Monday, 27 May 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 2 June 2019,
Seventh Sunday of Easter

Two Greek stamps produced in 1995 to mark the 1900th anniversary of the Book of Revelation … the series of readings from the Book of Revelation reach their climax on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 2 June 2019, is the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter VII).

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

The Readings:

Acts 16: 16-34 or I Samuel 12: 19-24; Psalm 97; Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17: 20-26.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Last Supper in a fresco in the Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, between Chania and Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introducing the readings

On the Seventh Sunday of Easter, we are, I suppose, in some way caught in an in-between time, between Ascension Day, the previous Thursday, and the Day of Pentecost, the following Sunday.

In this ‘in-between time,’ the disciples and other followers and family members are gathered together in upper room, devoting themselves to prayer (see Acts 1: 13-14), and there Matthias is chosen to join the Twelve (see Acts 1: 23-26).

The first reading continues the series of readings from the Acts of the Apostles. The alternative first reading, from Samuel’s farewell address, prepares us to listen to the Gospel reading, which is part of Christ’s farewell discourse at the Last Supper.

The Psalm is a reminder that God is the Lord and King of the earth. This majesty of God, and Christ’s rule over the new heaven and the new earth, is emphasised in the second reading, which concludes our set of readings from the Book of Revelation, looking forward to Christ’s second coming.

The Gospel reading is part of Christ’s great prayer at the Last Supper for his disciples and the future Church after his departure.

All these readings are a call to look forward to being with Christ in glory, which is appropriate preparation for the Day of Pentecost the following Sunday.

Delphi and the ruins of the Temple of Apollo … the slave-girl in Philippi was part of the cult of Apollo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 16: 16-34:

The Apostle Paul has entered Europe for the first time, and he is in Philippi. Saint Paul, Silas and Timothy have visited the Jewish community, which meets ‘by the river’ (verse 13), perhaps at an outdoor place of prayer. There they met Lydia, a businesswoman. After hearing the good news, she has been converted to the faith.

Now we read of two miracles: the curing of a slave girl who is possessed, which puts Paul and Silas in prison (verses 16-24), and the miraculous earthquake that leads to the conversion and baptism of the jailer and his family (verses 25-34).

The slave-girl’s cry when she realises who Saint Paul is and the response of Paul to her plight is a reminder of the exorcisms carried out by Jesus himself. There too evil spirits recognised God and spoke the truth. Saint Paul continues what Christ began; it is Christ who cures (‘in the name of Jesus Christ,’ verse 18).

The market-place or agora was the seat of the local authorities or judges (verse 19): law cases were heard there, and the city jail was nearby.

The slave-girl’s owners bring two false charges against Paul and Silas: disturbing the peace and urging Roman citizens to practice strange customs (verse 20-21).

The owners stir up the crowd and justice follows swiftly. They are beaten by the police using the bundle of rods sometimes bound around an axe as a sign of justice (verse 22). They are put in a prison cell, and placed in the stocks, which forced the legs apart (verses 23-24).

The railings around the courthouse in Carlow, topped by replicas of the ancient Roman axe and fasces as a symbol of justice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the second part of this reading, the earthquake is seen as a manifestation of God’s presence: being beyond the natural, it is a miracle. A Roman jailer was likely to be put to death for letting a prisoner escape, and so this one is on the verge of suicide (see 27).

Verses 30-33 tell of the conversion of the jailer and his family: he asks the key question, to which Paul and Silas reply with a brief statement (verse 31).

The jailer and his family are instructed in the faith, he and his family are baptised, and they share a meal, rejoicing (verse 32-34).

The head of Medusa, depicted with snakes in her hair, at the Temple of Apollo in Didyma (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A reflection on the reading:

Taken out of context, this first reading is quite stark and raises many questions.

As we heard the previous Sunday (Acts 16: 9-15, Easter VI, 26 May 2019), the Apostle Paul has a vision of a man calling him to Macedonia. Paul and Silas, and some more companions set sail from Troy, arrive in Eastern Macedonia, and are staying in the Roman colony of Philippi. There the first person they meet is not the man Paul saw in his vision, but Lydia from Thyatira, a rich woman who makes them welcome in her household.

That woman’s name is Lydia, but Lydia is also the name of the area around Thyatira. It was a centre of the cult of Apollo and Artemis, and one of the great Lydian temple to these twins was at Didyme, near the Lydian city of Sardis.

Lydia’s wealth, social standing and independence are unusual for a woman of her time. She and her household are baptised, and she provides lengthy hospitality for Paul, Silas, Luke and whoever else is travelling with them. The Orthodox Church gives her the title of ‘Equal to the Apostles.’ Her home hosts the first church on what we now call European soil. Could we think of her as the first European bishop?

Lydia’s freedom of choice when it comes to religious matters contrasts with the plight of the unnamed girl we meet in these next few verses, the slave-girl who is described in some translations as a ‘damsel’ (e.g. KJV). She has no wealth, no independence from men, and no freedom of religious choice.

This poor girl is possessed – the NRSV says she has ‘a spirit of divination.’ And other people make money out of that. The Greek here is much more specific than this English translation: εχουσαν πνευμα πυθωνος, she ‘has the spirit of Python.’

No, she is not possessed by the humour of Monty Python. Nor has she swallowed a snake. Πύθων in Greek mythology was the name of the Pythian serpent or dragon at Pytho at the foot of Mount Parnassus. This python guarded the oracle at Delphi and was slain by Apollo (Ἀπόλλων). And so, Python became one of the names of Apollo, the Greek god of light and the sun, the fine arts, music, poetry, medicine, eloquence and prophecy, the patron of shepherds and the guardian of truth. He is the son of Zeus, and in Greek mythology he dies and rises again.

The celebrated oracle at Delphi, the priestess of Apollo, was said to be inspired by Apollo. She became violently agitated during the periods of supposed inspiration and gave responses about the future that were regarded as the oracles of the god.

This possessed young woman is a minor oracle of the cult of Apollo. She is exploited by a group of men who make a pretty income from her utterances, what the NRSV describes as her ‘fortune-telling.’ But the Greek uses the word μαντεύομαι – she is not like a fortune teller with a turban in a circus tent looking at the palms of hands; she acts as a seer, she delivers an oracle, she is a slave priestess of the cult of Apollo.

The priestesses of Apollo were said to give their answers from their bellies – the seat of emotions – while their mouths were closed.

How does this oracle of Apollo behave when she is confronted with the disciples of the good shepherd, the one who is the way the truth and the light, the Son of God who died and rises again?

But there is a contradiction here: if she is an oracle slave of Apollo, why is she proclaiming that Paul and his companions are the slaves of the Most High, proclaiming the way of salvation?

And I find myself asking, why does she keep on doing this, for days and days on end (see verse 18)?

Why is Saint Paul so annoyed with what she says?

Was he right to ignore her for the first few days?

Or has he come to realise her plight, the full enormity of her religious enslavement?

If she is already proclaiming, for many days, the God that Paul and Silas proclaim as the Most High God, and she is acknowledging that they are preaching salvation, surely she has already lost her value to her owners before they start blaming Saint Paul and his exorcism?

But then, as Saint James reminds readers of his epistle, ‘even the demons believe’ (James 2: 19).

She may be stating the truth, but she is not serving the truth. But how often are we deceived by people who speak the truth but whose intentions are so contrary to what is truthful and wholesome?

And if the financial dependence and the religious slavery of this girl contrast with the financial independence and religious freedom of the more mature Lydia, then her slavery to exploitative religion, her imprisonment to those who make a profit out the cult of Apollo, is in contrast to the subsequent imprisonment for Christ’s sake suffered by Paul and Silas.

The story comes between two sets of conversions and baptisms – those of Lydia and her household (Acts 16: 15), and of the Philippian jailer and his entire family, which concludes Sunday’s reading (Acts 16: 25-34).

Of course, later, when Paul challenges the cult of Artemis in Ephesus he is jailed by those facing financial loss, just as he is jailed in Philippi for challenging the exploitative cult of Apollo.

But this reading raises a number of questions:

Are there appropriate and inappropriate times and places for proclaiming the Gospel?

Are there times to be silent about who God is and about the Gospel?

Is there an appropriate time or place to be annoyed or irritated by what other people are saying about our ministry or our discipleship?

Are we aware of times when religion is used as a way of trapping and abusing vulnerable people?

Or times when religion is used for making a great deal of money for others?

Do we appreciate how sometimes other people may have to pay the price for our ministry and mission?

Do we appreciate and pray for those who suffer for the faith, sometimes in hidden and unseen circumstances, perhaps even in the silence of their own homes?

And when people are like Lydia to us, encouraging, supporting and hospitable, do we merely accept it passively and take it for granted, or do we fully appreciate it, acknowledging that they too have an apostolic ministry?

Apart from acknowledging God most high and preaching of the way of salvation, which even this oracle of Apollo can acknowledge, how do we show our faith and the life in Christ in the way we live our own lives?

The Temple of Apollo in Didyma … one of the most important shrines and temples in the classical world to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Samuel 12: 19-24:

The alternative first reading is from Samuel’s farewell address, in which he urges the people to put fear aside, and to serve the Lord ‘with all your heart’ (verse 19), and to serve him ‘faithfully with all your heart’ (verse 24).

Samuel’s farewell address could be compared to the thoughts in the Gospel reading from Christ’s great discourse in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 17: 20-26, below), and the words in which he urges the disciples to live without fear and guided by God’s love.

‘The Lord is King! Let earth rejoice’ (Psalm 97: 1) … a stained glass window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 97:

Psalm 97 is a hymn celebrating God’s kingship. It emphasises God’s supremacy as Lord of the earth. ‘The Lord is king!’ (verse 1), in other words, he has won the battle for world kingship over the forces of chaos. May the whole earth rejoice!

Verses 2-5 are a theophany, a description of how God has appeared as he has visited earth: in a cloud and in a burning bush during the Exodus, etc. He rules with righteousness and justice. He is ‘the Lord of all the earth’ (verse 5).

The word ‘all’ occurs three times in verses 6-9, emphasising God’s omnipotence. Verse 7 says that those who worship images or idols will realise the error of their ways. Other gods recognise God’s supremacy. Then, in verse 8, the people of Israel rejoice in God’s justice.

Verses 10-12 tell us the kind of rule God exercises. Those who hate evil are faithful to him, and he rescues them from the ways of the wicked. Light shines on the righteous, who rejoice and who give thanks to God.

The Lamb on the Throne … a ‘Vesccia’ design in one of the upper transept windows in Holy Cross Church, Charleville, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21:

Saint John has come to the end of recounting the revelation he has received on Patmos.

Now, in verse 12, Jesus, who is the Lamb on throne speaks to him (see verse 16). Using the image of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things (verse 13; see Revelation 1: 8).

‘Those who wash their robes,’ those who are faithful, are now blessed, and may enter the city, the New Jerusalem, by the gates (verse 14).

In the earliest manuscripts, there are two versions of verse 14: one refers to ‘those who wash their robes’; the other refers to those who ‘do his commandments.’ Both use terms found throughout this book.

The tree of life (verse 14) is an image that also allows us to link the beginning of the creation story (see Genesis 3: 22) with the fulfilment of creation in this closing book of the Bible. Earlier in this chapter, we are told the ‘tree of life’ has ‘twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves are for the healing of the nations’ (verse 2).

Christ then identifies himself with traditional Jewish messianic titles (see Isaiah 11: 2, 10). He is born of David’s line, and it was he who sent his angel to Saint John to give this revelation ‘for the churches’ (verse 16). He is the ‘star [that] shall come out of Jacob [Israel]’ (see Numbers 24: 17).

The bride in verse 17 is the Church (see 21: 2, 9). Both the Spirit and the Church are integral with God, and both seek Christ’s return. The water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (verse 1). God’s gift of eternal life is available to all.

Verses 18-19 seek to ensure that this book is transmitted accurately to all, for it is from God. It is not to be added to, nor is anything to be taken from it.

He will soon return, bringing reward and recompense for the faithful, to the extent that they have acted for Christ (verse 20).

The final verse, which echoes many of the blessings in the New Testament letters, is a fitting closing to this book and to the Bible: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen’ (verse 21).

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 22: 13) … a detail in the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 17: 20-26:

The Gospel reading is part of Christ’s high priestly prayer at the Last Supper, in which he prays to the Father on behalf of his disciples and the Church, and for the world.

Before this reading, in verses 6-19, Christ prays for his followers, that they may be protected from evil, that they may be one as he and his Father are one (verse 11), that they may be protected (verse 12), may have joy (verse 13), and that they may fulfil his mission as his agents in the world (verses 14-18).

Now, in this reading, Christ prays for the Church of all times. He looks beyond those who follow him now, to those who will come to believe through their witness. May the Church be rooted in the oneness he shares with the Father (verse 21), which is a relationship of mutual love (verse 23).

He prays that his followers may attain the ultimate goal: to share in Christ’s glory, which is founded in love that has been there before time began (verse 24).

His followers know that Christ has been sent by the Father (verse 25), and he prays that ‘the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them’ (verse 26).

‘I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may … see my glory’ (John 17: 24) … the south transept window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral depicts Christ in Glory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 17: 20-26 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

An image of Christ in glory in a stained-glass window in the Cathedral in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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:

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
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:

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

The 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!

‘Crown him with many crowns’ (Hymn 263) … Christ in Glory depicted in the mosaics in the apse of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Acts 16: 16-34:

320, Firmly I believe and truly
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

I Samuel 12: 19-24:

619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
625, Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

Psalm 97:

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

Revelation 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21:

501, Christ is the world’s true light
332, Come, let us join our cheerful songs
37, Come, ye thankful people, come
263, Crown him with many crowns
459, For all the saints, who from their labour rest
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
381, God has spoken – by his prophets
127, Hark what a sound, and too divine for hearing
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
132, Lo! he comes with clouds descending
303, Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
137, Promised Lord and Christ is he
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
138, Soon and very soon we are going to see the King 144, Word of justice, alleluia
509, Your kingdom come, O God!

John 17: 20-26:

518, Bind us together, Lord
326, Blessed city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
415, For the bread which you have broken
438, O thou, who at the eucharist didst pray
526, Risen Lord, whose name we cherish
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
531, Where love and loving kindness dwell

‘Risen Lord, whose name we cherish’ (Hymn 526) … the East Window in the Round Church, Cambridge, depicts the Risen Christ in Majesty, with Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Andrew on either side (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

The hymns suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

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

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 22: 13) … Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Ascension Day,
Thursday 30 May 2019

The Ascension Window in the North Transept (Jebb Chapel), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Ascension Day this year is on Thursday next week [30 May 2019].

This is one of the Principal Holy Days ‘which are to be observed,’ according to the Book of Common Prayer (see p. 18), when the Eucharist is ‘celebrated in every cathedral and parish church,’ with the understanding that the ‘liturgical provision’ for this day ‘may not be displaced by any other observance.’

The Readings for Ascension Day in the Revised Common Lectionary are:

The Readings: Acts 1: 1-11 or Daniel 7: 9-14; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1: 15-23 or Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 44-53.

The presumption is that the reading from the Acts of the Apostles is read as either the first or second reading, and that it must not be omitted.

There is a direct link to the readings HERE

Christ Pantocrator in the dome of Saint George’s Church in Panormos, east of Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Acts 1: 1-11

1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7 He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Salvador Dali: The Ascension (1958)

Some reflections on the readings:

Our view of the universe, our understanding of the cosmos, shapes how we image and think of God’s place in it, within it, above it, or alongside it. And sometimes, the way past and outdated understandings of the universe were used to describe or explain the Ascension now make it difficult to talk about its significance and meaning to today’s scientific mind.

The Ascension is one of the 12 great feasts of the Church, celebrated on the 40th day of Easter. In the Orthodox Church, this day is the Analepsis, the ‘taking up,’ or the Episozomene, the ‘salvation,’ for by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption.

On this day, we celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and his entry into heaven with our human nature glorified.

Today we celebrate the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation.

On this day we see the completion of Christ’s physical presence among his apostles and the consummation of the union of God and humanity, for on this day Christ ascends in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of the Father.

The Ascension is the final visible sign of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, and it shows us that redeemed humanity now has a higher state than humanity had before the fall. That is the theological explanation, in a nutshell. By how do you image, imagine, the Ascension?

When we believed in a flat earth, it was easy to understand how Jesus ascended into heaven, and how he then sat in the heavens, on a throne, on the right hand of the Father. But once we lost the notion of a flat earth as a way of explaining the world and the universe, we failed to adjust our images or approaches to the Ascension narrative; ever since, intelligent people have been left asking silly questions:

When Christ went up through the clouds, how long did he keep going?

When did he stop?

And where?

Standing there gaping at the sky could make us some kind of navel-gazers, looking for explanations within the universe and for life, but not as we know it. In our day and age, the idea of Christ flying up into the sky and vanishing through the great blue yonder strikes us as fanciful. Does Jesus peek over the edge of the cloud as he is whisked away like Aladdin on a magic carpet? Is he beamed up as if by Scotty? Does he clench his right fist and take off like Superman? Like the disciples perspective, would we have been left on the mountain top looking up at his bare feet as they became smaller and smaller and smaller …?

But the concept of an ascension was not one that posed difficulties in Christ’s earthly days. It is part of the tradition that God’s most important prophets were lifted up from the Earth rather than perish in the earth with death and burial.

Elijah and Enoch ascended into heaven. Elijah was taken away on a fiery chariot. Philo of Alexandria wrote that Moses also ascended. The cloud that Jesus is taken up in reminds us of the shechinah – the presence of God in the cloud, for example, in the story of Moses receiving the law (Exodus 24: 15-17), or with the presence of God in the Tabernacle on the way to the Promised Land (see Exodus 40: 34-38).

Saint Luke makes a clear connection between the ascension of Moses and Elijah and the Ascension of Christ, when he makes clear links between the Transfiguration and the Ascension. At the Transfiguration, he records, a cloud descends and covers the mountain at the Transfiguration, and Moses and Elijah – who have both ascended – are heard speaking with Jesus about ‘his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9: 30-31).

So, Saint Luke links all these elements as symbols as he tells this story. There is a direct connection between the Transfiguration, the Ascension and the Second Coming … the shechinah is the parousia. However, like the disciples in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we often fail to make these connections. We are still left looking up at the feet, which is the enigma posed by Salvador Dali 50 years ago in his painting, The Ascension (1958).

Let us just think of those feet for a moment.

In the Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians that with the Ascension the Father ‘has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things’ (Ephesians 1: 22).

‘Under his feet’ … Salvador Dali’s painting of the Ascension, with its depiction of the Ascension from the disciples’ perspective, places the whole of creation under Christ’s feet. Of course, Isaiah 52: 7 tells us: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”.’

Feet are important to God. There are 229 references to feet in the Bible and another 100 for the word foot. When Moses stands before God on Mount Sinai, God tells him to take his sandals off his feet, for he is standing on ‘holy ground’ (Exodus 3: 5) – God calls for bare feet on the bare ground, God’s creation touching God’s creation. Later, when the priests cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, carrying the ark of the Lord, the water stops when they put their feet down, and the people cross on dry land (Joshua 3: 12-17): walking in the footsteps of God, putting our feet where God wants us to, is taking the first steps in discipleship and towards the kingdom.

The disciples object when a woman washes and anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair, but he praises her faith (Luke 7: 36-50). On the night of his betrayal, the last and most important thing Jesus does for his disciples is wash their feet (John 13: 3-12).

Footprints … many of us have learned off by heart or have a mug or a wall plaque with the words of the poem Footprints in the Sand. We long for a footprint of Jesus, an imprint that shows us where he’s been … and where we should be going. The place where the Ascension is said to have taken place is marked by a rock with what is claimed to be the footprint of Christ. And, as they continue gazing up, after his feet, the disciples are left wondering whether it is the time for the kingdom to come, are they too going to be raised up.

Yet it seems that the two men who stand in white robes beside them are reminding them Jesus wants them not to stay there standing on their feet doing nothing, that he wants us to pay more attention to the footprints he left all over the Gospels. Christ’s feet took him to some surprising places – and he asks us to follow.

Can I see Christ’s footprints in the wilderness?

Can I see Christ walking on the wrong side of the street with the wrong sort of people?

Can I see Christ walking up to the tree, looking up at Zacchaeus in the branches (Luke 19: 1-10), and inviting him to eat with him?

Can I see his feet stumbling towards Calvary with a cross on his back, loving us to the very end?

Am I prepared to walk with him?

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Since that first Ascension Day, the body of Christ is within us and among us and through us as the Church and as we go forth in his name, bearing that Good News as his ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1: 8).

Meanwhile, we are reminded by the two men in white: ‘This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ (Acts 1: 11). Between now and then we are to keep in mind that the same Jesus is ‘with [us] always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28: 20).

The disciples who are left below are left not to ponder on what they have seen, but to prepare for Pentecost and to go out into the world as the lived Pentecost, as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

The traditional icon of the Ascension shows Christ ascending – and descending – in his glory, blessing the assembly below with his right hand, a scroll in his left hand as a symbol of teaching. Christ continues to be the source of the teaching and message of the Church, blessing and guiding those entrusted with his work.

As people sent to spread the good news, we must leave behind us the footprints of Christ. Saint Paul paraphrases Isaiah when he says: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (Romans 10: 15). Our feet can look like Christ’s feet. Our feet can become his feet until he returns in glory once again (Acts 1: 11), when he returns exactly as he ascended. And we need to keep the tracks fresh so that others may follow us in word, deed, and sacrament, and follow him.

The disciples are sent back to Jerusalem not to be passive but to pray to God the Father and to wait for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In time, the Holy Spirit will empower them, and they will be Christ’s witnesses not just in Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth fulfilling that commission in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

In an old Ascension Day tradition in the Church of England, parishioners carried a banner bearing the symbol of a lion at the head of the procession, and a second banner bearing the symbol of a dragon at the rear. This represents the victory of Christ over the devil.

For many Christians, the meaning of the Day of Ascension is found in the sense of hope that the glorious and triumphant return of Christ is near. It is a reminder of the Kingdom of God within our hearts, and of the ever-present Spirit of God, watching over and protecting us as we spread the light of Christ and his truth throughout the world.

The disciples who are left below are left not to ponder on what they have seen, but to prepare for Pentecost and to go out into the world as the lived Pentecost, as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

The Ascension depicted in an Oppenheimer mosaic in Saint Mary’s Church, Listowel, Co Kerry (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:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect:

Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
you have raised our humanity in Christ
and have fed us with the bread of heaven.
Mercifully grant that, nourished with such spiritual blessings,
we may set our hearts in the heavenly places;
where he now lives and reigns for ever.

Blessing:

Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

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

The Ascension depicted in the East Window by Marion Grant (1951) in the Church of Saint George the Martyr in Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Acts 1: 1-11

250,All hail the power of Jesu’s name
398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
261, Christ, above all glory seated!
260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning
263, Crown him with many crowns (verses 1, 4-6)
695, God of mercy, God of grace
266, Hail the day that sees him rise
267, Hail the risen Lord, ascending
268, Hail, thou once-despisèd Jesus
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
94, In the name of Jesus
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
307, Our great Redeemer, as he breathed
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
284, The golden gates are lifted up
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
291, Where high the heavenly temple stands

Daniel 7: 9-14:

125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
468, How shall I sing that majesty
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
130, Jesus came, the heavens adoring
132, Lo! he comes with clouds descending
276, Majesty! worship his majesty
34, O worship the King all-glorious above
678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended

Psalm 47:

275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
323, The God of Abraham praise

Psalm 93:

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

Ephesians 1: 15-23

250, All hail the power of Jesus’ name
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation, omit verse 1)
296, Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven
324, God whose almighty word
266, Hail the day that sees him rise
267, Hail the risen Lord, ascending
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
94, In the name of Jesus
99, Jesus, the name high over all
588, Light of the minds that know him
275, Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
491, We have a gospel to proclaim
476, Ye watchers and ye holy ones

Luke 24: 44-53

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus
261, Christ, above all glory seated
266, Hail the day that sees him rise
267, Hail the risen Lord, ascending
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
285, The head that once was crowned with thorns

The Ascension Window in the North Transept (Jebb Chapel), Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A note on the Ascension Window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick:

The Ascension Window in the Jebb Chapel in the North Transept of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, pictured in the first image in this posting, was dedicated on 28 February 1961 by the then Archbishop of York, Michael Ramey, who was about to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

The window was presented in memory of Horace Stafford-O’Brien (1842-1929) and his wife Eleanor Elizabeth (née Holmes), and was donated by their son, Major Egerton Augustus Stafford-O’Brien (1872-1963), who lived just outside Limerick at Cratloe, Co Clare.

The Ascension Window is the most modern of all the stained-glass windows in Saint Mary’s Cathedral. It immediately attracts attention because of its size and because of the amount of white antique glass in its execution, allowing light to filter into the Jebb Chapel below.

The glass in this window is known technically as antique glass. It is of English manufacture – this glass is not made in Ireland – and is made specifically for stained glass work alone. Unlike sheet glass, it is not made mechanically. This window contains many thousands of pieces that have been leaded together by hand.

The main image in the window depicts the Ascension as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The lower images depict, from left to right, Saint Catherine of Sinai (lower left) with her wheel; the Parable of the Prodigal Son; the Annunciation; the Parable of the Good Samaritan; and Saint Nicholas (lower right), shown as Santa Claus, distributing gifts to children.

The figure of the Ascending Christ is in pale gold and ruby. The Apostles, the Virgin Mary and Saint Mary Magdalene are depicted in a rich array of blues, reds and greens, preserving a rhythmic balance of tone and colour that is consistent with the best traditions of stained glass. A neutral tone of green binds the composition of figures in an harmonious whole and gives a sense of stability to the grouping of the figures.

The Ascension (1885) … a window by Sir Edward Burne-Jones in the apse of Saint Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible Anglicised Version, 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.

The hymns suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

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

The Ascension ... a modern icon by Aidan Hart


Monday, 20 May 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 26 May 2019,
Sixth Sunday of Easter,
Rogation Sunday

‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14: 23) … a village home in the countryside near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next, 26 May 2019, is the Sixth Sunday of Easter

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

The Readings:

Acts 16: 9-15 or Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 67; Revelation 21: 10, 22 to 22: 5; John 14: 23-29 or John 5: 1-9.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Next Sunday is also known as Rogation Sunday, the day on which the Church has traditionally offered prayer for God’s blessings on the fruits of the earth and the labours of those who produce our food.

The word ‘rogation’ is from the Latin rogare, meaning to ask or to beg. Historically, the Rogation Days – the three weekdays before Ascension Day – were a period of fasting and abstinence, asking for God’s blessing on the crops for a bountiful harvest. Fewer people today directly derive their livelihood from the production of food, yet it is good to be reminded of our dependence on those who do and our responsibility for the environment.

A tradition or custom on Rogation days in England was the ceremony of beating the bounds, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the priest and churchwardens, processed around the boundary of their parish and prayed for its protection in the forthcoming year. As it is no longer practical to follow exact boundaries, many services are held that focus on specific elements of creation such as livestock, fields, orchards and gardens.

Introducing the readings:

Saint Paul is writing to the church in Philippi, then a major town in Macedonia in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Acts 16: 9-15:

The Apostle Paul has set out on his second great missionary journey. Starting from Caesarea Philippi, he has travelled north to Antioch, then generally north-west through Asia Minor. Saint Paul and two companions, Silas and Timothy, have arrived at Troas, or Troy, a seaport on the Aegean Sea.

Here, Saint Paul has a dream that he interprets as instructions from God. Macedonia (verses 9-10) was the Roman province in northern Greece, so Saint Paul is bidden to enter Europe for the first time, to begin spreading the good news.

Samothrace is an island mid-way between Troy and Neapolis, the seaport for Philippi (Φίλιπποι), a prosperous Roman colony in east Macedonia in northern Greece, east of Thessaloniki and north of Mount Athos. Philippi is named after Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. It was settled as a Roman colony when veterans from a battle in 42 BC were granted land there. The ancient Greek theatre in Philippi dates from 357 BC and was first restored in 1957.

In Philippi, Saint Paul visits the Jewish community first. They meet for prayer ‘outside the gate by the river,’ perhaps because there is no synagogue in the city.

Gentile women were attracted to Judaism by its ethical standards. One of them is Lydia, who already worships God and who is receptive to Saint Paul’s message. She is from Thyatira, in the province of Lydia in Asia Minor, the centre of one of the churches also addressed by Saint John the Divine in his letters from Patmos (see Revelation 2). Lydia is an independent business woman, selling purple cloth, which was a luxury fabric.

She and her household are the first people in Europe to convert to Christianity and to be baptised. Saint Paul and his companions are reluctant to accept her hospitality, but she insists and they accept.

That woman’s name is Lydia, but Lydia is also the name of the area around Thyatira. It was a centre of the cult of Apollo and Artemis, and one of the great Lydian temple to these twins was at Didyme, near the Lydian city of Sardis.

Lydia’s wealth, social standing and independence are unusual for a woman of her time. She and her household are baptised, and she provides lengthy hospitality for Paul, Silas, Luke and whoever else is travelling with them. The Orthodox Church gives her the title of ‘Equal to the Apostles.’ Her home hosts the first church on what we now call European soil.

A statue of Alexander the Great on the sea front in Thessaloniki with Mount Olympus in the background … Philippi took its name from Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Joel 2: 21-27:

The alternative first reading is an Old Testament reading we sometimes associate with Harvest, and so is appropriate for Rogation Sunday.

The prophet Joel has given a graphic account of a devastating plague of locusts that left no grapes for making sweet wine to celebrate a feast. Indeed, the attacking locusts are so thick that the sun is obscured – a sign of the end times. But the priests intercede, God forgives his people, fertility returns to the land and the locusts are destroyed.

Early rain now softens the earth once parched by the summer heat, and ploughing is made possible. Later rain, in April or May, provides sustenance for summer crops, and the trees again bear fruit.

‘The tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield’ (Joel 2: 22) … lemon trees bearing fruit in Platanias near Rethymnon on Crete earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 67:

This psalm can be read as thanksgiving for an abundant harvest or a prayer for a good harvest. The blessing God gave to the people is extended to all nations, for he is the universal just ruler and guide and all people everywhere may hold God in awe.

The Great West Window by Alan Younger in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth … illustrating the vision in the Book of Revelation 21-22 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Revelation 21: 10, 22 to 22: 5

The second reading continues the vision of the New Jerusalem, the New Heaven and New Earth, that we began reading the previous Sunday.

The city lacks a physical temple, for the presence of God pervades the entire godly community, and they illuminate it. All peoples and all rulers will be guided by this light. The gates of the city are open to give everyone free access at all times, for they will live in perfect safety. People will, in entering, reflect God’s ‘glory … and honour.’

Saint John’s vision includes both the original bliss of the Garden of Eden and the restoration that the Prophet Ezekiel hoped for. In the Greek, the word tree (22: 2) is collective, so many trees will provide nourishment for the godly, for the healing of all, which is the goal and result of God’s new creation.

There will be no sin in the city, where nothing will be accursed, and the godly will see God’s face joyously. Being marked with God’s name, God will protect them, and those who worship God will reign with him for ever.

For a reflection on this reading and its illustration in the Great West Window by in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, click HERE.

‘The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you’ … lighting candles at Eastertime in a church in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 14: 23-29:

Christ continues to prepare his followers for his departure. Judas, son of James, who is one of the Twelve in Saint Luke’s list of disciples, has asked Jesus how he will reveal himself to them not to the world (verse 22).

Christ answers, but not directly. In the era to come, when the Father and Son come, separation between God and those who love him will no longer exist (verse 23). Loving Christ implies obeying him. The message Christ brings is ‘from the Father,’ who has sent Christ (verse 24).

Christ’s words will be complemented by the actions of the Holy Spirit (verse 26), who will be the Advocate, or helper and counsellor, to believers. He will cause the disciples to remember what Christ has said, and help them to understand the true significance of Christ’s words and deeds.

Christ gives his followers peace, but it is a very different gift from worldly gifts. In loving God, we come to know him. If they really knew Christ, they would rejoice at his coming departure. The Father has sent him into the world to do his will, so in that sense ‘the Father is greater than I.’ Christ has told them this so that when they see his manner of leaving, they ‘may believe.’

A window depicting Christ the healer in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, depicts Christ healing the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (see John 5: 1-9) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 5: 1-9:

The Pool of ‘Beth-zatha’ or Bethesda, with its five porticoes, was to the north of the Temple area. The man has been ill for 38 years has been at the pool for some time. Only those who could get into the stirred-up waters first were cured.

Now, without having to wait for the stirred waters, the man is cured at Christ’s command. We are not told whether the man becomes a believer after his healing. Saint John wishes his readers to understand that the waters of life offered by Christ are more effective than the miracle waters expected spasmodically in a pool near the Temple.

This healing takes place on the Sabbath, yet the healed man is told to take up his bed and carry it away. This healing brings a new beginning. Perhaps we might even make a connection with the waters of life in the New Jerusalem described in the reading from the Book of Revelation.

We should note that verse 4 is not in the best manuscripts, and so is not found in the lectionary reading. In the Authorised Version, this missing verse reads: ‘For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.’ This missing verse is not found in any of the earliest and most accurate manuscripts of the Gospel according to Saint John, and has been omitted from most reliable modern translations.

‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14: 23) … at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, a few weeks ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 14: 23-29:

23 Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

John 5: 1-9:

1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralysed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ 7 The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ 8 Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath.

‘God our redeemer, you have delivered us from the power of darkness’ (The Collect) … the reflections of evening lights at the harbour in Skerries, Co Dublin (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:

God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A prayer for Rogation Day (Common Worship):

Almighty God,
whose will it is that the earth and sea
should bear fruit in due season:
bless the labours of those who work on land and sea,
grant us a good harvest
and the grace always to rejoice in your fatherly care;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

A prayer for Rogationtide:

Remember, Lord, your mercy and loving-kindness towards us.
Bless this good earth, and make it fruitful.
Bless our labour, and give us all things needed for our daily lives.
Bless the homes of our parish and all who live within them.
Bless our common life and our care for our neighbour.
Hear us, good Lord. Amen.

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:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him 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!

Additional resources (Rogation Days):

The Collect (Rogation Days):

Almighty God and Father,
you have so ordered our life
that we are dependent on one another:
Prosper those engaged in commerce and industry
and direct their minds and hands
that they may rightly use your gifts in the service of others;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer (Rogation Days):

God our creator,
you give seed for us to sow and bread for us to eat.
As you have blessed the fruit of our labour in this Eucharist,
so we ask you to give all your children their daily bread,
that the world may praise you for your goodness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Christ is the world’s light, he and none other’ (Hymn 87) … Easter candles in a church in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Acts 16: 9-15:

350, For the beauty of the earth
591, O happy day that fixed my choice
343, We love the place, O God

Joel 2: 21-27:

539, Rejoice, O land, in God thy might

Psalm 67:

695, God of mercy, God of grace

Revelation 21: 10, 22 to 22: 5:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
12, God is our strength and refuge
670, Jerusalem the golden
672, Light’s abode, celestial Salem
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
677, Shall we gather at the river
528, The Church’s one foundation
681, There is a land of pure delight
376, Ye holy angels bright

John 14: 23-29:

87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
294, Come down, O Love divine
296, Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
675, Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin
505, Peace be to this congregation
507, Put peace into each other’s hands
626, ‘Set your troubled hearts at rest’
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers

John 5: 1-9:

513, O Christ, the healer, we have come
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing

‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life … flowing … through the middle of the street of the city’ (Revelation 22: 1-2) … the Vltava River flowing under the Charles Bridge in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

The hymns suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

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

Material from Common Worship and Times and Seasons is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

The West Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, seen from the Chancel and the East End of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 13 May 2019

Is there an Anglican culture?
3, Rose Macaulay and
‘The Towers of Trebizond’

‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Education and Training Workshops for Clergy and Readers

Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe

Monday 13 May 2019

3.30 p.m.:

3: Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond


We have been asking today whether there is an ‘Anglican Culture’ that acts as a conduit for Anglican history, theology and spirituality, and for the Anglican story.

In the afternoon, we looked, as an example, at the writings of TS Eliot. As another example, I would like to introduce the writer Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) and her novel, The Towers of Trebizond (1956). It was the last of her novels, and the most successful, and for it she received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.

The book was described in The New York Times: ‘Fantasy, farce, high comedy, lively travel material, delicious japes at many aspects of the frenzied modern world, and a succession of illuminating thoughts about love, sex, life, organised churches and religion are all tossed together with enchanting results.’

The famous opening sentence is:

‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

For months after the publication of this novel in 1956, guests at London cocktail parties could be heard quoting those opening lines.

The author:

Dame Rose Macaulay (right) was the author of 35 books – 23 of them novels – and is best remembered for Potterism, a satire of yellow journalism; a biography of Milton; her haunting post-World War II novel, The World My Wilderness; two travel books, They Went to Portugal and Fabled Shore; and her masterpiece, The Towers of Trebizond.

Rose Macaulay was born in Rugby in 1881, the second of seven children in a family of Anglican clerics and eminent academics. She spent her early childhood in Varazze, a small Italian seaside town near Genoa. In 1894, her family returned to England, and after studying modern history at Somerville College, Oxford, she began a career as a writer, supporting herself as a novelist, journalist, and critic.

After a time of spiritual questioning as an adolescent, she grew into a young woman with a serious approach to religion. After attending a retreat at Saint Alban’s, a High Church parish in Holborn, London, around 1909, she undertook the disciplined practices associated with Anglo-Catholicism, regularly going to confession at Saint Edward’s House in Westminster, which was the London headquarters of the Cowley Fathers.

During World War I, she worked as a nurse and as a civil servant in the War Office before taking up a position in the British Propaganda Department. There, in 1918, she met Gerald O’Donovan (1871–1942) from Ireland, a former Roman Catholic priest, a novelist, and a married father of three. O’Donovan was 45 and the married father of three; she was 36. They fell in love and eventually began a long affair that lasted until his death in 1942.

By 1922, Macaulay felt that she could no longer make her confession or receive Holy Communion. Her separation from the Church lasted for almost 30 years, during which time she continued to feel ‘Anglican,’ as she put it, but she was ‘an Anglo-agnostic,’ for whom Anglicanism had dwindled down to ‘a matter of taste and affection … rather than of belief.’

This long period of estrangement began to come to an end on 29 August 1950, when out of the blue received a letter from Father Hamilton Johnson. Less than five months later, on 12 January 1951, she went to Saint Edward’s House and made her confession to a priest.

In her 70th year, Rose Macaulay returned to the Church of England as a communicant. She adopted a rule of life, and each morning she attended the early Eucharist at Grosvenor Chapel in South Audley Street, a liberal Anglo-Catholic church with dignified services – high but not extreme, and a church later celebrated in poetry by Sir John Betjeman.

In a letter to Father Hamilton Johnson in 1952, Macaulay spoke of the experience of ‘being in the Church’ as ‘a wonderful corporate feeling of being carried along, being part of the body …’ The post-1950 Macaulay appears to represent the full, committed life of faith that follows on the stage that Austin Farrer called initial faith. Like Augustine, she knew that the strand of surety is an elusive beach; its shifting sands mean that Christian conversion is never complete and final.

Towards the end of her life, she told her sister Jean that ‘religious belief is too uncertain and shifting a ground (with me) to speak of lying or truth in connection with it. One believes in patches, and it [“believe”] is a vague, inaccurate word. I could never say “Ι believe in God” in the same sense that I could say “Ι believe in the sun & moon & stars”.’

As Augustine makes clear in the Confessions, his conversion did not mean that he had now arrived safely in port; the harbour of the convert is regularly buffeted by storms.

Macaulay was never a simple believer in ‘mere Christianity.’ During the 1930s and 1940s, when CS Lewis, Austin Farrer, Dorothy L Sayers and others were writing books that were imaginative yet consistently orthodox, Macaulay was a lapsed Anglican, alienated from the church. Even after her return in 1950-1951, she writes The Towers of Trebizond, whose heroine is to some extent her alter ego, and who occupies a place at the border or beyond Christianity.

She was sceptical about much that the Anglican tradition deemed essential, and for a long period described herself as an ‘Anglo-agnostic,’ never certain of her unbelief, or free of spiritual guilt, or unable to appreciate a good sermon. Her brand of Anglicanism was high and broad – liturgically Catholic and intellectually engaged. She admired the Cambridge Platonists of the 17th century and in her personal devotions often used the Great Antiphons.

A mentor to Elizabeth Bowen and a friend of Ivy Compton-Burnett, Rupert Brooke, EM Forster, and Rosamond Lehmann, Macaulay was a well-known figure in London’s literary world and a fabled wit. She was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) shortly before her death in 1958.

The Plot:


The book abounds with historical references, including Saint Paul’s fourth missionary journey, the Fourth Crusade, English Christianity since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, 19th century travellers to the Ottoman Empire, World War I, and the archaeological search for the ruins of Troy.

The scene moves from Turkey when the two senior characters elope to the Soviet Union, and Laurie meets her lover and her semi-estranged mother in Jerusalem.

Gerald O’Donovan suffered serious head injuries in a car accident with Rose Macaulay in the Lake District, and the accident may have inspired the fatal accident on the return journey in The Towers of Trebizond. The final chapters raise multiple issues such as the souls of animals.

Back in London, Laurie is at the wheel of the car in which Vere dies. Her own pride and impetuosity cause her to reject her lover’s caution and to assert her rights against a bus that has crashed a red light. Now, without Vere, Laurie feels that she must live ‘in two hells, for I have lost God’ and lost, too, ‘the love I want.’

Against an Anglo-Catholic backdrop, the book deals with the attractions of mystical Christianity and the conflict between Christianity and adultery, a problem Macaulay faced in her own life because of her 22-year affair with Gerald O’Donovan.

The Towers of Trebizond is part satire, part travel book, part comedy, part tragedy … and at all times a spiritual reflection on the pilgrimage of life. It starts off as a comic novel, and there is scarcely a line in the first third of the book that fails to provoke laughter or, at the least, a pleasurable sense that someone is tickling your brain.

The characters:

The book is largely autobiographical. It follows the adventures of a group of people travelling from Istanbul – or Constantinople, as Father Chantry-Pigg insists on calling it, – to Trebizond. In this book, Trebizond is not simply the old name for Trabzon, the former Byzantine port on the shores of the Black Sea in north-eastern Turkey. Trebizond is the ‘fabled city’ that the heroine Laurie feels cut off from; Trebizond can be read as symbolising the Christian faith, or the church; Trebizond could be Bunyan’s ‘Celestial City,’ Augustine’s ‘City of God,’ or ultimate, unattainable Truth.

● Laurie, the narrator, is a woman in her mid-30s. Like Macaulay, she too has a long-term love affair with a married man.

● Dorothea ffoulkes-Corbett is the otherwise the eccentric Aunt Dot. Barbara Reynolds suggests she is based on Rose Macaulay’s friend, Dorothy L Sayers. A hale, elderly woman, Aunt Dot justifies her love of world travel by claiming it to be in the service of Anglican mission work and a project to emancipate the women of Turkey by converting them to Anglicanism and popularising the bathing hat.

● Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, Aunt Dot’s friend, is an Anglo-Catholic priest who keeps his collection of sacred relics in his pockets, and who is ‘better at condemning than at loving.’ Barbara Reynolds has suggested this character has elements of Father Patrick McLaughlin (1909-1988), the Dublin-born Father Gilbert Shaw (1886-1967), Vicar of Saint Anne’s, Soho, and Father Gerard Irvine.

● Dr Halide Tanpinar is a Turkish feminist doctor. She had once converted from Islam to Anglicanism, and she now acts as a foil to these main characters.

● Xenophon is a Greek-speaking, over-indulged young man.

● Aunt Dot’s addled camel was a present to her from a rich Bedouin tycoon. The anxieties over the half-crazed camel’s love-life are in contrast to the subsequent nurture of an ape named Suliman in advanced Anglo-Catholic ritualism.

● Vere, Laurie’s lover, is always in the background although not in the touring party.

On the way, they also meet magicians, Turkish policemen, juvenile British travel writers, and a BBC broadcasting team following Billy Graham on tour.

‘I wonder who else is rambling about Turkey this spring,’ wonders Aunt Dot at one point. ‘Seventh-Day Adventists, Billy Grahamites, writers, diggers, photographers, spies, us, and now the BBC.’ As Compton Mackenzie writes, at times it feels as if Macaulay has blended love and lunacy to produce a kind of Alice Through the Looking Glass of modern life, or, as another reviewer says, has re-staged the Mad-Hatter’s tea party and has taken it on the road.

The Turkish woman doctor says in the book of Aunt Dot, ‘She is a woman of dreams. Mad dreams, dreams of crazy, impossible things. And they aren’t all of conversion to the Church, oh no. Nor all of the liberation of women, oh no. Her eyes are on far mountains, always some far peak where she will go. She looks so firm and practical, that nice face, so fair and plump and shrewd, but look in her eyes, you will sometimes catch a strange gleam.’

Reading the book:



The first half of The Towers of Trebizond reads as a satirical picaresque that lampoons Anglican narrowness, and the back-biting competition within English literary society. Set in what was once called ‘the Levant,’ the book crawls with literary tourists, each determined to get their travel book out first. Dot is writing one, too, with Laurie providing the illustrations.

Aunt Dot is both adventurous and provincial. When Father Chantry-Pigg says one ought not to go to Russia because it would mean condoning a government that persecutes Christians, Aunt Dot replies: ‘If one started not condoning governments, one would have to give up travel altogether, and even remaining in Britain would be pretty difficult.’

When Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg slip over the border into the Soviet Union, leaving Laurie alone, the novel undergoes a subtle but complete tonal shift.

In the last half of the book, as Laurie wanders through Turkey on her camel, running into acquaintances and making do as best she can on the little money she has, the novel becomes a serious, though never heavy-handed, study of a crisis of faith, although Laurie knows herself too well to be thrown into a tizzy over her inability to give herself over to a faith, any faith:

‘Nothing in the world, for instance, could be as true as some Anglicans and Calvinists and Moslems think their Churches are, having the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I suppose this must be comfortable and reassuring. But most of us know that nothing is as true as all that, and that no faith can be delivered once for all without change, for new things are being discovered all the time, and old things dropped, like the whole Bible being true, and we have to grope our way through a mist that keeps being lit by shafts of light, so that exploration tends to be patchy, and we can never sit back and say, we have the Truth, this is it, for discovering the truth, if it is ever discovered, means a long journey through a difficult jungle, with clearings every now and then, and paths that have to be hacked out as one walks, and dark lanterns swinging from the trees, and these lanterns are the light that has lighted every man, which can only come through the dark lanterns of our minds.’

Here we find a mature acceptance of uncertainty and confusion as part of our natural condition.

Yet neither Macaulay – who was reconciled with Anglicanism shortly after the book was published and before her death – nor her fictional counterpart can be fully content with that. Reassurance that hangs just out of reach is always a tempting thing, even when you know that the only way to accept it is to short-change your intellect and your own messy experience. Her lover accepts what he calls her ‘church obsession … So long as you don’t let it interfere with our lives.’

Macaulay never denies the appeal of belief, the longing for reassurance, but like any adult, she never denies that life is a trade-off either.

While Father Chantry-Pigg is in most respects not a model of ministry to be closely emulated, sometimes his perceptions are accurate. One Sunday morning, he celebrates the Eucharist on the deck of their ship as they are approaching Trebizond. Afterwards, he finds Laurie alone and forces her to confront the seriousness of the dilemma in which she is caught.

‘Later in the morning, when I was on deck looking through glasses at the first sight of Trebizond, Father Chantry-Pigg came and stood by me and said, “How much longer are you going on like this, shutting the door against God?”

This question always disturbed me; I sometimes asked it of myself, but I did not know the answer. Perhaps it would have to be for always, because I was so deeply committed to something else that I could not break away.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It’s your business to know. There is no question. You must decide at once. Do you mean to drag on for years more in deliberate sin, refusing grace, denying the Holy Spirit? And when it ends, what then? It will end; such things always end. What then? Shall you come back, when it is taken out of your hands and it will cost you nothing? When you will have nothing to offer to God but a burnt out fire and a fag end? Oh, he’ll take it, he’ll take anything we offer. It is you who will be impoverished for ever by so poor a gift. Offer now what will cost you a great deal, and you’ll be enriched beyond anything you can imagine. How do you know how much of life you still have? It may be many years, it may be a few weeks. You may leave this world without grace, go on into the next stage in the chains you won’t break now. Do you ever think of that, or have you put yourself beyond caring?”

Not quite, never quite. I had tried, but never quite. From time to time I knew what I had lost. But nearly all the time, God was a bad second, enough to hurt but not to cure, to hide from but not to seek, and I knew that when I died I should hear him saying, “Go away, I never knew you,” and that would be the end of it all, the end of everything, and after that I never should know him, though then to know him would be what I should want more than anything, and not to know him would be hell. I sometimes felt this even now, but not often enough to do what would break my life to bits. Now I was vexed that Father Chantry-Pigg had brought it up and flung me into this turmoil. Hearing Mass was bad enough, hearing it and not taking part in it, seeing it and not approaching it, being offered it and shutting the door on it, and in England I seldom went.

I couldn’t answer Father Chantry-Pigg, there was nothing I could say except “I don’t know”. He looked at me sternly and said, “I hope, I pray, that you will know before it is too late. The door won’t be open for ever. Refuse it long enough, and you will become incapable of going through it. You will, little by little, stop believing. Even God can’t force the soul grown blind and deaf and paralysed to see and hear and move. I beg you, in this Whitsuntide, to obey the Holy Spirit of God. That is all I have to say.’

Possessing a deeply ambivalent attitude toward the Church, Laurie is better at loving than at praying: her affair with a married man has kept her away from the Church of England for 10 years. ‘From time to time,” she says, “I knew what I had lost. But nearly all the time, God was a bad second, enough to hurt but not to cure, to hide from but not to seek.’ She acknowledges the other pole of her ambivalence toward Christianity when she remarks that, although ‘the Church met its Waterloo . . . when I took up with adultery,’ Anglicanism was still ‘in the system,’ and, once in, ‘I think one cannot get it out.’

In a conversation in Jerusalem with a sceptical acquaintance named David, Laurie searches for an answer. After telling him that she has not got the answers and that he should take his questions to the bishop, she suggests that he read ‘some of the liturgies and missals.’ Like a good Anglican, she reaches into liturgy for her answer.

Her reply comes by way of the Great Antiphons, recited during the seven days leading to the Christmas Vigil. Laurie quotes for David the Advent hymns to the divine wisdom (O Sapientia) and to the divine light (O Oriens, O Dawn of the East).

What holds Laurie back from a fully committed Christian faith is, in large measure, her attachment to her lover, Vere, who brings her great joy and contentment.

Laurie’s Augustine-echoing resistance to being delivered just yet is only one of the reasons behind her disinclination to rejoin the Church. There are also the faults of Christian institutions down the centuries. She observes how the Church ‘grew so far, almost at once, from anything which can have been intended.’ It ‘became … blood-stained and persecuting and cruel and war-like and made small and trivial things so important.’

Laurie’s objections are intellectual as well as moral. The church, she says, began ‘with a magnificent idea,’ but that idea had ‘to be worked out by human beings who do not understand much of it but interpret it in their own way and think they are guided by God, whom they have not yet grasped.’ She questions the historicity of the gospel accounts: ‘I wonder what was really said, how far the evangelists got it right, and how much they left out, writing it down long after.’ She is aware that ‘some of the things they forgot and left out might have been very important, and some of the things they put in they perhaps got wrong, for some sound unlikely for [Jesus] to have said.’

She sees that ‘no Church can have more than a very little of the truth,’ and therefore she finds it impossible ‘to believe, as some people do, that one’s Church has all the truth and no errors, for how could this possibly be?’

The book ends with Laurie in what she describes as a dual hell, though there is more acceptance than torment in her description. The revelations in The Towers of Trebizond are all of the earthly variety, and Macaulay makes that seem, if not everything, then enough for any reasonable person.

The impact of the book

Constance Babington-Smith writes that ‘many Anglicans, and also many would-be believers’ responded to The Towers of Trebizond in a manner that Macaulay found profoundly moving. ‘Some weeks after the book was out, she wrote … that she was beginning to feel “almost like a priest,” for so many people were telling her how much she had helped them in their religion.’

Macaulay delighted in pointing out that The Towers of Trebizond helped to convince many readers to turn toward the Church and what it stands for. Her novel had, she said, decided a young woman at a crucial moment in her life for the right course, and clergy read parts of it to ordinands besieged by doubt, without plunging them into deeper anguish. David Hein says many clergy and laity found their faith reinvigorated by reading The Towers of Trebizond.

The paradox of its popular reception by Christians and would-be believers is part of the mystery of The Towers of Trebizond. The book presents dilemmas and reveals their attractions, but it declines to provide easy answers and solutions.

The capacity of Anglicanism to hold together contradictions increased Macaulay’s appreciation of Anglicanism. She wrote The Towers of Trebizond after her return to the Church of England, but does not mark out for her readers the steps on the journey of faith they only they could take for themselves. She said it was ‘meant to be about the struggle of good and evil, its eternal importance, and the power of the Christian Church over the soul, to torment and convert.’

The ending is gratifyingly indeterminate, reassuring in its refusals. What makes the author of this book worthy of consideration as a spiritual mentor for 21st century seekers has much to do with her willingness to acknowledge difficulties.

In the days following Vere’s death, Laurie, stricken with grief and remorse, rejects what he rejected, giving up what he mockingly called her ‘church obsession.’ She turns her back on the Church and all that it stands for, ‘knowing that God is leaving us alone for ever; we have lost God and gained hell.’

At the end of this novel, there is still much that restrains Laurie from moving toward the shimmering towers of Trebizond, and it is impossible to say in which direction she will eventually turn. As one literary scholar wrote: ‘It is the highest of ironies that a novel which ends on such a note of – perhaps even unchristian? – despair should be hailed as one of the twentieth century’s most luminous Christian novels.’

The Towers of Trebizond ends in silence and in waiting. It is an honest reckoning with the cognitive obstructions of Christian faith, and it throws out a line – albeit one that in the darkness might be hard to recognise – to all who struggle with doubt.

Additional reading:

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (London: Collins, 1956).

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (London: Fontana, 1962, 3rd impression, February 1970), the edition I have used while preparing these notes.

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (New York: New York Review Books, 2003).

Constance Babington-Smith, Rose Macaulay (London: Collins, 1972). Alice Crawford, Paradise Pursued: The Novels of Rose Macaulay (Madison, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995).

David Hein, ‘Faith and Doubt in Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond,’ Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2006.

David Hein (ed), Readings in Anglican Spirituality (Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, 1991).

Richard H Schmidt, Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2002).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Director of Education and Training in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. These notes were prepared for a workshop on 13 May 2019 with clergy and readers in Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton.