lord (verse 24). Samuel is God’s gift to an oppressed woman. His life is God’s gift. Then, in return, his mother gives his life to God (verses 27-28).

‘My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage’ (Psalm 16: 6) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Lichfield, 2017)

Psalm 16:

Psalm 16 is about placing our trust in God, who will not abandon us. Those who behave badly those their neighbours may as well be worshipping false gods, and their prayers and offerings are in vain (verses 3-4).

For those who are faithful to god and God’s promises, God is like ‘my portion and cup’ and they will find God upholds them (verse 5), when times are good (verse 6) and when times are bad (verse 8).

‘My heart teaches me, night after night’ (Psalm 16: 7) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Thessaloniki, 2018)

However, this appears to be an exceptional or unusual variation for the Church of Ireland in the lectionary (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 61; the Church of Ireland Directory 2018, and the Church of Ireland website).

Otherwise, the Revised Common Lectionary provides for Psalm 16 only when the alternative Old Testament reading is used (Daniel 12: 1-3). Instead of the Psalm, if I Samuel 1: 4-20 is used as the Old Testament reading, then I Samuel 2: 1-10 should be used as a canticle.

‘O Lord, you are my portion and my cup’ (Psalm 16: 5) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Rome, 2017)

Hebrews 10: 11-14 (15-18), 19-25:

The author has told us how much greater is Christ’s sacrifice of himself than the annual sacrifices of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Now he says that what any priest offered daily in sacrificial ritual for the forgiveness of sins was worthless, unlike Christ’s ‘single sacrifice’ (verse 12).

After Christ dies and is raised, he becomes king. In Eastern Mediterranean culture, kings sat down, but priests stood up.

Since that time, he has been awaiting the final defeat of his ‘enemies’ (verse 13), although the author does not say who those enemies are. For by offering himself on the cross he has ‘perfected’ (verse 14) or completed the removal of sin from those whom God has ‘sanctified,’ made holy, or set apart for his service.

Elsewhere, salvation will be completed when Christ comes again.

The Old Testament writings, divinely inspired through the ‘Holy Spirit’ (verse 15), foretell this. Jeremiah wrote that there will be a new covenant, one in which God’s ways will be written in peoples’ very being (verse 16), and where God will, in effect, clean sin off the slate (verse 17).

We have a new covenant (verse 18), a new deal with God. From verse 19 on, we are told of the consequences of the new covenant. Since Christ’s sacrifice allows us to enter boldly into God’s presence (‘sanctuary,’ verse 19), now that there is no longer a barrier (‘curtain,’ verse 20) between the faithful and God, and since Christ is ‘a great [high] priest’ (verse 21) who has sacrificed for the Church (‘house of God’), we have three privileges or duties:

● to approach God in faith with clear consciences (verse 22);

● to ‘hold fast’ (verse 23) to our statement of faith (made at baptism), reciprocating God’s fidelity to us;

● to stimulate the expression of ‘love and good deeds’ in others (verse 24).

These duties must be performed in the context of the liturgical community, especially since ‘the Day’ (verse 25) Christ’s second coming, is approaching.

‘Look, Teacher, what large stone and what large buildings!’ (Mark 13: 1) … classical remains in the Forum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Rome, 2017)

Mark 13: 1-8:

We are at the end of the Year B lectionary readings from Saint Mark’s Gospel, and at the end of reading Christ’s instructions to his disciples.

Christ has indicated to the disciples that the poor widow who gave all that she has in the Temple is a good example of discipleship. Now, in verses 1-2, he predicts the destruction of the Temple, as the prophets Micah and Jeremiah had done earlier. His words were later used against him.

Did he mean it literally or figuratively? We do not know. (Both the Temple and the religious system were destroyed in 70 AD.)

Then Christ and his first four disciples, Peter, James, John and Andrew (verse 3) visit the Mount of Olives – a place mentioned in the Old Testament (see Zechariah 14: 4) in connection with events at the end of the era. They ask him when will the Temple be destroyed (verse 4).

How will we know that the end of the era is near? Christ gives them three indicators:

● Many will come in Chris’s name claiming, ‘I am he!’ (verse 6) – the Christological ἐγώ εἰμι (ego eimi we associate with the ‘I AM’ sayings in Saint John’s Gospel.

● major international political conflicts will erupt (verse 8).

● natural disasters and famines will erupt (verse 8).

● And there shall be other signs too (see verse 14-25 later).

The figure of a woman in labour (‘birth pangs,’ verse 8) also appears in Jeremiah, Hosea and Micah.

The main theme in this passage, known as the Marcan Apocalypse, are that many apocalyptic messengers are deceitful and that those who are discerning will wait for the real end. We are to resist false prophets of doom, yet to be ready for the true events that are to unfold.

In the meantime, we are charged to continue the mission of the Church: ‘And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations’ (verse 10).

‘Beware that no one leads you astray’ (Mark 13: 5) … confusing signs leading into the sea at the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some questions:

The plight of a woman unable to conceive the much-wanted heir was one of the themes running through Downton Abbey some years ago. How do you deal with a topic such as this from the pulpit, knowing this is a private and silent source of grief for many women, and for many men too, in your parish?

Are there times when it is appropriate to be sad in our public worship and during the Liturgy of the Church?

As we approach Advent, can you make the following connections:

● between the promise to Hannah and the promise to Mary, or to Elizabeth?

● between the lifestyle of Samuel and the lifestyle of John the Baptist?

● between the Temple at Siloh, the Temple in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, and the destruction of the Temple discussed in the Gospel reading?

● between the priest Eli sitting on his seat rather than standing and the sitting king and standing priest (Hebrews 10: 11-12)?

● between Hannah’s suffering and her psalm and the way in which God reveals himself?

● between Hannah’s weakness and the way God’s power is demonstrated so often at the point of our weaknesses?

● between the Kings of Israel, whose story begins here, and Christ the Great High King in the New Testament reading?

● between the previous Sunday’s theme of remembrance and peace and Christ’s warnings on this Sunday about ‘wars and rumours of wars’ and of nation rising up against nation?

● between these themes and the themes of the following Sunday, which celebrates the Kingship of Christ?

‘When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed’ (Mark 13: 7) … an anti-war protest outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 13: 1-8:

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2 Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.’

‘… in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope’ (Post-Communion Prayer) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, Mount Athos, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope.
Bring us at the last to that pure life for which we long,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Suggested Hymns:

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

I Samuel 1: 4-20:

391, Father, now behold us (at a Baptism only)
16, Like a mighty river flowing
625, Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

Psalm 16:

567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
392, Now is eternal life
289, This joyful Eastertide

Daniel 12: 1-3:

459, For all the saints who from their labours rest
461, For all thy saints, O Lord
463, Give us the wings of faith to rise
466, Here from all nations, all tongues and all peoples
467, How bright those glorious spirits shine
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
670, Jerusalem the golden
474, Such a host as none can number
475, Who are these like stars appearing

Hebrews 10: 11-14 (15-18) 19-25:

218, And can it be that I should gain
400, And now, O Father, mindful of the love
519, Come, all who look to Christ today
411, Draw near and take the body of the Lord
220, Glory be to Jesus
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
382, Help us, O Lord, to learn
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
638, O for a heart to praise my God
439, Once, only once, and once for all
281, Rejoice the Lord is King
291, Where high the heavenly temple stands

Mark 13: 1-8:

10, All my hope on God is founded
327, Christ is our corner-stone
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
372, Through all the changing scenes of life
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow

‘Through the night of doubt and sorrow’ (Hymn 661) … alone at night on Bird Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.