Monday, 29 April 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 5 May 2019,
Third Sunday of Easter

Would you recognise Jesus on the beach that Easter morning? (see John 21: 4) … the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 5 May 2019, is the Third Sunday of Easter (Easter III).

The Readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are:

The Readings: Acts 9: 1-6, (7-20) or Jeremiah 32: 36-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5: 11-14; John 21: 1-19.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Three readings and three questions:

In my approach to the three principal readings next Sunday, I find myself asking three questions before looking at the three questions Christ asks in the Gospel reading:

Acts 9: 1-6 [7-20]:

Question 1, What is your idea of fame?

The Apostle Paul, who at first found it difficult to recognise Christ (Act 9: 5), later describes Christ as the image of the invisible God (II Corinthians 4: 4; Colossians 1: 15; c.f. John 1: 18, 12: 45, 14: 9; Hebrews 1: 3), he is an icon or an image of God.

When I was a child, just as I was about to become a teenager, I became a keen autograph collector.

My uncle, who was my godfather, bought me an autograph book, and I set about eagerly seeking the autographs of great footballers, pop singers, movie stars – and my first girlfriend and my school friends – in the early 1960s.

The pop stars stopped being No 1 hits just as my taste in music matured. The footballers aged as I became more interested in rugby and cricket. The movie stars’ fame faded as my interests shifted to literature and poetry. My first girlfriend lost interest in me. I moved town, changed schools, lost touch with many childhood friends, and I lost that autograph book about the same time.

But I remember basking in the light of Bobbie Charlton and Brendan Bowyer for a few weeks in my old schoolyard. I suppose I saw it as a sort of vicarious fame.

And I don’t suppose we stop behaving like that as adults with our own adult versions of autograph-hunting: asking authors to sign books … as if they had given them to us personally; standing in for ‘selfies’ with the good and the great … not that visitors looking at our photographs at home could ever imagine I am a personal friend of so many Popes or Patriarchs, Poets or Presidents.

But who do you want to be photographed with, and who will want to be photographed with you?

Who do you recognise, and who recognises you?

If I encountered the Risen Christ in this post-Easter season, would I, like Paul in our first reading, fall to the ground blinded, and ask, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ (see Acts 9: 5)

Would you recognise Jesus on that seashore that Easter morning?

Where do you see Jesus this morning?

I am in Crete in this week after Easter, enjoying walks each day along the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon. But even here, I wonder: Where do the refugees see Jesus when they land on the shores of more distant Greek islands such as Lesbos and Samos?

I certainly hope they see the love of Jesus in the work of mission agencies such as USPG and other church groups and humanitarian organisations, working with local people to help them in their plight.

When these refugees look at those workers on those islands, I hope they see the image of Christ, the likeness of the Lamb, an image of the Good Shepherd.

The Lamb of God in a Trinitarian depiction in a stained-glass window in a church in Charleville, Co Cork … see Revelation 5: 11-14 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Revelation 5: 11-14

Question 2, What is your idea of heaven?

As we continue reading the Book of Revelation, we read how Saint John in exile on Patmos catches a glimpse of the heavenly future when he looks up and hears the angels gathered around the lamb on the throne and singing:

‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’

There are places I go to regularly, that are part of my life story, and that I often think give me a little glimpse of what heaven must be like: the road out from Cappoquin towards the Vee, past my grandmother’s farm; the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, under a star-filled night sky in summer; the banks of the Slaney, between Bunclody and Enniscorthy, or further down as the river flows into Wexford Harbour; the beaches of Ballinskelligs, Ballybunion, Dingle, Beal and West Clare, and the banks of the Shannon, which I have got to know since I moved to this diocese; the road from Iraklion to Rethymnon in Crete, facing the sun as it sets in the Mediterranean, and where I am spending this post-Easter week.

But what is your idea of heaven? … Fishing, Golf, Horses, a day’s sailing?

The refugees who arrive on European shores are fleeing their own hell on earth. Are they going to catch a glimpse of heaven on earth when they arrive?

Or do they find we have priorities other than the Kingdom of God?

‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some [fish]’ (John 21: 6) … a fishing boat with its nets on deck at the harbour in Panormos, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 21: 1-19:

Question 3, What do you mean by success?

The disciples on that Sunday morning are not very successful, are they (John 21: 3)? So unsuccessful are they that they are willing to take advice from someone they do not even recognise (verse 4 ff).

The disciples are at the Sea of Galilee or Sea of Tiberias, back at their old jobs as fishermen. Peter, who denied Christ three times during his Passion, Thomas, who had initially doubted the stories of the Resurrection (see John 20: 24-29), Nathanael, who once wondered whether anything good could come from Nazareth (see John 1: 46), James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who once wanted to be so close to him that they wanted to be seated at his right hand and his left in the kingdom, and two other disciples who remain unnamed … how about that for fame, lasting recognition and success?

They are back on the same shore where there once was so many fish, so much bread left over after feeding the multitude, that they filled 12 baskets (John 6: 1-13). There’s not so much fish around this time, at first. But then John tells us that after Christ arrives 153 fish were caught that morning (verse 11).

This number is probably a symbol meaning a complete number. The number 153 is divisible by the sum of its own digits, and it is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of cubes of its digits, since 153 = 13 + 53 + 33. Aristotle is said to have taught that there were 153 different species of fish in the Mediterranean.

Whatever they say, the disciples must have thought they had managed the perfect catch that morning.

But the perfect catch was Christ – and, of course, they were the perfect catch for him too. When they came ashore once again he invites them to share bread and fish, to dine with the Risen Lord (21: 12-13).

To eat with the Risen Lord and to invite others to the Heavenly Banquet, so that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea can say ‘Amen’ before the Throne of God … now that’s what I call success (Revelation 5: 11-14).

On the shore after daybreak, Christ breaks bread with the disciples and asks three searching questions of Peter

The three questions Christ asks:

Those are my three questions. But Christ has three questions that he puts to Peter this morning. They appear a little confused or repetitive in most English translations, but the difference is clear in the original Greek.

In his first two questions to Peter, Christ uses the verb ἀγαπάω (agapáo).

CS Lewis talks in one of his books of The Four Loves:

The first, στοργή (storgé), is the affection of familiarity; the second is φιλία (philía), the strong bond between close friends; the third, ἔρως (eros), he identifies not with eroticism but with the word we use when we say we are in love with someone; and the fourth love is ἀγάπη (agápe), the love that takes no account of my own interests, that loves no matter what happens – it is the greatest of loves, it reflects the love of God.

Perhaps, the first time, Christ asks: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than you and your friends love one another but in the way God loves you?’ (John 21: 15).

But Peter is either evasive or misses the point, and answers with a different verb: φιλέω (phileo): ‘I’m fond of you, I like you like a brother, I agree with you. I’m OK, you’re OK’ (verse 15).

‘OK,’ says Christ, ‘feed the little ones the Good Shepherd welcomes into the fold’ (verse 15).

Then a second time, we can imagine him asking more simply: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me the way God loves you?’ (verse 16).

But Peter once again misses the point, and answers with the verb φιλέω (phileo): ‘I’m fond of you, I like you like a brother, I agree with you. I’m OK, you’re OK’ (verse 16).

‘OK,’ says Christ, ‘look after those in the flock the Good Shepherd tends’ (verse 16).

But then he asks a third question: ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ (verse 17).

Our English translations say Peter was upset, felt hurt, when Christ asked him a third time. We might be tempted to think this is because he was asked the same question repetitively, three times, that his answer was not listened to the first or second time round.

But this third time, Christ asks a different question, using Peter’s verb φιλέω (phileo), as if to ask: ‘OK Peter, do you love me as your brother?’ (verse 17).

This time around, Peter replies using the same word Christ uses in his third question. But, more importantly, he confesses Jesus as Lord (verse 17), as Lord of everything. This confession of faith comes the third time round from the disciple who earlier denied Christ three times (see John 18). And Christ then asks him to feed the whole flock, all the sheep of the Good Shepherd, lambs, ewes, lost ones, found ones, the whole lot (21: 17).

The disciples do not recognise Jesus as he stands on the beach just after daybreak (verse 4). Paul fails to recognise Christ – even when he falls from his horse he calls out: ‘Who are you?’ (Acts 9: 5). But despite their initial blindness, their initial failings, their initial denials, God continues to call them.

And so too with us. God calls us in all our unworthiness to feed his lambs, to tend his sheep, to feed his sheep, not just the little ones, not just the big ones.

Do you love him enough, as he loves you, to see this as enough fame to bask in?

Do you love him enough to feed his little ones when others want to ignore them, despise them, call them racist names, see their children as extra added burdens, want to send them back?

Do you love him enough to see this as the benchmark against which you and I, society, the Church, priests and people together, all we are involved in, mark how we relate to the myriads and myriads, the thousands and thousands, to all living life?

Mending the nets on a fishing boat in the harbour in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 21: 1-19 (NRSVA):

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6 He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

The Lamb of God on the throne (see Revelation 5: 11-13) … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: White

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

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

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

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

The Lamb of God in a depiction in a stained-glass window in a church in Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Acts 9: 1-6 (7-20):

460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2a, 3)
13, God moves in a mysterious way
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky
591, O happy day that fixed my choice
625, Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
605, Will you come and follow me

Jeremiah 32: 36-41:

80, Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father

Psalm 30:

554, Lord Jesus, think on me
592, O Love that wilt not let me go
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
528, The Church’s one foundation

Revelation 5: 11-14:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
346, Angel voices ever singing
261, Christ, above all glory seated
332, Come, let us join our cheerful songs
263, Crown him with many crowns
351, From all that dwell below the skies
694, Glory, honour, endless praises
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven
331, God reveals his presence
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
697, Great and wonderful your deeds
268, Hail, thou once–despisèd Jesus
269, Hark ten thousand voices sounding
221, Hark! the voice of love and mercy
700, Holy God, we praise thy name
355, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
468, How shall I sing that majesty
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
99, Jesus, the name high over all
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
276, Majesty! worship his majesty!
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
232, Nature with open volume stands
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
474, Such a host as none can number
678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
323, The God of Abraham praise
376, Ye holy angels bright
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

John 21: 1-19:

608, Be still and know that I am God
219, From heav’n you came, helpless babe
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
226, It is a thing most wonderful
583, Jesu, my Lord, my God, my all
101, Jesus, the very thought of thee
229, My God, I love thee; not because
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
605, Will you come and follow me

Fishing boats at the harbour in Dingle, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

Monday, 22 April 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 28 April 2019,
Easter 2 (Low Sunday)

Carravagio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next [28 April 2019] is the Second Sunday of Easter, often known as Low Sunday.

The Readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are:

The Readings: Acts 5: 27-32 or Job 42: 1-6; Psalm 118: 14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1: 4-8; John 20: 19-31.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Introduction:

The Second Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Low Sunday. In the past this Sunday has also been known as Saint Thomas Sunday, because the Gospel reading recalls the story of ‘Doubting Thomas,’ and also as ‘Quasimodo Sunday’ or Quasimodogeniti.

The name Quasimodo comes from the Latin, quasi modo (‘as if in [this] manner’) and the text of the traditional Introit for this day, which begins: Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite, ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus, ‘As newborn babes desire the rational milk without guile, Rejoice to God our helper. Sing aloud to the God of Jacob’ (see I Peter 2: 2).

In other words, the Resurrection has given us the gift and the promise of new birth.

In many places, this Sunday is known as Low Sunday. Some say it was called ‘Low Sunday’ because today’s liturgy is something of an anti-climax after the solemn Easter liturgy and celebrations a week earlier. Some even joke that today is known as Low Sunday because this is the Sunday choirs take off after their hard work during Holy Week and Easter.

In the Eastern Churches, this day is known as Thomas Sunday, because of the dramatic story about the Apostle Thomas in our Gospel reading on this morning.

This posting looks at the Lectionary readings, and also offers an alternative reflection, built around the theme that next Sunday is also known as Quasimodo Sunday.

Acts 5: 27-32:

In the previous chapter in the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter and Saint John were arrested and ordered not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But the Sanhedrin did not punish them, they were freed, and they returned to the Temple to preach.

Once again, they are arrested and brought before the council (verse 27). Now the high priest says the apostles are determined to place the blame for Jesus’ death on the religious authorities (verse 28). Peter and the apostles reply, insisting they must obey God rather than any human power (verse 29).

They explain that God has raised the crucified Jesus from the dead. They are witnesses to these things and through the gif of the Holy Spirit they have been obedient in proclaiming these truth (verses 30-32).

‘The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone’ (Psalm 118: 22) ... a cross cut into a cornerstone in the main church in the Monastery of Vlatádon in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 118: 14-29:

A portion of this Psalm was one of the readings available the previous Sunday too, on Easter Day (Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24).

The second half of Psalm 118 praises God for his deliverance and salvation.

We can read an Easter theme back into this song, where the Psalmist expresses his faith that:

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death (Psalm 118: 17-18).

Now he can enter the Temple (verse 19) to give thanks to God (verse 20). He has suffered greatly, but God has preserved his life.

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone’ (Psalm 118: 22).

In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter speaks after his arrest to the Sanhedrin of the Risen Christ, describing him as ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; [he] has become the cornerstone’ (Acts 4: 11). Saint Paul too refers to Christ as ‘the cornerstone’ (see Ephesians 2: 20).

Once again, we are reminded, Easter is a time to rejoice and be glad.

‘Praise him all ye angels of his’ ... singing angels in a window in Saint Lachtain’s Church, Freshford, Co Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 150:

The Psalms end with a psalm that gives praise to God (Psalm 150), beginning and ending with ‘Hallelujah!’ – a phrase that is more powerful than the translation ‘Praise to the Lord!’ (Psalm 150: 1, 6), which seems almost insipid as we rejoice in the Easter joys of the Resurrection.

This psalm also calls on the hosts of heaven to praise God throughout the universe. He is to be praised for his mighty deeds and his great goodness. And in praising God we are to use every instrument available to us.

Easter should be the most joyful of all times.

An icon of Saint John the Divine in the cave on Patmos listening to the voice that tells him to write

Revelation 1: 4-8:

For the next few weeks, for the six Sundays from this Sunday (Easter II, 28 April 2019) to the Sunday after Ascension Day (Easter VII, 2 June 2019), the RCL invites us to explore the Book of Revelation through a selection of readings. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce parishes to this book, and to spend a few weeks introducing parishioners to the riches of this book, one of the great pieces of literature.

The Book of Revelation is often feared, regarded as a work full of apocalyptic imagery that we shy away from with our modern mindsets. Yet, if we leave it aside, we not only miss out on a captivating piece of Biblical literature, full of poetry, drama, imagery and challenge, we also leave it those who misinterpret it and misuse it to bolster what are frankly weird and marginal religious and theological views, or for those who have extreme religious views.

Yet it is a wonderful aspect of Biblical literature that the Bible should open with the account of creation in the Book Genesis, and close with the beautiful description in the Book of Revelation of God’s plans for that creation – God’s plans for a New Heaven and a New Earth.

The Book of Revelation is also known as the Revelation to John, the Apocalypse of John (Greek, Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου), or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The title on some of the earliest manuscripts is ‘The Apocalypse of John’ (Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου), and the most common title on later manuscripts is ‘The Apocalypse of the Theologian’ (Ἀποκάλυψις τοῦ Θεολόγου). Some later manuscripts add Evangelist or Apostle to the title.

The Greek word apocalypse literally means ‘unveiling,’ but in English it is often translated as revelation. The first words of the book are effectively self-titled: ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’

This is the last book of the New Testament, and the only New Testament book that is wholly composed of apocalyptic literature. It is a fitting close to the New Testament, and to the whole Bible, for it depicts the consummation towards which the whole Biblical message of redemption is focussed.

This book has been described as ‘an inspired picture-book,’ it draws on magnificent poetic imagery, and it makes a powerful appeal to imaginations of its readers.

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ (Revelation 1: 8) … the AΩ symbol in the centre of the altar designed by James Franklin Fuller in Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John begins and ends this book as a letter, written ‘to the seven churches that are in Asia’ (Revelation 1: 4), a Roman province in western Asia Minor or Anatolia, in what we know now as the west coast of Turkey. He begins by greeting the seven churches with a blessing of grace and peace, drawing on both Greek and Hebrew blessings, from the eternal God, who is, who was and who is to come.

The Crucified and Risen Christ has freed us from our sins, has made us a kingdom of priests serving God the Father, and he is coming again.

All this is proclaimed in the name of the Lord God, who is the Alpha (A) and the Omega (Ω) – the A to Z, as we might say today – the beginning and end of all things, the Lord God Almighty who is, who was, and who is to come.

For an introduction to and synopsis of the Book of Revelation prepared for students in 2010, visit HERE.

Patristic relics … Saint Thomas (centre) with Saint Onuphorius, covered with a fig leaf (left), and Saint Basil (right) in a cave church in Göreme in Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 19-31:

‘Peace be with you.’

‘Peace be with you.’

‘Peace be with you.’

We find this phrase three times in the Gospel reading for next Sunday. It is a phrase spoken by the Risen Christ three times, with a Trinitarian resonance that reminds us of the three times God says to Moses, ‘I am …’, or the three visitors who receive hospitality from Abraham and who remind him of God’s commitment to fulfilling his plan for all creation.

This phrase ‘peace be with you’ is a saying in the post-Easter story in Saint John’s Gospel that identifies the Risen Christ, now living in the Glory of the Trinity, in the same that the phrase ‘Be not afraid’ is phrase that identifies the Risen Christ in the post-Resurrection narrative in Saint Matthew's Gospel.

In some churches, are we too glib about that phase, ‘Peace be with you,’ when it comes to exchanging the sign of peace? We can be a little glib, not just with our handshake, but with what we are actually wishing each other, in our hearts.

The peace that Christ wishes his disciples is not the usual sort of peace that we often wish one another on Sunday mornings: Sometimes, on Sunday mornings, it has become yet another saying robbed of its real significance, with no more heart-filled meaning than the supermarket till operator who says, ‘Have a nice day, missing you already.’

The peace Christ is bringing to his disciples on this morning is not a cheap way of saying ‘Good morning.’ It is a peace that the Disciples sorely need. It is a peace that a deeply divided church needs. The Disciples have been sorely divided by the dramatic and traumatic events of the previous week or so. They know they are a deeply divided body of believers.

One of them has betrayed Jesus, perhaps sold him for a pocket full of coins. Why, there are even rumours that he has now run off and killed himself, or that he is speculating in property with the money.

Another, a most trusted disciple indeed, has denied Jesus, openly, not once, but three times, in public.

He and another disciple went to the grave on Sunday morning, but weren't quite sure of the significance of the open, empty tomb. Indeed, it took a woman to wake them up to the reality of what was taking place.

And yet another disciple is refusing to believe any of this at all. Was he calling us liars? Was he ever a true believer? Was he thinking of quitting? After all, he had not turned up for a few of the last meetings.

It is to this deeply divided body of Disciples that Christ comes, breaking through all the barriers, physical barriers and barriers of faith, and says to them, not once but three times, ‘Peace be with you.’ It is not a mere greeting. It is a wish, a prayer and a blessing for those Disciples. And it is a wish, a prayer, a blessing that Christ still has for his Church today.

We are still divided, separated from each other, in the same way as those early Disciples were separated and divided. These divisions are not necessarily along the old traditional fault-lines that once marked the separation between the different branches of the church: rather, they cross those barriers so that conservative Catholics and conservative Presbyterians find it easier to make common cause with each other than with other Catholics or other Presbyterians who hold more liberal views.

We are like those Disciples: mutually suspicious, thinking others may not have realised the full significance of the message of the Risen Christ; finding it easier to know how others have denied Christ than to face up to our own denials; demanding of others a proof of faith that we would not demand of ourselves.

Those divisions that were hurting and breaking the early Church could be compared, in many ways to the ways, to the divisions hurting and breaking the Anglican Communion. If we kept our eyes on the Risen Christ, rather than trying to make the worst of other’s intentions, then we might allow ourselves to see that the same Risen Christ breaks through all barriers, physical, geographical, spiritual, the barriers of time and space, and the barriers that separate liberals and conservatives, Protestant and Catholic, the radical and the Orthodox. The Risen Christ breaks through all those barriers and wants to gather us together into one, healed and whole body.

In life, how often do we fail to make the vital connection between appearances and deceptions on the one hand, and, on the other hand, between seeing and believing?

Quiet often, I think, this comes down to our different styles of learning and approaches to integrating information. How do you learn?

Think of how you go about learning yourself. Can you remember the latest gadget you bought? When you get a new car, or a new computer, do you first open the manual and read through the instructions carefully? Once you have read the handbook thoroughly and understand how all it works, you then get to work on your own.

Or perhaps you love buying flat-pack furniture, taking it home, and without ever looking at the instructions, figure out how to assemble it. Others, like me, get frustrated and end up with odd bits and pieces, but you see it as a challenge. Like a game of chess, you know that once all the pieces are placed correctly you are ready to move in and to win. The prize is that new coffee table or that new wardrobe.

And then there are those who prefer to have someone sit down beside them, show them how to do things, from switching on the new computer, to setting up passwords, folders and email accounts.

What sort of learners are Mary in the previous Sunday’s Resurrection story for Easter Day, Saint Thomas in this Gospel reading, and the other disciples in those readings?

For Mary, appearances could be deceiving. When she first saw the Risen Lord on Easter morning, she did not recognise him. She thought he was the gardener. But when he spoke to her she recognised his voice, and then wanted to hold on to him. From that moment of seeing and believing, she rushes off to tell the Disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Two of them, John the Beloved and Simon Peter, had already seen the empty tomb, but they failed to make the vital connection between seeing and believing. When they heard Mary’s testimony, they still failed to believe fully. They only believe when they see the Risen Lord standing among them, when he greets them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and when he shows them his pierced hands and side.

They had to see and to hear, they had to have the Master stand over them in their presence, before they could believe.

But Thomas the Twin, or Thomas Didymus, is missing from the group on that occasion. He has not seen and so he refuses to believe.

We can never be quite sure about Saint Thomas in this Gospel. After the death of Lazarus, he shows that he has no idea of the real meaning of death and resurrection when he suggests that the disciples should go to Bethany with Jesus: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11: 16). And while Saint Thomas saw the raising of Lazarus, what did he believe in? Could seeing ever be enough for a doubting Thomas to believe?

At the Last Supper, despite assurances from Christ, Thomas protests that he does not know what is happening (John 14: 5). He has been with Christ for three years, and still he does not believe or understand. Seeing and explanations are not enough for him.

On the first Easter Day, the Disciples locked themselves away out of fear. But where is Thomas? Is he fearless? Or is he foolish?

For a full week, Thomas is absent and does not join in the Easter experience of the remaining disciples. When they tell him what has happened, Thomas refuses to accept their stories of the resurrection. For him hearing, even seeing, are not enough.

Thomas wants to see, hear and touch. He wants to use all his learning faculties before he can believe this story. See, hear and touch – if they had manuals then as we now have, I am sure Thomas would have demanded a manual on the resurrection too.

His method of learning is to use all the different available approaches. He has heard, but he wants to see. When he sees, he wants to touch … he demands not only to touch the Risen Jesus, but to touch his wounds too before being convinced.

And so, for a second time within eight days, Christ came and stood among his disciples, and said: ‘Peace be with you.’

Do you recall how Mary was asked in the garden on Easter morning not to cling on to Christ? So why then is Thomas invited to touch him in the most intimate way? He is told to place his finger in Christ’s wounded hands and his hand in Christ’s pierced side.

Caravaggio has depicted this scene in his painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Yet we are never told whether Thomas actually touched those wounds. All we are told is that once he has seen the Risen Christ, Thomas simply professes his faith in Jesus: ‘My Lord and my God!’

In that moment, we hear the first expression of faith in the two natures of Christ, that he is both divine and human. For all his doubts, Thomas provides us with an exquisite summary of the apostolic faith.

Too often, perhaps, we talk about ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Instead, we might better call him ‘Believing Thomas.’ His doubting led him to question. But his questioning led to listening. And when he heard, he saw, perhaps he even touched. Whatever he did, he learned in his own way, and he came not only to faith but faith that for this first time was expressed in that eloquent yet succinct acknowledgment of Christ as both ‘My Lord and My God.’

Too often, in this world, we are deceived easily by the words of others and deceived by what they want us to see. Seeing is not always believing today. Hearing does not always mean we have heard the truth, as we know in Irish life and politics today. It is easy to deceive and to be deceived by a good presentation and by clever words.

Too often, we accept or judge people by their appearances, and we are easily deceived by the words of others because of their office or their privilege. But there are times when our faith, however simple or sophisticated, must lead us to ask appropriate questions, not to take everything for granted, and not to confuse what looks like being in our own interests with real beauty and truth.

If we are Disciples of the Risen Lord, then we cannot stay locked away in the Upper Room waiting for God to put everything right at the end of days. We must take courage from the Risen Christ, we must have an Easter faith that allows us to take to heart that message ‘Be not afraid,’ and go out with the message, ‘Peace be with you,’ a message that must be made real in the lives of our own section of the Church, throughout the wider Church, and that must have the power to transform the world we live in today.

This Sunday in Easter is traditionally called ‘Low Sunday.’ But we can be in high spirits because of the Risen Christ. ‘Peace be with you!’

‘Quasimodo Sunday’ takes its name from the Latin introit ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes ...,’ ‘Like new-born infants ...’

An alternative reflection on Quasimodo Sunday:

If you did not preach on Easter Day [21 April 2019] on the fire that destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris last week, you may appreciate an opportunity next Sunday to introduce this topic through a theme that is relevant to the traditions surrounding this ‘Low Sunday.’

In some places, including parts of France and Germany, the day is called ‘Quasimodo Sunday.’ The Latin introit for the day begins: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes ...,’ ‘Like new-born infants ...,’ words from I Peter 2: 2 reminding newly-baptised Christians and all baptised members of the Church that we have been renewed, like new-born infants, in the waters of Baptism.

Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame was originally published in French under the title Notre-Dame de Paris in 1831, and was translated into English by Frederic Shoberl in 1833 as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s bellringer, Quasimodo, the sad hero in Victor Hugo’s novel, was abandoned as a new-born baby in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on this Sunday, and so was given the name Quasimodo by Archdeacon Claude Frollo who found him.

Perhaps Quasimodo and his love for Esméralda would make a wonderful sermon topic for some, seeking to take a light touch to Sunday’s readings/

It is a story of how people are often judged, and judged wrongly, because of their looks, their clothes and their social status. Quasimodo is despised because of the large, ugly wart on his face and his disfigured body, and he is ridiculed for his inarticulate speech and for his deafness. And Esméralda fails to appreciate the true beauty and undying nature of the love Quasimodo offers her.

Esméralda, for her part, despite her beauty, her compassion and her talents, is despised because of her ethnic background, her manners and her clothes: those who see her first see her as a gypsy, and so is side-lined and objectified. You might expect an anchorite to be a holy woman, but even Sister Gudele, figuratively representing the Church, curses the gypsy girl who is her true daughter, while Archdeacon Frollo’s all-consuming lust and desire for Esméralda run contrary to the ideals of his ministry and the mission of the Church.

Yet, there is a hint at the Easter theme in this story: Phoebus is not dead, Esméralda is put on trial and sentenced to death unjustly, and is saved from death by Quasimodo. In the end, despite its sadness, it is love and not death that has the final triumph in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Victor Hugo may be a little old-fashioned today, but Quasimodo and Esméralda have important lessons and values for us today. Beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, and seeing is not always believing. Quasimodo may appear to be ugly, but his love is pure and has an eternal quality. Esméralda appears to be beautiful, but those who are stirred to passion on seeing her put little value on love, respect and inner integrity.

In our society today, are we easily deceived by appearances?

Do we confuse what pleases me with beauty and with truth?

Do we allow those who have power to define the boundaries of trust and integrity merely to serve their own interests?

Are we are happy to live in a society where a fiscal lack of accountability on the part of politicians, and where obvious obfuscation are accepted instead of honest explanation or confession, as long as my future continues to look prosperous and I continue to be guaranteed a slice of the economic cake?

But appearances often deceive. Those who appear to be ugly are not so due to any fault or sinfulness, and they are often gentle and good-at-heart. Those who appear to be beautiful may threaten our personal confidence and security. And those who appear to guarantee economic, social or political stability may simply be serving their own needs and interests – as Esméralda finds out with Captain Phoebus and the jealous Archdeacon Frollo.

As I asked in the reflection on the Gospel reading, how often in life do we fail to make the vital connection between appearances and deceptions on the one hand, and, on the other hand, between seeing and believing?

For an Easter Day sermon on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris visit HERE.

A cross shines above the High Altar through the smoke and dust after the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with the Pietà or statue of the ‘Descent from the Cross’ (1725) … a photograph by Christophe Petit Tesson

John 20: 19-31 (NRSVA):

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

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

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Easter II):

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
Grant us so to put away the leaven
of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him.
Deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

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

Suggested Hymns:

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

Acts 5: 27-32:

258, Christ the Lord is risen again
301, Let every Christian pray
227, Man of sorrows! What a name
248, We sing the praise of him who died

Job 42: 1-6:

226, It is a thing most wonderful

Psalm 118: 14-29:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
327, Christ is our corner stone
714, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Lord Almighty
334, I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart
678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
78, This is the day that the Lord has made
493, Ye that know the Lord is gracious

Psalm 150:

24, All creatures of our God and King
346, Angel voices ever singing
453, Come to us, creative Spirit
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty
360, Let all the world in every corner sing
705, New songs of celebration render
708, O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height
364, Praise him on the trumpet, the psaltery and harp
365, Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation
368, Sing of the Lord’s goodness
710, Sing to God new songs of worship
458, When, in our music God is glorified

Revelation 1: 4-8:

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
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

John 20: 19-31:

293, Breathe on me, Breath of God
255, Christ is risen, alleluia!
263, Crown him with many crowns
460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verse 1, 2k, 3)
415, For the bread which you have broken
454, Forth in the peace of Christ we go
219, From heav’n you came, helpless babe
268, Hail, thou once–despisèd Jesus
583, Jesu, my Lord, my God, my all
338, Jesus, stand among us
424, Jesus, stand among us at the meeting of our lives
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
279, O sons and daughters, let us sing (verses 1, 4-9) 307, Our great Redeemer, as he breathed
505, Peace be to this congregation
675, Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
71, Saviour, again to thy dear name we raise
288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son

In addition, these hymns are appropriate for reflections on the doubts and faith of Saint Thomas:

372, Through all the changing scenes of life
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection in a pair of stained-glass windows at the west end in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

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

Monday, 15 April 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Easter Day,
Sunday 21 April 2019

The Resurrection depicted in the Foley window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [21 April 2019] is Easter Day, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Readings: Acts 10: 34-43 or Isaiah 65: 17-25; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, or the Easter Anthems; I Corinthians 15: 19-26 or Acts 10: 34-43; and John 20: 1-18 or Luke 24: 1-12.

This leaves us with a complicated choice, and the Church of Ireland Directory is specific: ‘When the Old Testament selection is chosen, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.’

This posting looks at Saint John’s account of the Resurrection, but also asks how this Gospel reading fits in with the other Lectionary readings for Easter morning, and what makes the account in the Fourth Gospel different from the Resurrection accounts in the other three Gospels, in particular the optional reading from Saint Luke’s Gospel.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

There is a link to the reading from Saint Luke’s Gospel HERE.

When the Old Testament selection is chosen on Easter Day, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.

In addition, this posting includes separate suggestions on the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

The Resurrection depicted in a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introducing the readings:

Isaiah 65: 17-25:

The Book of Isaiah is divided into three parts. Chapters 40 to 66, written during and after the Exile in Babylon, are filled with trust and confidence that God will soon end the Exile.

Chapters 56 to 66, sometimes known as ‘Third Isaiah,’ were written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.

This reading opens with the hope that God will completely transform the cosmos, turning it into a ‘new heavens and a new earth’ (verse 17), in which the people of the new Jerusalem will be joyful (verse 18), where sorrow will cease (verse 19), and they will be blessed with long life (verse 20). Life will be stable, harvests will be plentiful, and God will bless his people (verses 21-23).

People will return to a life free of sin that God originally intended them to live. All will be at peace in ‘my holy mountain,’ the new Jerusalem (verse 25). All conflicts will cease, and we shall live in harmony.

‘The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone’ (Psalm 118: 22) ... a cross cut into a cornerstone in the main church in the Monastery of Vlatádon in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24:

On Easter morning, how joyful it is to proclaim the well-known verse that concludes the reading from this psalm:

‘This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (Psalm 118: 24).

In this psalm (Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24), we are called to give thanks to God for his mercy and love, which are everlasting. The one who was rejected is now God’s chosen ruler, and all shall share in the power and blessing of God.

We can read an Easter theme back into this song, where the Psalmist expresses his faith that:

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death (Psalm 118: 17-18).

Now he can enter the Temple (verse 19) to give thanks to God (verse 20). He has suffered greatly, but God has preserved his life.

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone’ (Psalm 118: 22).

In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter speaks after his arrest to the Sanhedrin of the Risen Christ, describing him as ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; [he] has become the cornerstone’ (Acts 4: 11). Saint Paul too refers to Christ as ‘the cornerstone’ (see Ephesians 2: 20).

This is the day to rejoice and be glad.

The Empty Tomb … a fresco in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Corinthians 15: 19-25:

This Epistle reading (I Corinthians 15: 19-25) continues after the earliest account of the Resurrection we have in the New Testament (verses 3-8).

The Apostle Paul has heard that some people in the Church in Corinth deny the physical resurrection of the body, claiming that only the spirit matters. Here he argues against this view.

He tells the people in Corinth that Christ’s resurrection is a sign or promise of what is going to happen to us. Christ’s resurrection marks the destruction of all that is hostile and ungodly, and a sign of the coming Kingdom of God.

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

Acts 10: 34-43:

Despite the complicated presentation of the reading options in the Revised Common Lectionary, the expectations in the RCL and the guidelines in the Church of Ireland Directory are that the reading from the Acts of the Apostles will be read on Easter Day.

The setting is the house of Cornelius, a centurion and part of the Roman military occupation force in Palestine. Cornelius, already a believer in God, has a vision (verses 1-8). As a result, he invites Peter to visit his household. It is against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, but Peter comes nonetheless, with ‘some ... believers from Joppa’ (verse 23).

The Greek here is rough, full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of the Acts of Apostles. This may indicate that here we may well have Saint Peter’s unedited, original words and phraseology. He tells the assembled company that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his or her nationality, who reveres God and lives in unison with him ‘is acceptable to him’ (verse 35).

In verses 36-38, Saint Peter summarises Christ’s earthly ministry and applies prophecies in Isaiah (52: 7 and 61: 1) to Christ. Christ is Kyrios, the ‘Lord of all’ (verse 36). In Baptism, the Father ‘anointed’ Christ (verse 38) ‘with the Holy Spirit’ and with the ‘power’ of God. The good news (‘message,’ verse 37) spread throughout Palestine (‘Judea’). He ‘went about’ (verse 38) ‘doing good’ and combatting evil, doing deeds so powerful that it is clear that he was God’s agent: he is a model for all to follow.

He suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence (see Deuteronomy 21: 23): he hung on a ‘tree’ (verse 39) and was cursed. By Christ’s time, the ‘tree’ or pole had an additional cross-arm. But, although cursed, the Father ‘raised him’ (verse 40) and ‘allowed him to appear’ to those chosen by God to be ‘witnesses’ (verse 41).

In Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24: 41-43), Christ eats broiled fish with them, so he was clearly humanly alive again, brought back from death physically, resurrected. Christ the Kyrios is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge both those who are alive and those who have died at Judgment Day (verse 42).

Then in verse 43, we are told he fulfils many Old Testament prophecies. He is the one through whom sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is now available to ‘everyone who believes,’ and not just to Jews.

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

John 20: 1-18:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition, at the end of the reading (see verse 18), Mary comes announcing what she has seen. The word used here (ἀγγέλλουσα, angéllousa) is from the word that gives us the Annunciation, the proclamation of the good news, the proclamation of the Gospel (Εὐαγγέλιον, Evangélion). Mary, in her proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, is not only the apostle to the apostles, but she is also the first of the evangelists.

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

John 20: 1-18 (NRSVA)

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

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

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 24: 1-12:

In the alternative reading in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24: 1-12), Joseph of Arimathea has wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen cloth and has laid it hastily in a new tomb (23: 53). ‘The women who had come with’ Jesus from Galilee ‘followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid’ (23: 55). They prepared ‘spices and ointments’ ( 23: 56) to give him a proper burial, which was not possible because of the Sabbath.

Now, early on Sunday, ‘the first day of the week’ (verse 1), they come to the tomb with their spices to.

Later in this reading, the women in this group are named as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and ‘other women with them’ (verse 10). In the other Gospel readings, these women are named as ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary’ (Matthew 28: 1), ‘Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome’ (Mark 16: 1), or just ‘Mary Magdalene’ on her own (John 20: 1). There are no women in this group on Easter morning who become the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

These women expect to find the tomb closed with a rock rolled in front of it, but, to their surprise, the tomb is open and the body is gone (verse 3).

Suddenly, ‘two men in dazzling clothes’ stand among this small group of women (verse 4). The women are terrified at the sight of these divine messengers, and bow their faces to the ground (verse 5).

But the two figures ask the figures ask then why they are seeking the living among the dead. Christ is not in the grave, he has risen from the dead, as he said he would (verse 6-7).

The word translated ‘remember’ in verses 6 and 8 (μνήσθητε), means to bring to bear in the present, with power and deep insight, the meaning of past actions and words in God’s plan of salvation. It has the same roots as the words for remembrance (ἀνάμνησιν) used a few days earlier by Christ at the Last Supper: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22: 19).

Remembering Christ’s promises, and making it real in their lives this morning, the women return from the tomb, and tell the disciples all that has happened this morning (verse 9).

It is these women who first proclaim the Easter Gospel (vv. 9-10).

But the apostles do not believe what the women say, it seems too much like an ‘idle tale’ (verse 11). Peter gets up and goes to see for himself, but he still lacks the sight of faith, and all he sees is the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes (verse 12).

He goes home, ‘amazed at what had happened’ (verse 12).

A panel depicting the Resurrection of Christ in the Royal or MacMahon tomb in the Franciscan Friary, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 24: 1-12 (NRSVA)

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

‘Noli me tangere’ ... a Resurrection image in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Noli me tangere’ – a reflection:

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

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

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

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

How do we recognise new life in the Risen Christ?

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

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

Where do we see the presence of the Risen Christ?

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

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

Is my heart changed by the Risen Christ?

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

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

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

Is Easter an every-morning, every-day, living experience for me, or one we all-too-easily relegate to the past and to history?

Preparing for the Easter Vigil at Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

Planning the Easter Vigil

The celebration of Easter may begin after sundown with the Easter Vigil or the Midnight Eucharist on what is liturgically Easter Sunday, although it is still Saturday evening in calendar.

Traditionally, the Easter Vigil consists of four parts:

● The Service of Light

● The Liturgy of the Word

● The Liturgy of Baptism, which may include the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the renewal of Baptismal Promises by the rest of the congregation

● The Eucharist

The Liturgy begins after sundown as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church, in the darkness, often in a side chapel of the church building, but preferably outside the church. A new fire, kindled and blessed by the priest, symbolises the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through the Resurrection of Christ, dispelling the darkness of sin and death.

The Paschal Candle, symbolising the Light of Christ, is lit from this fire. This tall candle is placed on the altar, and on its side five grains of incense are embedded, representing the five wounds of Christ and the burial spices with which his body was anointed. When these are fixed in it and the candle is lit, it is placed on the Gospel side of the altar and remains there until Ascension Day.

This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern. Throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, it reminds all that that Christ is ‘light and life.’

All baptised people present – those who have received the Light of Christ – are given candles that are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic Light of Christ spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness diminishes and dies out.

A deacon or a priest carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation ‘Light of Christ’ or ‘Christ our Light,’ to which the people respond: ‘Thanks be to God.’

When the procession ends, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet, or Easter Proclamation, said to have been written by Saint Ambrose of Milan. The church is now lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, and the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention as it is the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation.

Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ.

After these readings, the Gloria is sung, and during an outburst of musical jubilation the people’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and the bells rung. The altar frontals, the reredos, the lectern hangings, the processional banners, the statues and the paintings, which were stripped or covered during Holy Week or at the end of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, are now ceremonially replaced and unveiled, and flowers are placed on the altar.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed, and the Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

After the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is blessed, and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated. After these celebrations, all present renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

The Easter Vigil then concludes with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the first Eucharist of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptised receive Holy Communion for the first time, and, according to the rubrics, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

‘On the first day of the week … they came to the tomb’ (Luke 24: 1) – a window in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Easter Vigil readings (20 April 2019):

Old Testament Readings and Psalms:

Genesis 1: 1 to 2:4a; Response: Psalm 136: 1-9, 23-26;
Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8-13; Response: Psalm 46;
Genesis 22: 1-18; Response: Psalm 16;
Exodus 14: 10-31; 15: 20-21 and Exodus 15: 1b-13, 17-18;
Isaiah 55: 1-11; Canticle 23: Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12: 2-6);
Baruch 3: 9-15, 32 to 4: 4 or Proverbs 8: 1-8, 19-21, 9: 4b-6; Response: Psalm 19;
Ezekiel 36: 24-28; Response: Psalm 42 and 43;
Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Response: Psalm 143;
Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Response: Psalm 98.

New Testament Reading and Psalm:

Romans 6: 3-11; Response: Psalm 114.

Gospel: Luke 24: 1-12.

The Harrowing of Hell in a fresco behind the icon screen in the Chapel of the Resurrection in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White (or Gold).

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

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

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
you have overcome death
and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Living God,
for our redemption you gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
you have delivered us from the power of our enemy.
Grant us so to die daily unto sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

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

Christ is Risen ... a Resurrection scene in a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for Easter Day (Year C), in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Acts 10: 34-43:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
263, Crown him with many crowns (verses 1-4)
264, Finished the strife of battle now
91, He is Lord, he is Lord
271, Jesus Christ is risen today
96, Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it
102, Name of all majesty
306, O Spirit of the living God
197, Songs of thankfulness and praise
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

Isaiah 65: 17-25:

49, Lord, bring the day to pass
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
292, Ye choirs of new Jerusalem

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
327, Christ is our corner stone
282, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good (Surrexit Christus)
714, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Lord Almighty
334, I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart
340, Sing and be glad, for this is God’s house!
678,Ten thousand times ten thousand
78, This is the day that the Lord has made
493, Ye that know the Lord is gracious

Easter Anthems (I Corinthians 5: 7-8; Romans 6: 9-11; I Corinthians 15: 20-22):

258, Christ the Lord is risen again
328, Come on and celebrate
264, Finished the strife of battle now
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
703, Now lives the Lamb of God
108, Praise to the Holiest in the height (verses 1-4, 7)
283, The Day of Resurrection
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
186, What Adam’s disobedience cost

I Corinthians 15: 19-26:

24, All creatures of our God and King
251 Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise
218, And can it be that I should gain
102, Name of all majesty
703, Now lives the Lamb of God
108, Praise to the Holiest in the height
8, The Lord is King! lift up your voice

John 20: 1-18:

256, Christ is risen, as he said
87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
258, Christ the Lord is risen again
74, First of the week and finest day
265, Good Joseph had a garden
271, Jesus Christ is risen today
338, Jesus, stand among us
424, Jesus, stand among us at the meeting of our lives
273, Led like a lamb to the slaughter
274, Light’s glittering morn bedecks the sky 277, Love’s redeeming work is done
107, One day when heaven was filled with his praises
283, The Day of Resurrection
288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son
115, Thou art the Way: to thee alone
290, Walking in a garden at the close of day

Luke 24: 1-12:

255, Christ is risen, alleluia!
258, Christ the Lord is risen again
264, Finished the strife of battle now
74, First of the week and finest day
271, Jesus Christ is risen today
274, Light’s glittering morn bedecks the sky
277, Love’s redeeming work is done
278, Now the green blade rise from the buried grain
279, O sons and daughters, let us sing! (verses 1-3 and 9)
107, One day when heaven was filled with his praises
109, Sing alleluia to the Lord
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son
115, Thou art the Way: to thee alone

An Easter theme in a window in Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

The Risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene (1899), a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)