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)

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