Monday, 28 January 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 3 Febuary 2019,
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany,
and Feast of the Presentation

The Presentation or Candlemas … a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 3 February 2019, is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

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

The Readings: Ezekiel 43: 27 to 44: 4 or Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Psalm 48; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 2: 22-40 or Luke 4: 21-30.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

In addition, the Book of Common Prayer says the Presentation of Christ (2 February) ‘may be observed on the Sunday falling between 28 January and 3 February’ (p. 18; see also p. 31). This is also referred to in the Church of Ireland Directory 2019. the Church of England makes a similar provision in Common Worship (p. 534).

The readings for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ are:

Readings: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10 or Psalm 24: 7-10 or Psalm 84; Hebrews 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40.

But only one set of readings should be used next Sunday, and there should not be a ‘pick-and-mix’ approach to selecting the readings.

In other words:

1, If Sunday 3 February is using the theme of the Presentation, these readings should be used: Ezekiel 43: 27 to 44: 4; Psalm 48; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 2: 22-40.

2, If Sunday 3 February 2019 is being marked as the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, these readings should be used: Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Psalm 48; I Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4: 21-30.

3, If the Feast of the Presentation of Christ is being transferred from Saturday 2 February 2019 to Sunday 3 February 2019, these readings should be used: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10 or Psalm 24: 7-10 or Psalm 84; Hebrews 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40.

At each stage, this posting is divided into two parts. The first part looks at the readings and liturgical resources for Sunday next where it is marked as the Feast of the Presentation, with either the provisions transferred from Saturday or the provisions made for Sunday.

The second part looks at the readings and liturgical resources for Sunday next for parishes it is marked as the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Andrea Mantegna (1460), Staatliche Museen, Berlin

PART 1: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple:

Introducing the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas:

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas, is the climax of the Christmas and Epiphany season. It is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it – presentation, purification, meeting, and light for the world.

The various names by which it has been known in the history of the Church serve to illustrate just how much this feast has to teach and to celebrate.

But the true meaning of Candlemas is found in its ‘bitter-sweet’ nature. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the Christ Child in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing.

Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, who speaks of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce the Virgin Mary’s heart, lead on to the passion and to Easter. Coming at the very end of the Christmas celebration, with Lent close at hand, Candlemas is a real pivot in the Christian year.

Ezekiel 43: 27 to 44: 4:

Ezekiel was a visionary prophet and a priest who spoke before the conquest of Judah in 587 BC, and who continued to speak in exile in Babylon. He seeks to assure the people in exile of God’s abiding presence among them, and he speaks of the importance of the individual relationship with God. His is a message of hope, with the hope that God will restore the people to their homeland and to the Temple.

In this reading, he promises that when the days of exile are over and the new Temple is built, the priests shall offer burnt offerings and peace offerings on behalf of the people that are acceptable to God. The glory of the Lord God so fills the Temple that the prophet falls on his face.

This reading relates to the Gospel reading, where the old Prophet Simeon sees the presence of God in the Temple.

Malachi 3: 1-5:

The Prophet Micah in this reading speaks out ‘against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien,’ and who do not fear the Lord God (Micah 3: 5).

But, oh so often, mothers bear their grief in silence, are reluctant to bare their souls to the Church and Church leaders. So often we can pronounce and preach and teach. But do we always know the suffering in the dark behind closed doors? And do we teach and preach in a way that moves beyond being enlightening to actually bringing the light of hope, the light of the Suffering and Risen Christ to the broken-hearted Marys and Josephs all over this land?

Psalm 48:

Psalm 48 celebrates the beauty of Jerusalem on Mount Zion as the city of God and the joy of all the earth. In the Temple, God is present in his steadfast love, he is to be praised for ever and to the ends of the earth, and for all future generations.

I Corinthians 13: 1-13:

This epistle reading is one of the most popular choices at weddings But in this letter, Saint Paul is telling the Church in Corinth about the love that should be found in the Church.

The Church needs many gifts, including speaking in tongues and the gifts of those who are apostles, prophets and teachers. But he tells them that the most important gift is love, which is the expression in the community of Christ’s love for us. Without love, the other gifts have no meaning and are worthless.

The three gifts of faith, hope and love are all important in the Church, but ‘the greatest of these is love’ (verse 13).

Hebrews 2: 14-18:

The Epistle reading is a call not just to all in ordained ministry but to all in the Church to be ‘merciful and faithful’ like Christ the ‘high priest in the service of God,’ to be sacrificial in the service of those who are suffering and ‘are being tested’ (see Hebrews 2: 17-18).

The Presentation in the Temple, carved on a panel on a triptych in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 22-40:

Eight days after his birth, the Christ Child was circumcised marking him as a member of God’s people. Then 40 days after childbirth, a mother could be purified before a priest in the Temple. She was expected to offer a lamb, along with a turtledove or a pigeon. But if she was poor, two turtledoves or pigeons would suffice. Exodus required that every firstborn boy be consecrated to God (see Exodus 13: 2, 12; Numbers 3: 13). In this episode, the family fulfil the requirements of Mosaic law when they bring the Christ Child up to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Simeon looks forward to the coming of the Messiah to restore Israel to favour with God, the consolation of Israel (παράκλησιν τοῦ Ἰσραήλ, verse 25). The Holy Spirit has rested on Simeon, and has promised him that he will see the Christ before he dies.

Simeon’s words (verse 29-32, 34-35) are paraphrased in the canticle Nunc Dimittis, from its first words in Latin. He begins by saying that God is setting him free, as a slave is granted liberty. Simeon knows now that he is free to die, and the coming salvation is to Israel’s glory but the fulfilment of the promise to all people (see Isaiah 52: 10; Psalm 98: 2).

Simeon blesses the family and tells the Virgin Mary that this Christ Child is destined for death and resurrection (verse 34). He will be opposed by many, so that the inner thoughts of many will no longer be kept secret.

In popular imagery, Simeon’s words are often conflated with earlier words of Zechariah after the birth of his son, Saint John the Baptist:

By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in the darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way pf peace. (see Luke 1: 78-79).

Like Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna stand before God, in God’s presence, in humility and in equality.

This conflation is found in the Introduction to the Peace provided in Common Worship, in the art, in poetry, and in inscriptions on stained-glass windows in churches and cathedrals.

When the family returns to Nazareth, the Child grows and becomes strong, filled with wisdom and the favour of God (verses 39-40), just as at later stage he is to return from Jerusalem with his family to Nazareth, where he increases in years and in divine and human favour (see Luke 2: 51-52).

‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’ … a January sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Reflecting on the Candlemas Gospel reading:

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ has been known to the Church by several names over time, including the Presentation of Christ in the Temple; the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and we talk too of Candlemas, celebrated in many Anglican cathedrals and churches with the Candlemas Procession.

This feast, forty days after Christmas, recalls how the Virgin Mary presents the Christ-Child to the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. And, because of the family’s poverty, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bring two cheap doves or pigeons as their offering.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it. We have the contrast between the poverty of this family and the richly-endowed Temple; the young Joseph and Mary with their first-born child and the old Simeon and Anna who are probably childless; the provincial home in Nazareth and the urbane sophistication of Jerusalem; the glory of one nation, Israel, and light for all nations, the Gentiles; the birth of a child and the expectation of death; darkness and light; new birth and impending death.

So Candlemas is a feast day with a ‘bitter-sweet’ nature. It calls for rejoicing with all in the Temple celebrating the hope and the promise that this new child brings. Yet Simeon speaks in prophetic words of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will piece the Virgin Mary’s heart. His words remind us sharply that Christmas is meaningless without the Passion and Easter.

Candlemas is the climax of the Christmas and Epiphany season, the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. As we bring our Christmas celebrations to a close, this day is a real pivotal point in the Christian year, for we now shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are just four or five weeks away.

In this shift of mood, devotion and liturgy, we take with us the light of Christ, a sure promise that Christ is the eternal light and the salvation of all humanity, throughout all ages.

Traditionally, Candlemas is the final day of the Christmas season. The liturgical colour changes from the White of rejoicing to the Green of ordinary, everyday life. This is the day that bridges the gap between Christmas and Lent, that bridges the gap between a time of celebration and a time of reflection, a time of joy and a time for taking stock once again.

This is an opportunity to take stock of where we are. After two decades of the darkness of recession and austerity, the economists are trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

For many of us, we moved long ago from a time of financial certainty that allowed us to celebrate easily to a time of reflection and uncertainty. Now the debates about ‘Brexit’ leave the majority of people with a new set of anxieties and uncertainties.

The lights of Christmas and its celebrations are dim and distant now, and by this Candlemas most people in Ireland continue to live their very ordinary days with uncertainty, trying to grasp for signs of hope, wondering how long we must remain in the dark.

How Mary must have wept in her heart as in today’s Gospel story the old man Simeon hands back her child and warns her that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2: 35).

How many mothers are weeping in their hearts and clinging onto the rock of faith just by the end of their fingertips as their hearts, their souls, are pierced by a sword?

Mothers whose lives were held in slavery by fear (see Hebrews 2: 15).

Mothers who see their special needs children denied special needs assistants in our schools.

Mothers who see their children waiting, waiting too long, for care in our hospitals or to move from the uncertainty of hotel room or hostels to a house and a home.

Mothers who saw their graduate daughters and sons unable to find employment and have still not returned home.

Mothers whose silent weeping is not going to bring home their adult emigrant children and the grandchildren born in Australia or the US.

Mothers whose gay sons and lesbian daughters are beaten up on the streets just for the fun of it and are afraid if they come out that our Church can only offer tea and sympathy, at best, but moralising prejudice most of the time.

Mothers whose husbands are on low pay or dismissed as mere statistics in the figures for poverty.

Mothers whose adult children are caught up in substance abuse and have lost all hope for the future – for a future.

They know what TS Eliot calls ‘the certain hour of maternal sorrow.’ Like the Prophet in his poem A Song for Simeon, they ‘Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.’ And they know too how true Simeon’s words are for them this morning: ‘and a sword will pierce your soul too.’

If the Virgin Mary had known what grief would pierce her soul, would she have said ‘Yes’ to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation?

And in the midst of all this heartbreak, these mothers still cling on to the edge of the rock of faith by the edges of their fingernails. Wondering who hears their sobbing hearts and souls.

If they had known what grief would pierce their souls they would still have said yes, because they love their children, and no sword can kill that. They know too their children are immaculate conceptions, for their children too are conceived in a love for their world, our world, that is self-giving and sinless, and they continue to see the reflection and image of Christ in their children as they look into their eyes lovingly. Is that too not a truth and a hope at the heart of the Incarnation?

So often it is difficult to hold on to hope when our hearts are breaking and are pierced. So often it is difficult to keep the lights of our hearts burning brightly when everything is gloomy and getting dark. But Simeon points out that the Christ Child does not hold out any selfish hope for any one individual or one family ... he is to be a light to the nations, to all of humanity.

And as our leaders – political, social, economic and financial leaders – search in the dark for the hope that will bring light back into our lives, we can remind ourselves that this search will have no purpose and it will offer no glimmer of hope unless it seeks more than selfish profit. This search must seek the good of all, it must seek to bring hope and light to all, not just here, but to all people and to all nations.

Who will speak out like the Prophet Micah in the Old Testament reading ‘against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien,’ and do not fear the Lord God (Micah 3: 5)?

But so often these mothers bear their grief in silence, are reluctant to bare their souls to the Church and Church leaders. So often we can pronounce and preach and teach. But do we always know the suffering in the dark behind closed doors? And do we teach and preach in a way that moves beyond being enlightening to actually bringing the light of hope, the light of the Suffering and Risen Christ to the broken-hearted Marys and Josephs all over this land?

Yet the Epistle reading is a call not just to all in the Church to be ‘merciful and faithful’ like Christ the ‘high priest in the service of God,’ to be sacrificial in the service of those who are suffering and ‘are being tested’ (see Hebrews 2: 17-18).

This feast of Candlemas bridges the gap between Christmas and Lent; links the joy of the Christmas candles with the hope of the Pascal candle at Easter; invites us to move from celebration to reflection and preparation, and to think about the source of our hope, our inspiration, our enlightenment.

The candles of Candlemas link the candles of Christmas with Good Friday and with the Easter hope symbolised in the Pascal candle. And so to paraphrase the words of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn that draw on Simeon’s prophetic words in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, as we watch and wait in our faithful vigil for Christ’s glory in that Easter hope, may our doubting cease, may God’s silent, suffering people find deliverance and freedom from oppression, may his servants find peace, may he complete in us his perfect will.

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … from the exhibition ‘Holy Writ’ at Lichfield Cathedral in 2014 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 22-40:

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Simeon’s words are paraphrased in the Canticle ‘Nunc Dimittis’, often sung at Choral Evensong

PART 2: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany:

Jeremiah 1: 4-10:

The people of Israel have strayed from God’s ways, but King Josiah guides the people back to godliness, removing all traces of foreign worship and making Jerusalem the one place of worship.

In this reading, ‘the word of the Lord’ comes to the Prophet Jeremiah, plays a key role in King Josiah’s reforms. God has known Jeremiah since his first moment of existence and even before Jeremiah was born God had consecrated him to serve God as a prophet ‘to the nations’ (verse 5), to ‘nations’ and ‘kingdoms’ (verse 10).

Psalm 48:

Psalm 48 celebrates the beauty of Jerusalem on Mount Zion as the city of God and the joy of all the earth. In the Temple, God is present in his steadfast love, he is to be praised for ever and to the ends of the earth, and for all future generations.

I Corinthians 13: 1-13:

This epistle reading is one of the most popular choices at weddings But in this letter, Saint Paul is telling the Church in Corinth about the love that should be found in the Church.

The Church needs many gifts, including speaking in tongues and the gifts of those who are apostles, prophets and teachers. But he tells them that the most important gift is love, which is the expression in the community of Christ’s love for us. Without love, the other gifts have no meaning and are worthless.

The three gifts of faith, hope and love are all important in the Church, but ‘the greatest of these is love’ (verse 13).

Luke 4: 21-30:

Last Sunday [27 January 2019, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany], the Gospel reading tells of Christ visiting the synagogue in Nazareth on the sabbath, where he reads from the Prophet Isaiah (Luke 4: 14-21, or Luke 4: 14-30).

The long version of last Sunday’s reading included this morning’s reading. In this second part of the story, Christ tells the people that the promises he has read about are fulfilled this day, as they listen to him.

They are amazed, not just at what he says, but also because they remember him living among them as a child (see verse 22).

When Christ reminds that God helps Gentiles as well as Jews, the people are filled with rage (verse 28), drive him out of town, and plan to hurl him off the side of a cliff. But Jesus escapes the mob and he continues on his way, continuing his mission along God’s plan.

Driven out of the synagogue and threatened with death, Christ has three options:

1, to allow himself to be silenced;

2, to keep on preaching in other synagogues, but to never put into practice what he says so that those who are worried have their fears allayed and realise he is no threat;

3, or to preach and to put his teachings into practice, to show that he means what he says, that his faith is reflected in his priorities, to point to what the kingdom of God is truly like.

Christ takes the third option. He brings good news to the poor, he releases this poor captive, he can now see things as they are and as they ought to be, the oppressed may go free and all are amazed.

Jesus in the Synagogue, as imagined by the Northern Ireland-born artist Greg Olsen

Luke 4: 21-30:

[Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah.] 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23 He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum”.’ 24 And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Presentation in the Temple … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

PART 1, The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple:

Liturgical Colour: White.

Bidding Prayer:

The traditional Bidding Prayer for Candlemas says:

Dear friends, forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified according to the custom of the time, and we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory.

In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

So let us pray that we may know and share the light of Christ.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty and everliving God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the temple
in the substance of our mortal nature:
May we be presented to you with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and his name is called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 7)
(The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, p. 234)

or

In the tender mercy of our God
the dayspring from on high has broken 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. (cf Luke 1: 78, 79)
(Common Worship, p. 306)

Preface:

You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most high and highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:
(The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, p. 234)

or

And now we give you thanks
because, by appearing in the Temple,
he comes near to us in judgement;
the Word made flesh searches the hearts of all your people,
to bring to light the brightness of your splendour:
(Common Worship, p. 306)

Post-Communion Prayer:

God, for whom we wait,
you fulfilled the hopes of Simeon and Anna,
who lived to welcome the Messiah.
Complete in us your perfect will,
that in Christ we may see your salvation,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Blessing:

Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

Suitable intercessions:

In peace let us pray to the Lord.

By the mystery of the Word made flesh
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the birth in time of the timeless Son of God
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the baptism of the Son of God in the river Jordan
Good Lord, deliver us.

For the kingdoms of this world,
that they may become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ
We pray to you, O Lord.

For your holy, catholic and apostolic Church,
that it may be one
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the witness of your faithful people,
that they may be lights in the world
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick and all who suffer;
that they may be relieved and protected
We pray to you, O Lord.

For the aged, for refugees and all in danger,
that they may be strengthened and defended
We pray to you, O Lord.

For those who walk in darkness and in the shadow of death,
that they may come to your eternal light
We pray to you, O Lord.

Father, source of light and life,
Grant the prayers of your faithful people,
and fill the world with your glory, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Suggested Hymns:

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

Ezekiel 43: 27-44:

316, Bright the vision that delighted
670, Jerusalem the golden

Malachi 3: 1-5:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King
640, Purify my heart

Psalm 24: 1-10 (or 7-10):

696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
266, Hail the day that sees him rise (verses 1, 2)
358, King of glory, King of peace
337, Lift up your heads, O ye gates
131, Lift up your heads, you mighty gates
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King
488, Stand up, stand up for Jesus
284, The golden gates are lifted up

Psalm 48:

646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
380, God has spoken to his people, alleluia
354, Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise
593, O Jesus, I have promised

Psalm 84:

400, And now, O Father, mindful of the love
333, How lovely are thy dwellings fair!
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
425, Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts
360, Let all the world in every corner sing
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
620, O Lord, hear my prayer
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
342, Sweet is the solemn voice that calls
343, We love the place, O God

I Corinthians 13: 1-13:

515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’
86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
520, God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there
89, God is love – his the care
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
312, Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
525, Let there be love shared among us
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
655, Loving Shepherd of your sheep
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
229, My God I love thee; not because
105, O the deep, deep love of Jesus
323, The God of Abraham praise (verses 1, 2, 5)
530, Ubi caritas et amor
531, Where love and loving-kindness dwell

Hebrews 2: 14-18:

212, Jesu, grant me this, I pray
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
635, Lord, be my guardian and my guide
108, Praise to the holiest in the height
114, Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

Luke 2: 22-40:

119, Come, thou long–expected Jesus
88, Fairest Lord Jesus
691, Faithful vigil ended
191, Hail to the Lord who comes
193, In his temple now behold him
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
472, Sing we of the blessèd mother
203, When candles are lighted on Candlemas Day

The Liturgical Colour changes to Green for Ordinary Time, between the Feast of the Presentation and Ash Wednesday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

PART 2, The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time).

The Collect:

Creator God,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
We pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Generous Lord,
in word and Eucharist we have proclaimed
the mystery of your love.
Help us so to live out our days
that we may be signs of your wonders in the world;
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:

Jeremiah 1: 4-10:

No hymns recommended

Psalm 48:

646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
380, God has spoken to his people, alleluia
354, Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise
593, O Jesus, I have promised

I Corinthians 13: 1-13:

515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’
86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
520, God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there
89, God is love – his the care
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
312, Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
525, Let there be love shared among us
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
655, Loving Shepherd of your sheep
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
229, My God I love thee; not because
105, O the deep, deep love of Jesus
323, The God of Abraham praise (verses 1, 2, 5)
530, Ubi caritas et amor
531, Where love and loving-kindness dwell

Luke 4: 21-30:

218, And can it be that I should gain
494, Beauty for brokenness
501, Christ is the world’s true light
119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus
380, God has spoken to his people, alleluia!
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
569, Hark my soul, it is the Lord
124, Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes
357, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
99, Jesus, the name high over all
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King
706, O bless the God of Israel
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
605, Will you come and follow me

‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’ – A window in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (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. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from The Book of Common Prayer (the Church of Ireland, 2004) is copyright © Representative Body of the Church of Ireland 2004.

Material from Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 27 January 2019,
Third Sunday after Epiphany

Reading from the scrolls in the synagogue … ‘Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur,’ Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879), Vienna, 1878, Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 27 January 2019, is the Third Sunday after the Epiphany.

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

Readings: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 12: 12-31a; Luke 4: 14-21 [22-30].

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Next Sunday, many churches throughout the Anglican Communion are also marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on Sunday 27 January. This posting includes links to preaching and liturgical resources for next Sunday based on both Sunday’s Lectionary readings and produced for Holocaust Memorial Day.

Introducing the Readings:

The Gospel reading for Sunday next bridges the interlude in the Church Calendar between the Christmas and Epiphany stories and the beginning of Christ’s Galilean ministry.

Traditionally, the Church associates Epiphany-tide with three public, epiphany moments, before beginning to look at Christ’s public ministry:

● The visit by the wise men, who, on behalf of the nations of the world acknowledge him as king, priest, prophet and king with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2: 1-12, 6 January 2019).

● Christ’s baptism by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan, when he is acknowledged in a Trinitarian movement by both the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Son of God (Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22, 13 January 2019).

● The Wedding at Cana, which is the first of the seven signs in the Fourth Gospel, and which sees Christ reveal his glory so that his disciples believe in him (yesterday’s Gospel reading, John 2: 1-11, 20 January 2019).

These three Epiphany moments are brought together in next Sunday’s reading, Luke 4: 14-21 (22-30):

● Jesus is seen in this reading as king prophet, and priest: King, in the majestic way in which he proclaims the Jubilee Year on behalf of God who is the Sovereign Lord; priest in the way he becomes the mediator between God and his people, in a liturgical context, opening up the way to salvation; and prophet in bringing to their true completion the promises of the prophets of old.

● The Spirit that descended on him at his baptism is manifest that Saturday morning as he declares: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ (verse 18). That Epiphany moment at the Jordan was not a once-off experience of the Spirit; the Spirit remained with Christ, and he continues to act throughout his ministry in a Trinitarian movement.

● The miracle at Cana was a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and as a consequence the disciples believed. In this reading, we see that God’s promises are not just fanciful, they are to be fulfilled. And as a consequence of what Jesus said, ‘all spoke well of him and were amazed …’ (verse 22).

Of course, rejection was to follow, and that is the subject of the optional second part of this Gospel reading (Luke 4: 22-30).

This rejection story is an optional ending, because it may be used as the Gospel reading on the following Sunday (3 February 2019), as Luke 4: 21-30, if that is marked as the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany rather using the readings and propers for the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas).

‘So they read from the book, from the law of God’ (Nehemiah 8: 8) … Torah scrolls in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10:

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah form one story, recalling the events after the exiles return from Babylon and rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Both books list those who returned and of the Temple officials, the renewal of Temple worship and the establishment of a programme of instruction, so that ritual and legal traditions are handed on.

The Law of Moses was central to handing on these traditions. It probably took its final form in Ezra’s time, and became the definitive reference for godly behaviour.

The Book of Ezra begins with a decree from Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC, allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus orders the return of the sacred vessels taken from the Temple in 587. More than 42,000 people leave Babylon for Judah. The altar is erected on the site of the destroyed Temple, and the priests again offer burnt offerings. Work begins on building the new Temple, although this is a more modest structure than Solomon’s Temple.

Despite a planned rebellion, the building work resumes. Ezra, the scribe and priest, travels to Jerusalem with exiles, studies ‘the law of the Lord,’ prepares the Temple for worship, and appoints magistrates and judges (Ezra 7: 25).

Many scholars believe that Nehemiah 8 follows at this point, although Nehemiah 6: 15 to 7: 4 tells of the building of the city walls, including the Water Gate, which is the location for this reading (see Nehemiah 8: 1, 3).

The ‘book of the law of Moses’ (verse 1) is probably an earlier version of the Book Leviticus. Ezra stands on a ‘wooden platform’ and reads from the book, which is then interpreted for them so that they understand it. It is a holy day, perhaps the sabbath, but all this takes place within the celebration of the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles (Sukkoth, see Nehemiah 8: 14-15).

In reality, this reading appears to be very glum news for these people. At first, they think this is an occasion of sorrow, they bow their heads, mourn and weep. But Ezra tells them not to weep. He tells them that the words of the Law of God are bringing them good news, the promise of participation in the banquet of the Lord. They are not to be grieved. Instead, they are to go off and eat and drink, and share their food and wine with those who had nothing to eat or drink.

Earlier this month, a right-wing evangelical pastor used these passages to defend President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas Church in Texas claims God instructed Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem to keep its citizens safe.

However, biblical exegesis on the morality of the border wall is complicated. For example, along with stories about Nehemiah building a wall, the Bible also contains stories about Joshua Jewish tearing down walls.

Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilisation for the evangelical humanitarian organisation World Relief, said he does not think either of these stories should necessarily be used to prove the Bible is for or against governments building walls. What is clear to Soerens, however, is that the scriptures that guided Nehemiah also instructed the Israelites to provide a hospitable welcome to people fleeing persecution.

‘I believe in our time, as in Nehemiah’s, it would be immoral for our nation to refuse to help someone fleeing persecution to find safety when it is in our power to do so,’ he said. ‘We can and, at World Relief, believe we should advocate for changes to public policies that both ensure secure borders and provide welcome and mercy to vulnerable immigrants.’

‘The sun … comes forth like a like a bridegroom out of the chamber’ (Psalm 19: 5) … a January sunrise at Ferrycarrig in Wexford (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 19:

This Psalm is familiar to many churchgoers because its closing words were often used in the past by preachers as the opening prayer as they began their sermons: ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer’ (Psalm 19: 14).

In the Psalm, the heavens and the firmament are depicted as telling us of God’s glory and work. The firmament was understood as almost like a pudding bowl over the earth, and beyond this was a hierarchy of heavens.

God’s glory is told day and night to all without needing to use words. The sun rises early in the morning, making God’s presence known with its heat.

Verses 7-9 present the wonders of the law as an expression of God’s will for humanity. It revives the soul, gives wisdom to the innocent, rejoices the heart and gives light to the eye.

In the Anglican tradition, we often begin sermons with the closing words of this morning’s Psalm: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer’ (Psalm 19: 14).

But are the words we preach, is the Christianity we proclaim, good news for people today?

Is it, perhaps, bad news?

Or – worse than bad news – is it becoming more and more irrelevant?

Or are we willing to restore its relevance?

‘If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?’ (I Corinthians 12: 17)

I Corinthians 12: 12-31a:

Saint Paul has told the Christians at Corinth that spiritual gifts come through the Holy Spirit and are given by the Spirit, as the Spirit chooses, for the benefit of the whole community. Now, in our New Testament reading (I Corinthians 12: 12-31a), he turns to the nature of the Church, illustrating his points with the image of the human body.

Saint Paul talks about how all the members of the Church are one together and share in the one Spirit. Whatever our ethnic or social origins, ‘we were all baptised into one body’ (verse 13), into the risen glorified body of Christ, and empowered by the same Holy Spirit acting in the Church.

The key verse is verse 14: the body needs various members; so too the Church needs various spiritual gifts, each making its own contribution.

This is hardly good news to the literate, more comfortable Corinthian Christians. The Church there was divided by exclusivism and by the refusal of some of the Corinthians to share the meals, to share communion, to share sacred time with fellow Church members from different socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds.

When Saint Paul’s letter arrived, it must have shaken some of the Corinthian Christians out of their comfort zone too. They are to respect one another, no matter what their background was, they were to share and to eat with one another, they were to share each other’s news, rejoicing at their good news and weeping at their bad news (see verse 26).

In verses 27-28, Saint Paul lists three groups with God-given and gifts:

● apostles who continue spreading the good news;
● prophets who have new insights into God’s plan;
● teachers who teach the faith.

He then lists some other gifts: some help the poor and needy; others are leaders, managers, in church affairs. Perhaps we all all need to grow in the use of the gifts, great or small, given to us.

‘He stood up to read and … he unrolled the scroll’ (Luke 4: 18-19) … a scroll in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 4: 14-21 [22-30]:

The reading for Sunday next bridges the interlude in the Church Calendar between the Christmas and Epiphany stories and the beginning of Christ’s Galilean Ministry and, in the provision for a longer reading this morning or in the reading for the following Sunday (Luke 4: 21-30), brings us to his rejection in Nazareth.

Saint Mark’s Gospel places the rejection of Christ by the people of Nazareth at the end of his first year of his ministry (see Mark 6: 1-6), Saint John places it when he returns from Jerusalem and after his meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4: 43-45), while Saint Luke places it at the beginning of his ministry, although we are told at the beginning of this reading that there was an earlier period of ministry in neighbouring parts of Galilee (verses 14-15), perhaps in Capernaum.

Instead of succumbing to the temptations of a dramatic but false start to his Messianic ministry (Luke 4: 1-14), Christ begins his ministry in a very slow, thoughtful and considerate way. At the beginning of this reading, we are told that it was habitual in the first stage of his ministry for Jesus to attend the synagogue on a Saturday, and we are told too that he taught in the synagogues regularly (verse 15). Regular worship, scripture readings and teaching are the foundations of this ministry and for any action in it.

There was no ordained minister in a synagogue. Even in those places where there was resident rabbi, he was an arbiter and a teacher, but not an ordained liturgical leader.

The synagogue would have been controlled by a board of elders, the equivalent of a select vestry in our parishes today, and by the chazzan or attendant. On Saturdays, the sabbath service began with the shema (‘Hear O Israel …’ Deuteronomy 6: 4-9), and included prayers, fixed readings from the Torah or the Law, a reading from the Prophets, a sermon, and a blessing.

The two readings were in Hebrew, with a running translation into the vernacular, which was normally Aramaic but might have been Greek in some places.

It would have been normal for literate adult male Jews to be called in turn to read the Scriptures in the synagogue: first those who were of priestly descent, the cohanim, then the Levites, and then the other Israelites. So, on this particular Saturday, Jesus may have been the third person called on to read, or he may even have been further down the list.

The scroll of Isaiah was given to Christ by the chazzan or attendant of the synagogue, who combined the functions that in a parish we might now associate with the sexton, verger, churchwarden and Sunday school teacher. And it is to him that Christ returns the scroll when he is finished reading from it (verse 20).

The portion Christ reads from (verse 18-19) is actually three verses, and we should note that they do not come in sequence: Isaiah 61: 1, part only of verse 2 and a portion of Isaiah 58: 6. And so, even if Christ had been handed a pre-selected portion of Scripture to read – perhaps following in sequence from two or more previous readers – we see a deliberate choice by Christ to roll back the scroll and to insert a portion of that extra verse, Isaiah 58: 6.

So often we complain when the compilers and editors of the RCL omit or jump over certain verses in readings in order to provide coherence and continuity, but this is what appears to be happening here.

Having read while standing, Christ then sat down, the normal posture at the time for someone who is then teaching. After he sat down, all eyes were on him (verse 20), so it was he who was expected to preach and teach that sabbath day.

Christ tells the congregation in Nazareth that the Scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing. Scripture has not been read that morning just to comply with part of the ritual; it actually has immediate meaning, significance and relevance that day. Christ is not merely reading the words, he is promising to see them put into action, to transform hope into reality.

‘He went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom’ (Luke 4: 16) … inside the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Reflecting on the Gospel reading

Abraham Lincoln used his second inaugural address to do something no President had ever done before – to speak in critical terms of the nation. He did so in order to name the evil of slavery, the toll it had exacted in human flesh and warfare, and to address the need to stay the course and bring an end to both the war and the cause of that war.

One commentator has said this Gospel reading is like Christ’s inaugural address. Here he sets out his priorities, his hopes, his expectations, even if people of faith are reluctant at times to co-operate and give him their votes.

If we see who Christ is then we must journey with him towards Calvary and Good Friday and the Garden and Easter Morning. And on that way, we take up the challenge from the previous Sunday at Cana to ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

He tells those who hear him in this reading that at the heart of everything he does and everything he asks us to do:

● to bring good news to the poor
● to proclaim release to the captives
● to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
● to let the oppressed go free
● to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

This morning’s Gospel reading is good news, and not just to the poor and oppressed in Nazareth in the past. Who are the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed in our midst today? And are we happy with them knowing that compassion for them is at the heart of Christ’s ministry and mission?

Is it too much for us to recover the message that links Christmas faith and Easter faith – that declares that the Gospel is good news for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed among us today?

It is good news that may challenge us – that may take us outside our comfort zones. But if we step outside our comfort zone and recover this good news, then we can play our part in restoring the relevance of the Gospel and of the Church to a society today that is overwhelmed by bad news.

… and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll …

Luke 4: 14-21 [22-30] (NRSVA):

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

[22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23 He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum”.’ 24 And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.]

‘Jesus unrolls the Book in the Synagogue’ (‘Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre’), James Tissot (1831-1902), Brooklyn Museum

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God, whose Son revealed in signs and miracles the wonder of your saving presence: Renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

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

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty Father, your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world. May your people, illumined by your word and sacraments, shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
The Blessing:

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

Jesus in the Synagogue, as imagined by the Northern Ireland-born artist Greg Olsen

Suggested Hymns:

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

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10:

381, God has spoken – by his prophets
380, God has spoken to his people, alleluia
382, Help us, O Lord, to learn
383, Lord, be thy word my rule
384, Lord, thy word abideth
386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind
387, Thanks to God whose Word was spoken
388, Word of the living God

Psalm 19:

606, As the deer pants for the water
153, Come, thou Redeemer of the earth
351, From all that dwell below the skies
631, God be in my head
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
616, In my life, Lord, be glorified
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
384, Lord, thy word abideth
432, Love is his word, love is his way
638, O for a heart to praise my God
34, O worship the King all-glorious above
35, The spacious firmament on high

I Corinthians 12: 12-31a:

517, Brother, sister, let me serve you
86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
519, Come, all who look to Christ today
408, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
318, Father, Lord of all creation
298, Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord
330, God is here! As we his people
520, God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
430, Lord, as the grain which once on upland acres
303, Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
436, Now let us from this table rise
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
440, One bread, one body, one Lord of all
441, Out to the world for Jesus
443, Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing
530, Ubi caritas et amor
531, Where love and loving-kindness dwell

Luke 4: 14-21:

218, And can it be that I should gain
494, Beauty for brokenness
501, Christ is the world’s true light
119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus
380, God has spoken to his people, alleluia
533, God of grace and God of glory
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
569, Hark, my soul! it is the Lord
124, Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes 357, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
483, Jesus went to worship
99, Jesus, the name, high over all
134, Make way, make way for Christ the King
706, O bless the God of Israel
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
605, Will you come and follow me

‘Adoration of the Torah’ by Artur Markiowicz (1872-1934) in the Jewish Museum in the Old Synagogue, Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holocaust Memorial Day:

Next Sunday, many churches throughout the Anglican Communion are also marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on Sunday 27 January.

On Sunday you may prefer to reflect on readings in the light of Holocaust Memorial Day. This day recalls the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, the Nazi Persecution and in later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. The date was chosen because 27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

A resource is available for use by churches, clergy and individual Christians to observe Holocaust Memorial Day 2019, produced by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) with the support of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT).

It is designed for use in a worship setting on Holocaust Memorial Day It is not a complete service but includes a suggested liturgy for an act of commemoration within Christian worship. Commentaries are provided on the readings set for Sunday 27 January 2019, referencing the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 of ‘Torn from home’.

The Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 resources on the CCJ website are HERE.

You can download the Holocaust Memorial Day 2019 resource for worship and liturgy from the CCJ website HERE.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is ‘The Power of Words.’ Its focus is helping people to reflect on the role words play, both to harm and to heal, to destroy and to build. Many organisations will be holding events to mark the day, ranging from simple candle-lighting ceremonies to postcard-writing activities, conferences, concerts, plays, reading events and exhibitions.

In Ireland, the National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration will take place on Sunday 27 January from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Round Room in the Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin.

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration is firmly established in the national calendar and takes place in Dublin every year on the Sunday nearest to 27 January, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The event cherishes the memory of the people who perished in the Holocaust and recalls the millions of men, women and children who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, political affiliations or religious beliefs.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to reflect on issues raised by the Holocaust and all genocides, and to reflect especially on the fate of European Jewry. Christians have been among the perpetrators of genocide, as well as among the bystanders, and indeed the victims.

Holocaust Memorial Day gives us cause to remember the reality that evil is still powerful in our world. It can strengthen our resolve to protect every community from discrimination, intimidation and violence.

Hope against adversity … a fading rose on the fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau; behind is one of the concentration camp watchtowers and a train wagon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Additional hymns:

Additional hymns that might be appropriate for Holocaust Memorial Day include:

323, The God of Abraham praise
361, Now thank we all our God.
347, Children of Jerusalem
599, ‘Take up thy cross,’ the Saviour said

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial on Platia Eleftherias near the port in Thessaloniki ... in July 1942, all the men in the Jewish community aged from 18 to 45 were rounded up in this square for deportation (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. http://nrsvbibles.org

Monday, 14 January 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 20 January 2019,
Second Sunday after Epiphany

The Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11) … a modern icon

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 20 January 2019, is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, and the Epiphany theme continues in the readings.

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

Readings: Isaiah 62: 1-5; Psalm 36: 5-10; I Corinthians 12: 1-11; John 2: 1-11.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Introducing the readings:

The readings for Sunday next continue the exploration of the great themes of Epiphany. The Greek word ἐπιφάνεια (epipháneia) means ‘manifestation,’ or ‘striking appearance.’ It is an experience of sudden and striking realisation, and in classical drama and literature it often describes the visit of a god to earth.

The feast of Christ’s divinity completes the feast of his humanity. It fulfils all our Advent longing for the king who comes in power and majesty. While Christmas has been the family feast of Christianity, Epiphany is the great world feast of the Church.

Epiphany as a feast finds its origins in the celebrations of the Eastern Church. Drawing on this Eastern theme, one American writer (Elsa Chaney, The Twelve Days of Christmas, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1955) has said Epiphany ‘is like a rich Oriental tapestry in which the various themes are woven and interwoven – now to be seen in their historical setting, again to be viewed from a different vantage point in their deep mystical significance.’

The great, significant Epiphany themes, narrated in the lectionary Gospel readings this year (Year C) over a three-week period, are:

● The Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12, 6 January 2019, The Epiphany);

● The Baptism of Christ (Luke 3: 17-17, 21-22, 13 February 2019, the First Sunday after Epiphany);

● The Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11, 20 January 2019, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany).

In each of these three events, Christ is manifest as God-incarnate at a point that marks the beginning of his ministry or his presence among us. It is the moment when we are caught off guard as we realise that this seemingly helpless new-born child, or this one among many in the team of visitors to John the Baptist at the Jordan, or this anonymous guest among many at a provincial wedding, is in fact the omnipotent God, the King and Ruler of the universe.

Our celebrations of Epiphany also mark the extension of Christ’s kingship to the whole world. The revelation of Christ to the three kings at Bethlehem is a symbol of his revelation to the whole of the Gentile world. Epiphany presents to us the calling of not merely a chosen few, but all nations to Christianity.

The theme of light is found throughout these Sundays after the Epiphany. During Advent, the world is in darkness, at Christmas the Light shines forth, and at Epiphany the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: ‘Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn’ (Isaiah 60: 3).

The star of Epiphany may be seen in many different lights. The three wise men have the courage to follow the light of the star on a journey that is hazardous. It is the same light that enlightens us at the Epiphany so that we realise who Christ is for us and for the world.

But the Epiphany stories also have a built-in thread or reminder of return:

● The three kings return to their own country, albeit by another road, yet carrying to all they return to (see Matthew 2: 12).

● After his Baptism, Christ goes into wilderness (see Matthew 4: 1) and then withdraws to Galilee to begin his ministry (see Matthew 4: 12; Mark 1: 14; Luke 3: 23; John 1: 43).

● After the wedding at Cana, Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples (see John 2: 12).

So, the feast of the Epiphany is linked with the call to return to the world with the message of the kingdom of God.

The Gospel reading for Sunday next (20 January 2019) takes up the third of the great themes of Epiphany, the wedding feast or royal banquet. The wedding at Cana suggests Christ’s wedding with the Church.

The wise men represent not only the three Magi adoring the Christ Child over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, but also represent the Gentile world hurrying to the wedding feast at the end of time when humanity’s wedding with the divine Bridegroom is celebrated. The gold, frankincense and myrrh they bring are not only presents for the Child-King, but royal wedding gifts for the mystical marriage feast of heaven.

Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim (John 2: 7) … two large jars or pithoi at the Minoan palace in Knossos, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Isaiah 62: 1-5:

The setting and context for this reading is the time after Persia has conquered Babylon and has allowed the people of Israel to return to a small parcel of land around Jerusalem.

The land is ravished, and after their initial joy evaporates, the people feel that God has ceased caring for them.

In earlier chapters, the prophet has spoken of a new Zion, of a renewed city and of a renewed people. The new Jerusalem will be built by foreigners (Isaiah 61: 5). People will be more faithful to God. And God will establish a pact with the people that will last forever.

Now, either the prophet or God tells of the cleansing of Israel’s reputation (‘vindication,’ 62: 1). It will break forth with the suddenness of dawn in the desert: one moment is dark, the next moment is light. The image of Israel’s salvation as ‘a burning torch’ (verse 1) recalls the many torches lighting up the city on the Feast of Tabernacles.

And in this moment, Israel’s salvation is seen to the extent that ‘all the kings’ (verse 2, all nations) will see God’s glory and his power, reflected in and radiated by, Israel.

When God made a covenant with Abram, giving him new status as ‘ancestor of a multitude of nations’ (Genesis 17: 5), he changed his name to Abraham. So too will God’s people enjoy a new status. They will be a royal people (verse 3), protected by God.

Verse 4 tells us Israel’s new status. Israel will become God’s spouse.

God promises that no longer will he give Israel’s harvests to her enemies (verse 8), as punishment for disobedience. God will be seen to love Israel again: a truly joyous event.

Psalm 36: 5-10:

The Psalm portion (Psalm 36: 5-10) speaks of the love of God and God’s faithfulness (verses 5, 10), God’s message to all people (verse 7 ‘all mortal flesh’) and all creation (verse 6), the light of God (verse 10). In a sermon you might even find a connection with the Gospel story in the waters of the well of Life (verse 9).

I Corinthians 12: 1-11:

The Epistle reading (I Corinthians 12: 1-11) talks too of gifts of the Spirit, which you might link with the gifts the Wise Men bring, the gifts the guests must have brought to the wedding at Cana, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan.

The Wedding at Cana … a modern icon

John 2: 1-11:

Chapter 1 of Saint John’s Gospel introduces us to a new creation, a new creation that is in Christ. After the Prologue, there are six days in this new creation, and now we come to Day Seven.

What did God do on the Seventh Day in the account of creation in the Book Genesis? God rested. And now that we have arrived at Day Seven in the opening week of Saint John’s Gospel, we come to the Day that Christ rests with his disciples, and to a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet, which is the completion of God’s creation. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19: 9).

Seven has a symbolic meaning or significance in this Gospel. This is the first of the seven miraculous signs by which John attests to Christ’s divine status. This Gospel is structured around these signs, and the word used by John is unique. He uses the Greek word σημεῖον (semeion, ‘sign,’ or ἔργον, ergon, meaning ‘work’), instead of the term the Synoptic writers normally use for miracle, δύναμις (dynamis, meaning act of power).

This is the first of the Seven Signs, which are:

1. Turning water into wine (2: 1-12);
2. Healing the royal official’s son (4: 46-54), also at Cana;
3. Healing the paralysed man at Bethesda (5: 1-9);
4. Feeding the 5,000 (6: 1-14);
5. Walking on water (6: 15-24);
6. Healing the blind man (9: 1-7);
7. The raising of Lazarus (11: 17-45).

These are completed then by the Greatest Sign, the Resurrection (see 2:18-22).

The seven signs are interspersed with long dialogues and discourses, including the seven ‘I AM’ sayings. In these discourses, Jesus identifies himself with symbols of major significance. There are seven ‘I AM’ statements:

1. I AM the Bread of Life (6: 35);
2. I AM the Light of the World (8: 12);
3. I AM the door of the sheep (10: 7);
4. I AM the Good Shepherd (10: 11);
5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11: 25);
6. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14: 6);
7. I AM the True Vine (15: 1).

In addition, there are Seven Witnesses:

1. John the Baptist (1: 34);
2. Nathaniel (1: 49);
3. Peter (6: 69);
4. Christ (10: 36) – the Central and Greatest witness;
5. Martha (11: 27);
6. Thomas (20: 28);
7. John the Beloved Disciple (20: 31).

And so the first of the seven signs comes on the seventh of the seven days that introduce the Gospel.

‘On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee’ (John 2: 1) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The significance of Cana

In Chapter 1, Christ promises the new disciples that he would show them his glory … this morning we see that promise fulfilled in the first sign, at the wedding in Cana.

The image of the Lamb of God in this Gospel was like a triptych, with the two Johns – John the Baptist at the beginning of the Gospel, and John the Beloved Disciple at the end – as witnesses to who the Lamb of God is. In a similar way, Galilee acts as a geographical enclosure for Christ’s disclosure: Galilee is the first place to behold Christ’s glory, as we see in this story; and Galilee will be the last place to behold his glory, as we see with the post-Resurrection stories in Chapter 21, and there too we also come across Cana and Nathanael.

The bride arrives for a Mediterranean wedding in Amalfi in Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Summary of story

While Christ is attending the wedding in Cana with his disciples, the hosts run out of wine. The mother of Jesus tells him: ‘They have no more wine.’ And Jesus replies: ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.’

His mother then says to the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you’ (2: 5).

Jesus orders the servants to fill the empty containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief waiter. After tasting the water that had become wine, and not knowing what Christ has done, he remarks to the bridegroom that he has departed from the custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last (verses 6-10). John then tells us: ‘This was the first miracle of Jesus and it was performed to reveal his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him’ (verse 11).

This miracle is not mentioned in any of the other three Gospels, although it has parallels with the parable of the New Wine and Old Wineskins.

In the Old Testament, we read promises that there will be an abundance of wine in the time of the Messiah (Genesis 27: 27-28; 49: 10-12; Amos 9: 13-14), especially at the wedding feasts (see Isaiah 62: 4-5). The wine in this story represents the overflowing and abundant blessings of God coming to fruition.

The Wedding at Cana … a modern icon

Verse 1:

On the third day: this is not to distract us from the significance of this being the seventh day, but remember that Christ rose on the Third Day. We are to read this story with the benefit of the hindsight of Resurrection faith.

I had a cousin-by-marriage who delighted in the spoiling prank of going down the queues outside the cinemas in Oxford when Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw was first showing in 1970 and saying to each person in turn: ‘She dies in the end.’ But you cannot spoil the reader of the Fourth Gospel by telling him or her: ‘He dies in the end.’ That is not the end, and this first sign prepares us, in a way, for the greatest of all signs, beyond the seventh sign.

Cana was a small village about 12 km north-west of Nazareth.

‘… and the mother of Jesus was there.’ Mary is never named in this Gospel.

Verse 2:

Jesus and his disciples have been invited, together. We don’t know who the bride and groom were. But at weddings new families are formed. No-one is ever the same again. Brothers become brothers-in-law, sisters become sisters-in-law, mothers become mothers-in-law. New families, new bonds of kinship are created. I wonder who was seated with the groom’s family, and who with the bride’s family. Perhaps they were all related in some distant way.

Christ’s arrival shows us that we are all part of God’s family. As the Caroline Divine Lancelot Andrewes puts it, Jesus became our half-brother in his fleshly birth to Mary, and adopted us to the Father, and full brotherhood, in his resurrection!

Verse 3:

Note that Mary does not make a request here – she simply observes or passes comment on a matter of fact in her conversation with her son. They have no wine. She is not asking for a miracle.

Verse 4:

It sounds at first as though Jesus is being dismissive, almost as if he is telling his mother to go away and to not bother him. But when Jesus calls his mother ‘Woman’ it is not a dismissive or derogatory term, but a term of great respect, as it is again at the Crucifixion, when he says: ‘Woman, here is your son’ (see 19: 26).

Nevertheless, the hour of his self-disclosure was determined not by Mary’s desire but by God. And that hour, ultimately, is the only other time when John mentions Mary, when Christ is on the Cross.

As we have been comparing these seven days with the first seven days in Genesis, then we can compare the role of the woman in the garden (Eve), who is the man’s companion, with the role of the woman at the wedding feast. Once again, there is the balance between eating and drinking, between being sent out into the world, and being called back to the fullness of the heavenly banquet.

Verse 5:

There is a resigned tone to Mary’s voice. She accepts whatever her Son may say, even if it is not going to turn out to be what she expected. What did she expect? What did she know at this stage? What did she think her Son could say or would do? Notice the connection made here between saying and doing, just as this Gospel also makes the connection between seeing and believing.

Verse 6:

The six stone jars contained water for rites of purification. These were ceremonial rites, not hygienic rites. But each jar contained 20 or 30 gallons, so we’re talking about 180 gallons of wine – roughly speaking, in today’s terms, 1,091 bottles of wine. And because the wine was so good (see 9-10) in those days it would then have water added to it, and this may have double the amount – so perhaps up to 1,500 or 2,000 bottles of wine by today’s reckoning. It was enough to ensure they partied for days, and weddings in the Eastern Mediterranean do go on for days.

Verse 7:

Jesus says … and they do.

Why do you think the servants obeyed Mary and then obeyed Jesus?

And why was the steward not in control of what was going on at this stage?

Was he hiding in embarrassment?

Had he headed off to buy some more wine?

Had that been a failed venture, like the disciples later fail to come back with food when they are sent to Sychar (see John 4)?

Verse 8:

The steward (ἀρχιτρίκλινος, architriklinos) was the superintendent of the dining room, a table master. He was different from the toast-master, who was one of the guests selected by lot to prescribe to the rest the mode of drinking. The table-master was to place in order the tables and the couches, arrange the courses, taste the food and wine beforehand, and so on.

Notice the role of similar people in other Gospel stories. Here and in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 2-14), the attendants have the role of deacon (διάκονος, diákonos), a waiter, one who executes the commands of another, especially of the master or the architriklinos (ἀρχιτρίκλινος).

The word for the unjust steward (Luke 16: 1-8) is οἰκονόμος (oykonomos), the manager of a household or of household affairs who was free-born or a freed-man who was delegated oversight.

We can see here the parallels with the ministry of bishop and priest and of deacon later in the New Testament. Who does the steward at Cana have parallels with?

The wine gives out (verse 3).

Why do you think this happens?

Because everyone has had too much to drink?

Because the groom, as he ought to in that tradition, did not buy in enough wine?

Or, because the groom had bought enough wine, but someone was siphoning it off, hoping everyone would be too drunk to notice?

Embarrassing, yes. But for whom?

Certainly for Mary, she takes action immediately. You can just picture her as the concerned aunt, like so many aunts at a wedding, not wanting her nephew or his new wife to be embarrassed.

But not for Jesus.

And not for the servants either. They seem to have done just what they were told to do.

Wine fraud is one of the oldest frauds in the world. Perhaps the finger of suspicion points at the chief steward, the master of the feast, the architríklinos (ἀρχιτρίκλινος) in verses 8-10.

He has not been paying attention to what has been going on. At best, he has been negligent, at worst he was complicit, perhaps even the organiser.

Have the newly-wed couple and their guests, and their servants too, been the victims of a smart con trick by the chief steward?

Is he inefficient? Does he not realise what’s going on? Did he not buy all the wine that he charged for? Or, perhaps, has he been siphoning off the wine?

He is certainly not a model of probity as a wedding planner. Perhaps he is avoiding some potentially tough questions when he claims dismissively: ‘Everyone serves the good wine first’ (verse 10).

That is patently not so. And he never even asks where the wine comes from. He just accepts that it’s there. Perhaps he suspects he has been caught out.

Verse 9:

As I was preparing these notes, I just thought about those words from the Psalmist: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 34: 8).

Verse 10:

See how the steward shifts responsibility to the bridegroom. But the truth is that the good wine has been kept until now. Now the best of God’s promises are about to be fulfilled

Verse 11:

The miracles were not wonders to astound, but were signs pointing to Christ’s glory and God’s presence in him. This is the first of the signs. For the second sign see John 4: 46-54.

Verse 12, the Missing Verse:

When the wedding is over, Jesus heads back to Capernaum, which was on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. He goes there with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples. New relationships have been formed. Some of them go back as new brothers-in-law, perhaps one of the them was a new father-in-law. Christ calls us into new relationships, with him, with God the Father, and with one another. And in those new relationships, there are new expectations.

Frank Sinatra had a hit in 1964 with the song. The best is yet to come in 1964 and these are the words on his gravestone.

The Wedding at Cana, the Epiphany cycle of stories, the promise contained in the stories that compare wedding banquets with the Kingdom of God, all let us know that in God’s plans, in Christ’s hope, for ‘the little people’ who feel cheated and marginalised, ‘the best is yet to come.’

As for that wedding at Cana, as with all good stories, you might well ask: Did they live happy ever after?

Well, the lectionary compilers end this story at verse 11. But the next verse, verse 12, says:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days (Μετὰ τοῦτο κατέβη εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ αὐτὸς καὶ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ [αὐτοῦ] καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐκεῖ ἔμειναν οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας).

They go to the wedding together, and they go back together, but things have changed. After the wedding, someone is a new brother-in-law, a new sister-in-law, is going to be a new aunt or a new uncle. In time to come, a new family is structured.

It was a long walk back: 18 miles or 27 km, and in the conditions of the time it would have taken a good day’s walk.

What did they talk about on the long day’s walk?

Was that your cousin?

Is she your new sister-in-law?

Who did he dance with?

Will they fall in love?

Are they really in love?

When we publicly show our love for one another, when we form new families, when we allow the ripples of love to spread out in ways that we cannot control, in ways in which we lose control, then we are truly partners in creating the Kingdom of God.

Even if the couple at Cana broke up afterwards, grandparents would continue to share the same grandchildren.

We make family at weddings, but we cannot control family. Already, I have an invitation to a family weddings later this year. But I have no say over who my brothers-in-law are, who my nieces or nephews marry, and I certainly have no say about who my grandparents were, the decisions they made or the way they behaved. And that is so for the generations to come too.

I imagine the Kingdom of God is like that. Those who are invited to the heavenly banquet are going to include people I at first may be uncomfortable to sit with at the same table. But I am not the host, I am the guest, and the invitations are sent out into the side-streets and the alleyways (Matthew 22: 9-10). ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19: 9).

I cannot choose who is invited to the wedding, but I can accept the invitation to the meal, and the invitation to be part of the new family, the kingdom.

And if we accept the invitation, we have no right to pick and choose, to discriminate against my fellow guests, to cheat them out of their place at the table, to refuse to eat and drink with them.

In the Kingdom of God, ‘the best is yet to come.’

Waiting for the banquet at sunset on the beach in Rethymnon in Crete … in the Kingdom of God, ‘the best is yet to come.’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Two final notes:

1, The Bridegroom’s Crown:

There are two types of crowns in the New Testament: στέφανος (stéphanos) and διάδημα (diádema).

The στέφανος is the victor’s crown or wreath at games and feasts (see I Corinthians 9: 24-25; Galatians 2: 2; Philippians 3: 14; II Timothy 2: 5; I Peter 5: 4). But it is also used, for example, in the following contexts and passages:

● Christ’s crown of thorns (Matthew 27: 29; Mark 15: 17; John 19: 2, 5);
● humanity crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews. 2: 7);
●Christ crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2: 9);
● Saint Paul’s crowned believers (Philippians 4: 1; I Thessalonians 2: 19);
● the Twenty-Four Elders (Revelation 4: 4 ff, 10 ff);
● the rider on the white horse (Revelation 6: 2 ff);
● the locusts from the abyss (Revelation 9: 7);
● the woman with twelve stars (Revelation 12: 1 ff);
● the one like the Son of Man (Revelation 14: 14 ff).

Στέφανος is also the crown used at a wedding.

The diadem (διάδημα) is a royal crown, and is used, for example, in the following passages:

● The crowns on the seven heads of the fiery red dragon (Revelation 12: 3 ff);
●The crowns on the ten horns of the beast rising up from the sea (Revelation. 13: 1 ff);
● The crown on the head of the one called Faithful and True (Revelation 19: 12 ff).

However, it is significant that when Christ’s royalty and kingship is being referred to (see Matthew 27: 29; Mark 15: 17; John 19: 2, 5), the word crown used is stéphanos (στέφανος) and not diádema (διάδημα). He is crowned with the crown of the victor and the bridegroom.

When we make connections between the wedding at Cana and the wedding in Isaiah 62, how do we present Christ as crowned groom and victor?

2, The end of the story:

I have long wondered why the Gospel reading on Sunday (John 2: 1-11) ends at verse 11, and does not include verse 12. The gifts that Christ brings to the wedding at Cana are overshadowed by the generous outpouring of wine that allows the wedding to continue, just as the story of his Baptism by John in the Jordan is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit who hovers over the waters as a reminder of a new creation.

But the other miracle at Cana is the formation of new families. Someone becomes a new father-in-law, a new sister-in-law, eventually a new grandmother, a new uncle.

The fruit of the vine becomes the wine; the fruit of the wedding is a new family. The new family in the banquet with Christ though is that family that comes to live with him in verse 12 – not just his mother and brothers, but his disciples too. We become a new and renewed family around the table at the banquet.

Some questions:

Can you see the three major narratives of the Epiphany season reflected in this reading:

● The visit of the kings representing the nations of the earth (see verses 2 and 3)?

● Baptism and new life (see verses 4-5)?

● Wedding and heavenly banquet (through each verse)?

Can you see the three major themes of the Epiphany season reflected in this reading:

● Light (verse 1)?

● Return (the setting and context of the reading)?

● Wedding or heavenly banquet (verses 4-5)?

Empty tables waiting for the wedding banquet … the Gospel reading for Sunday next takes up the third of the great themes of Epiphany – the wedding feast is the royal banquet (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 2: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6 Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

[12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there for a few days.]

‘The Wedding Feast at Cana’ (1670-1672), by Jan Steen (1626-1679), The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

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

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with bread from heaven.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Blessing:

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

Finding good wine to serve at the end of the meal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested hymns:

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

Isaiah 62: 1-5:

638, O for a heart to praise my God
528, The Church’s one foundation

Psalm 36: 5-10:

6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
553, Jesu, lover of my soul

I Corinthians 12: 1-11:

294, Come down, O love divine
408, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest
297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
318, Father, Lord of all creation
312, Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost
91, He is Lord, he is Lord
299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
421, I come with joy, a child of God
96, Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it
301, Let every Christian pray
102, Name of all majesty
306, O Spirit of the living God
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
307, Our great Redeemer, as he breathed
440, One bread, one body, one Lord of all
313, The Spirit came as promised
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

John 2: 1-11:

197, Songs of thankfulness and praise
445, Soul, array thyself with gladness
528, The Church’s one foundation
448, The trumpets sound, the angels sing

A wedding in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (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. http://nrsvbibles.org