Saturday, 29 June 2019

‘More tea vicar?’ … reporting
on diocesan training days

Villiers School, Limerick … the venue for the Limerick and Killaloe Diocesan Synod this weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Limerick and Killaloe Diocesan Synod met in Villers School, Limerick, today [29 June 2019]. This two-page report was included in the Book of Reports (pp 60-61):

Ministry Education Training Days
Director of Education and Training:
Report to Diocesan Synod, May 2019

My work as Director of Education and Training for clergy and readers in the diocese includes providing resources and training through monthly workshops and weekly web postings and emails with ideas for preaching, worship liturgy.

Monthly workshops

The monthly workshops for readers and clergy have looked at a variety of topics, from personal prayer and styles of liturgy to Celtic Spirituality, from choosing hymns to marking Remembrance Day appropriately, from Spiritual Tourism to tailor-made ‘road trips’ to the diocesan cathedrals and inter-faith locations.

Most recently, the workshops discussed whether there is such a thing as ‘Anglican culture’ (May 2019). The discussions included poetry, music, literature, and even humour – under the apposite title, ‘More tea vicar?’

In recent months, the Revd Ann-Marie Stuart, FJ, of the Kilcolman Union of Parishes, has led two workshops on ‘The Adventure of Prayer’ and ‘Faith Development’ (March 2019). In February, I looked at ‘Praying with Icons’ and ‘Praying with the Jesus Prayer.’ The Revd Anne-Marie Stuart and the Revd Isabel Keegan of Kilcolman facilitated a day on ‘Celtic Spirituality’ (January 2019).

The Revd Rod Smyth of Nenagh introduced a workshop on the choice of hymns, canticles and music, which is often a difficult task for clergy and readers alike. In November 2018, he dealt with the thorny problems faced by people who have difficulty in selecting hymns for Sundays, and offered advice about appropriate hymns for Advent, as well as Baptisms, weddings and funerals.

To prepare for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that brought an end to World War I, the workshops last October looked at resources and planning for Remembrance Day on 11 November 2018. The questions to focus the discussions included: Where do I find resources and readings? How can we be sensitive to a diversity and variety of views and the challenges this day poses in a parish?

The programme in September 2018 was a working day on bringing Spiritual Tourism to parishes. The day was facilitated by Archdeacon Simon Lumby and myself, and included a field trip to a number of sites linked to potentials in Spiritual Tourism, including the Templar Tower, the Famine grave, the grave of the poet Aubrey de Vere in Saint Mary’s churchyard, Askeaton, and the ruined cloisters of the Franciscan Friary.

Different approaches to liturgy and worship were discussed in May 2018. This programme, in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, was led by the Revd Michael Cavanagh of Kenmare and myself.

In March 2018, the workshops discussed personal prayer, prayers in the life of the church, praying for others, and teaching others to pray. Participants looked at different styles of prayer and discussed how the need to develop a life of prayer that suits individual needs and personalities while helping others to develop an approach to prayer that meets their own personality types.
The Diocesan Communications Officer, the Revd Michael Cavanagh, the Editor of Newslink, Joc Sanders, and myself as a former journalist, facilitated the first of these training days in Killarney on the topic of parish communications (October 2017).

The topics included working with local radio stations, newspapers and the diocesan magazine, how to use social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and websites, in your parish, and producing parish newsletters and hand-outs.

Other topics have included, ‘A life of prayer: personal prayer and leading intercessions’ (March 2018), Preparing for Lent and Easter (January 2018) and Preparing for Advent and Christmas (November 2017).

‘Field Trips’

The programme has also included two ‘Field Trips.’

The ‘field trip’ in April 2018 visited the three working cathedrals in the diocese. This began at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, moved on to Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare, and finished in the afternoon with a celebration of the Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway.

An interfaith walking tour of Limerick in February 2018 began at the Limerick Islamic Cultural Centre and Mosque, and also visited the former heart of Limerick’s Jewish community on Wolfe Tone Street, and the Jewish Cemetery at Castletroy.

Joining in

These monthly training days are designed for clergy and diocesan and parish readers, but are open to others who are interested, including spouses, partners and friends. The working days generally take place in the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

The programme is normally offered in a workshop format from 11 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. for day-time participants. Tea/coffee/biscuits are provided, but participants are asked to bring sandwiches. If there is enough interest, a second workshop is offered in the evening from 7 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. for people in ministry who are also in day-time or secular employment.

Resources for these two workshops are normally made available on the CME Limerick and Killaloe site.

Weekly Sunday resources

Meanwhile, ministerial and liturgical resources for Sundays, including sermon ideas, readings, collects, post-communion prayers, hymn suggestions and illustrations are published each Monday morning by Patrick Comerford on the web at

Each week’s posting includes reflections on the Sunday readings, collects, prefaces, post-communion prayers, seasonal variations and other liturgical resources, as well as suggested hymns, links to the readings and appropriate photographs that can be used in parish newsletters, service sheets or in power point presentations.

Resources are also available for major events in the Church Calendar, including Lent, Advent, Holy Week and major feast days.

This website was launched at a meeting of the Diocesan Council in September 2017. Initially, the postings attracted about 500 to 800 hits a month, but this reached about 1,800 a month in recent months, which means these resources are facilitating clergy and readers far beyond this diocese.

Emails are sent to readers and clergy with links to the latest resources each Monday morning. Please contact me if you would like to be added to this mailing list.

Patrick Comerford,
Askeaton, May 2019

The reports to the Limerick and Killaloe Diocesan Synod include the report on ministry training and education (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 24 June 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 30 June 2019,
Second Sunday after Trinity

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit at breakfast-time in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 30 June 2019, is the Second Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Proper 13 (Year C), as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are in two groups.

The continuous readings are: II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62.

The paired readings are: I Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62.

There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … lemons ripening on a tree in a garden in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Introducing the readings:

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses. We have all found good excuses at times to avoid doing the right thing at the right time, and so end up with the prospect of having to make a choice between doing nothing or doing the wrong thing.

Elisha is presented with good excuses to turn away from following Elijah, the disciples find good excuses to rain terror on the wrong people, and prospective disciples find good excuses to delay following Jesus or even not following him at all.

But Saint Paul reminds us in the Epistle reading, if we ‘live by the Spirit,’ we will not seek to devour one another or ‘gratify the desires of the flesh.’ Instead, we will seek to love one another, which he says is the one single commandment that sums up all the law.

The Prophet Elijah (centre) with Saint Paul (left) and Saint Barnabas (right) in the east window in the east window in Saint George’s Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14:

The Old Testament reading continues the story of Elijah and Elisha, which we began reading about last Sunday [23 June 2019]. The two kingdoms of Israel in the north and Judah in the south have been divided. At the time of this reading (850-849 BC), Ahaziah is the King of Israel.

Elijah and Elisha start their journey at Gilgal, in the hill country north of Bethel. Elijah invites Elisha to travel no further not just once but three times (verses 2-3, 4-5 and 6). Elijah tests Elisha to determine whether he is truly loyal to his master. Each time, Elisha proves his loyalty, and so the two travel south from Gilgal to Bethel, then east to Jericho and the Jordan.

Elijah’s mantle or cloak is almost part of him. As at crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and carrying the Ark across the Jordan (Joshua 3: 14-17), the waters part miraculously.

When they cross the water and Elijah offers Elisha a reward for his loyalty, Elisha asks for the principal share (‘double’) of Elijah’s spirituality. But Elijah cannot grant this request himself, for it is God’s to give. If Elisha sees Elijah taken up, God has granted the wish.

Elisha indeed see Elijah’s departure, and picks up Elijah’s mantle. The water again parts. God recognizes Elisha as Elijah’s successor, as do the company of prophets who have been Elijah’s followers. Some of them search for days for Elijah’s body, but in vain, for Elijah has been taken up to heaven.

‘Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the great waters, but your footsteps were not known’ (Psalm 77: 19) … the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon at sunset (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20:

The psalmist is probably keeping an all-night vigil in the Temple and prays for deliverance from trouble, either for himself or for the community. He is so troubled that he cannot pray directly to God. Instead, he pours out his own agony. Has God spurned him, or the people? Has God gone back on his promises to Moses at the Exodus?

But the psalmist gains some hope by recalling God’s mighty actions in the past. God is holy, his ways are mysterious. He rescued his ancestors (‘Jacob and Joseph’) from slavery.

He recalls how God commands the waters and the seas, the clouds and the skies, the thunder and the tremors, and that God is in control.

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit on a market stall in Tangier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Galatians 5: 1, 13-25:

In the Epistle reading, Saint Paul is addressing the Church in Galatia, where the members of the Church, who are mainly Celtic people, and probably with groups of Greek-speakers and some Roman citizens. They have been divided by the demands or expectations of some Christians that they should first become converts to Judiasm and obey the Mosaic laws in order to become Christians. But Saint Paul tells his readers, ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Galatian 5: 14).

The command to love, to love God and to love our neighbour, is at the heart of the Gospel. It is summarised in the two great commandments in Matthew 22: 36-40 and Luke 10: 27 (see Leviticus 19: 18). In Matthew alone, Christ says, ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

But Saint Paul, on more than one occasion, reduces it all down to this one great commandment:

‘Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments … are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13: 8-10).

And again, in the Epistle reading next Sunday:

‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.’ (Galatians 5: 14).

In a sentence edited out of this reading, he writes:

‘The only thing that counts is faith working through love’ (Galatians 5: 6).

In other places, he writes:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in harmony (Colossians 3: 14).


If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, and compassion and sympathy. Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2: 1-2).

In the Orthodox Liturgy, the priest introduces the Creed with the words: ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess.’ In other words, our statement of belief, in ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided,’ is confirmed, realised and lived out in our love for one another.

To love our neighbour as ourselves means to love them as we are ourselves, as being of the same substance – created in the image and likeness of God. The Church Fathers teach that we find our true self in loving our neighbour, and that love is not a feeling but an action.

Two books that remain on an easy-to-reach shelf in the Rectory in Askeaton are I love therefore I am, by Father Nicholas V Sakharov (Crestwood NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002); and Father Andrew Louth’s Modern Orthodox Thinkers (London: SPCK, 2015).

Father Nicholas is a monk in Tolleshunt Knights, and his great uncle, Father Sophrony, was the saintly founder of the monastery. Father Sophrony talks in La Félicité (p 21) about ‘the absolute perfection of love in the bosom of the Trinity’ and he says: ‘Embracing the whole world in prayerful love, the persona achieves ad intra all that exists.’

In Andrew Louth’s book, love is an all-pervading theme in the writings of each of the 20th century theologians he portrays. For example, he summarises Mother Maria of Paris as saying that it is all too easy to sidestep the demands of love, to seem to be loving, when really love itself has been set aside, or turned into a means to an end. This is avoided by realising the complementarity of the two commands to love.

Mother Maria says there are two ways of loving to be avoided: one which subordinates love of our fellow humans to love of God, so that humans become means whereby we ascend to God, and the other of which forgets love of God, and so loves our fellow humans in a merely human way, not discerning in them the image of God, or the ways in which it has been damaged or distorted.

Yet, despite all this, I find a more difficult commandment is the third and great neglected commandment: to love our enemies (Matthew 5: 44). In our pastoral roles, we spend a lot of time helping people to talk about God; we all have a good idea of who our neighbour is; but when do we ask: ‘Who is my enemy?’

Do I define who my enemy is?

Or does the other person define me or himself, or herself, as the enemy?

And so I turn to a non-Pauline passage:

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them … Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (I John 4: 16, 20-21).

Saint Paul concludes our reading on Sunday by reminding us that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5: 22-25).

‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9: 60) … graves in the churchyard at Kilmore, near Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 51-62:

Because Easter has been so late this year, we have been late in returning to Ordinary Times and the Lectionary readings that have included some of the well-loved and well-known stories in Saint Luke’s Gospel: the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Capernaum (Luke 7: 1b-10); the raising of the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7: 11-17); and the anointing of Jesus by the woman with the alabaster jar (Luke 7: 36 to 8: 3); although last Sunday [23 June 2019] we heard of the healing of the Gerasene man possessed by a legion of demons.

Saint Luke is a great story-teller; we are all captivated by his stories of healing and his parables: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the unjust steward, and so on.

And so Sunday’s Gospel reading comes as a little surprise. The first impression is that there is no story here, no drama, no healing, no showing how society’s perceived underdog is really a model for our own behaviour, for my behaviour – indeed a model of how God behaves, and behaves towards us.

Instead, what we have in this Gospel reading sounds like a series of pithy statements from Jesus: like a collection of sayings from the Desert Fathers or even a collection of popular sayings from Zen masters.

Good stories about wayward sons and muggings on the roadside make for good drama, and healing stories are great soap opera. But they only remain stories and they only remain mini-stage-plays if all we want is good entertainment and forget all about what the main storyline is, what the underlying plot in Saint Luke’s Gospel is.

And, just in case we forget the plot, in case we might be in danger of forgetting what it is all about, Saint Luke now gives us a little reminder in the opening verse of this Gospel reading: the days are drawing near and Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51) – the days are drawing near and Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem.

It is a challenge to us all. We are called to live not for the pleasure of a dramatic moment, but to live in the one great drama that is taking place: to set our faces on the heavenly Jerusalem; to live as if we really believe in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

We are called not to be conditional disciples – to be a Christian when we look after everything else, sometime in the future. We are called to be committed disciples – to live as Christians in the here-and-now.

To illustrate the difference in, the tensions between, being a conditional disciple and being a committed disciple, Saint Luke plays the playwright once again and introduces us to one little drama and then three characters who are just like you and me, three ‘wannabe’ disciples, three figures who illustrate the conflict of loyalties that inevitably comes with trying to answer the call to discipleship.

The first drama is a ready-made piece of self-criticism for each and every one of us. Christ and his followers have arrived in a Samaritan village.

At a mundane level, at the level of visible difference, the Samaritans would not have been particularly warm and welcoming to provincial, rustic Galilean Jewish pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem through their villages, looking down their noses at Samaritan religious beliefs and customs, and seeing the Samaritan worship of God at Mount Gerizim, at best, as second best.

And look at what the disciples want to do when they get a whiff of difference, an inkling of rejection. A whiff of difference creates a whiff of sulphur. They want to burn the Samaritan village to the ground.

What have they been learning from Jesus so far about basic, fundamental Christian beliefs and values being expressed in how we love God and love one another?

Yet, so often in Christianity, we have behaved like James and John in this story, rather than adhering to the values of Jesus. So often we have burned down and gobbled up those we see as different: in the past, this is how Christians behaved in the Crusades, at the Inquisition, during the wars sparked by the Reformation, acting on prejudice against people of different faiths and different ethnic backgrounds – often without apology and without realising, like James and John, that this was totally contrary to the basic teaching of Jesus: that we must love God and love each other.

The Crusades and the Inquisition are long gone, but we continue to behave in the same way today: Islamophobia is a creation, not of the Muslim world, but of European and American societies; we need little reminding of how many Christians continue to demand burning and slashing when it comes to human sexuality and difference.

What had the disciples learned from Jesus about compassion, tolerance and forbearance in the immediate weeks and months before they arrived in this Samaritan village?

How embarrassed they must have been if this was the same Samaritan village that Christ visits in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 3: 4-42), where it is a Samaritan woman, and not the disciples, who realise who Jesus really is. She is a Samaritan woman of questionable sexual moral values. But it is she, and not the disciples, who brings a whole village to faith in Christ; it is she who asks for the water of life; it is she who first suggests that indeed he may be, that he is, the Messiah.

How embarrassed they must be a little while later when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10: 29-37). The one person I want to meet on the road, on the pilgrimage in life, is not a priest or a Temple official, but the sort of man who lives in the very sort of village I have suggested, because of my religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness, should be consumed with fire, burned to the ground, all its people gobbled up.

The woman at the well and the Good Samaritan are examples of ideal disciples, committed disciples. On the other hand, on Sunday morning, we are presented with three ‘wannabe’ disciples, three examples of conditional disciples, people who are happy to be called, but who only want to follow on their own terms.

There is the man who wants to follow Jesus, but only if he can hold on to his wealth and property (Luke 9: 57-58). There is the man who wants to follow Jesus, but not until he has looked after burying his father (Luke 9: 59-60). There is the man who wants to follow Jesus, but who thinks first he must consider what his friends and those at home would think before he leaves them (Luke 10: 61-62).

Of course, it is good to have a home of my own and not to live in a foxhole. Of course, it is good that each of us should take responsibility for ageing parents and to bury them when they die. Of course, it is good that we should not walk out on our families, our friends and our responsibilities.

Of course, domestic security, filial duty and loyal affection are high ideals, as Elijah accepted in our Old Testament reading, when Elisha went back home to say farewell. But they are conditional, while the call of the kingdom is urgent and imperative. And it demands commitment in such a way that it puts all other loyalties in second place.

Jesus is not saying that these men had the wrong values. But he sees how we can use good values so that we can have the right excuses and so end up with the wrong priorities.

In recent years in Irish society, we have failed to put Christian values first. We should have said that property does not have the highest value. We should have realised that property is there first of all to provide people with decent places to live and work, it is there to provide places for their education and recreation, it is there to serve our lives and our commerce.

But instead, our lives and our economy were relegated to second place while people speculated on the property market, borrowed from our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren, to satisfy their own greed. Generations to come will be paying for this and getting no return. Already, people are being evicted from their homes.

How often do people use the values of ageing parents and past generations to justify present behaviour? ‘What would the men of 1916 say if we dare to play rugby at Croke Park or welcome the head of state from our nearest neighbours and friends to Arus an Uachtarain?’ Our so-called Gaelic patriots continue to try to dig a deep and deadly pit between themselves and the Samaritans of their own creation, and those of us who try to cross that pit have too often had fire and consummation called down on us.

How often have we used those around us as an excuse to justify our own intransigence? It happened in the past in Anglicanism when some said we should not ordain woman because ‘oh, but what would the neighbours say? … It’s not the right time yet.’ We might ask whether we are saying the same today in the Anglican Communion about others.

As GB Caird points out in his commentary on Saint Luke’s Gospel, sometimes the most difficult choices in life for most of us are not between good and evil, but between the good and the best. I’m sure these three wannabe disciples presented good excuses. But discipleship on my own terms is not what Jesus asks of me. It can only be on his terms. There is no such thing as conditional discipleship, there is only committed discipleship.

As advertisers remind us constantly, there are terms and conditions attached to most things in life. But there can be no terms and conditions attached when it comes to being a disciple, to being a follower of Jesus.

And, as Saint Paul reminds us this morning in our epistle reading, committed discipleship is costly and demanding, but rewarding. It finds its true expression in ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.’

‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9: 60) … graves in the churchyard at the former cathedral in Emly, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 51-62:

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59 To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

‘The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you and were afraid’ (Psalm 77: 16) … clouds above the waters at Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect:

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
Send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Loving Father,
we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son.
Sustain us with your Spirit,
that we may serve you here on earth
until our joy is complete in heaven,
and we share in the eternal banquet
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah’ (Hymn 643) … footsteps on the sand at the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
298, Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
383, Lord, be thy word my rule
386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind
310, Spirit of the living God

Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20:

593, O Jesus, I have promised
372, Through all the changing scenes of life
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided

I Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21:

125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed

Psalm 16:

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

Galatians 5: 1, 13-25:

297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
320, Firmly I believe and truly
39, For the fruits of his creation
311, Fruitful trees, the Spirit’s sowing
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
490, The Spirit lives to set us free
81, Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided
395, When Jesus taught by Galilee
144, Word of justice, alleluia

Luke 9: 51-62:

608, Be still and know that I am God
219, From heav’n you came, helpless babe
421, I come with joy, a child of God
115, Thou art the Way: to thee alone
114, Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
605, Will you come and follow me

‘Come, thou Holy Spirit, come’ (Hymn 297) … late evening lights on the beach at Ballybunion, Co Kerry (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.

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.

Gravestones in the old Jewish burial ground in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 17 June 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 23 June 2019,
First Sunday after Trinity

‘For a long time … he did not live in a house but in the tombs’ (Luke 8: 27) … the Lycian rock tombs in the cliff faces above Fethiye in Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 23 June 2019, is the First Sunday after Trinity (Proper 7).

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Proper 7 (Year C), as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are in two groups.

The continuous readings are: I Kings 19: 1-4 (5-7), 8-15a; Psalms 42, 43; Galatians 3: 23-29; Luke 8: 26-39.

The paired readings are: Isaiah 65: 1-9; Psalm 22: 19-28; Galatians 3: 23–29; Luke 8: 26-39.

There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

‘When Elijah heard it, he … stood at the entrance of the cave’ (I Kings 19: 13) … in a cave in Goreme in central Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the readings:

For the past two months, we have been reading from Saint John’s Gospel as part of the Lectionary provisions for Easter and Pentecost. But we have returned to Ordinary Time, and on Sunday next we return to the Year C lectionary readings from Saint Luke’s Gospel.

For three weeks, we also have Old Testament readings that tell of brief episodes in the stories of the Prophets Elijah and Elisha, and New Testament readings from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

In next Sunday’s readings, Elijah goes into foreign territory, the Psalmist talks about what it is to be an outsider and isolated, Saint Paul addresses the true outsiders, and Jesus and his disciples go into foreign territory and encounter an outsider among the outsiders.

We might find contrasts between Elijah who stays in the cave after running away, and the man who lives in tombs after escaping from his shackles. After the storm, Elijah meets God in the ‘sound of sheer silence’ or the ‘still small voice’ in the wilderness, and after the storm, when Christ and his disciples go out into the wilderness, a disturbed meets the living God and comes to know true peace.

These readings challenge us to think about who is clean and who is unclean, who are the outsiders and who are the insiders.

God is in control of all life, whether it is the storm and fire, the stormy arguments that divide communities, or our own interior storms that are capable of destroying our own thinking and our own minds.

An icon of the Prophet Elijah in a hilltop chapel near Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

I Kings 19: 1-4 (5-7), 8-15a:

Before we come to this first reading, the two kingdoms are divided and separated, so that Israel becomes the northern kingdom and Judah forms the southern kingdom. In Israel, the northern kingdom, Queen Jezebel has promoted the Canaanite religion, and many people have strayed from worshipping God.

The Prophet Elijah has predicted a three-year drought, finds refuge outside Israel with a widow at Zarephath, and they miraculously find enough to eat. As the drought continues, Elijah becomes involved in a public conflict with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. When God hears Elijah, he sends fire, the failed prophets are killed, and God’s superiority is reinforced when the drought ends.

In this reading, Queen Jezebel seeks retribution and now threatens to kill Elijah swiftly. Fearing her vengeance, he flees for his life to Beer-sheba in the southern kingdom of Judah.

Elijah is spiritually exhausted and has had enough. He wants to give up, and even wants to die. He falls asleep but is woken twice by an angel, and he is fed twice by this angel’s guidance.

He then travels for 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Horeb, or Mount Sinai, and like Moses he has a living encounter with the ‘the word of the Lord’ (verse 10).

Elijah complains that the people have rejected God and killed God’s prophets. Now he alone is the only prophet left alive.

Elijah is told to climb the mountain and about to pass by. But God teaches Elijah a lesson. Instead appearing by showing his mighty power in the great wind, the splitting of rocks, the earthquake or the fire, God is present quietly, in ‘a sound of sheer silence,’ what the King James Version calls ‘a still small voice’ (verse 12).

God once again asks Elijah what he is doing there, and tells him to return to his mission in the northern kingdom.

‘As a deer longs for flowing streams’ (Psalm 42: 1) … mosaics in the sanctuary in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalms 42, 43:

These two psalms form one single poem or song consisting of three stanzas, each with the same refrain (42: 5, 42: 11; 43: 5):

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

The writer of these psalms loves God dearly:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

We know the writer lives in the northern kingdom, for he refers to Mount Sinai as Mount Horeb (see 42: 5). He has a deep desire to visit God him in the Temple, but is ill or wounded, and unable to make a pilgrimage from the north to Jerusalem.

He has fond memories of past pilgrimages (verse 4), but he wonders whether his inability to visit God in the Temple means God has forgotten him (42: 9), and ungodly people say he is ill because he is wicked (43: 1).

He now prays that God may come to his rescue, so that he may be able to make the pilgrimage once again.

‘As many of you were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ’ (Galatians 3: 27) … the baptismal font in the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Galatians 3: 23-29:

Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is unusual in the way it is addressed to neither a specific church in a city (such as Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians or Colossians), nor to a particular individual (such as Timothy or Titus). Instead, this letter is written to a group of Celtic people in either the Roman province of Galatia in central Anatolia settled by immigrant Celts in the 270s BC, or in a large region defined by an ethnic group of Celtic people in northern Anatolia.

So, this is the one book in the Bible that is related to Celtic people.

The central dispute at the heart of this letter is the debate about how Gentiles could convert to Christianity, at a time when the vast majority of Christians were Jewish or Jewish proselytes.

Some Jewish Christians said that in order for converts to belong to the People of God, they must become Jews first. The letter indicates controversies about circumcision, Sabbath observance and the Mosaic Covenant. They may have challenged Saint Paul’s authority as an apostle, perhaps appealing to the greater authority of the Church in Jerusalem and Saint James the Apostle.

In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul has argued that God’s promise to Abraham predates the Mosaic Law, and God’s promise of the gift of Christ is freely given to ‘those who believe.’

If the Mosaic law was marked by restraint, now we realise we are free, and all barriers have been broken down. No longer are we to be disciplined as children (see verse 24), but are the free children of God because of Christ (verses 25-26).

Baptism in Christ means all the barriers have been broken down. There ‘is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus’ (verses 27-28).

In the Church, there can be no more distinctions based on ethnic, social or gender differences. If we belong to Christ, we are the true, spiritual descendants of Abraham and heirs to God’s promises (verse 29).

‘For a long time … he did not live in a house but in the tombs’ (Luke 8: 27) … the Tomb of Amyntas, in the rock face above Fethiye (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 26-39:

This story appears in all three synoptic Gospels: Matthew 8: 28-34; Mark 5: 1-20; and Luke 8: 26-39.

After Jesus calms a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8: 22-25), he and his disciples arrive on the other side of the lake in the countryside surrounding Gerasa, present-day Jerash. This city, also known as Antioch on the Chrysorrhoas or the Golden River, was founded by Alexander the Great. It is 50 km south-east of the Sea of Galilee and 30 km north of Philadelphia, modern-day Amman.

However, Saint Matthew sets this story in Gadara (present-day Umm Qais), about 10 km from the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Either location poses questions, for neither Gadara nor Gerasa is near to the coast of the Sea of Galilee: Gadara was about a three-hour walking distance, while Gerasa was well over twice as far.

The differing geographical references to Gadara and Gerasa can be understood in light of the social, economic, and political influence each city exerted over the region. In this light, Matthew identified the exorcism with Gadara as the local centre of power, while the city of Gerasa was a major urban centre and one of the ten cities of the Decapolis.

Whatever the location and setting of this story, it takes place deep inside Gentile territory. From the very moment they get off the boat, this story involves a place and people regarded as unclean by the standards among the disciples: this is Gentile territory, the people are ritually ‘unclean,’ the man has an ‘unclean’ spirit, he is naked or a person of visible and public shame, he lives among the tombs, which are ritually unclean, and the pigs are unclean too.

In those days, demons were regarded as spirits of an evil kind that did battle, as a ‘legion,’ with God and God’s allies. They were thought to invade human bodies and personalities, causing psychiatric and physical illness, and taking control of people. They found their abode in ‘wilds’ or the desert, and ‘the abyss’ was the realm of Satan and home to demons. The name ‘Legion’ suggests great demonic power, for a Roman legion was an army unit of about 5,000 troops.

Prisoners or people who had been deprived of their liberty lost the right to wear clothes. Tombs were ritually unclean places. Swine were a symbol of pagan religion and of Roman rule, but even they are subject to Christ’s authority.

This episode plays a key role in the theory of the ‘Scapegoat’ put forward by the French literary critic René Girard (1923-2015). In his analysis, the opposition of the entire city to the one man possessed by demons is the typical template for a scapegoat. Girard notes that, in the demoniac’s self-mutilation, he seems to imitate the stoning that the local villagers might have attempted to use against him to cast him out of their society, while the villagers themselves show by their reaction to Christ that they are not primarily concerned with the good of the man possessed by demons:

‘Notice the mimetic character of this behaviour. As if he is trying to avoid being expelled and stoned in reality, the possessed brings about his own expulsion and stoning; he provides a spectacular mime of all the stages of punishment that Middle Eastern societies inflict on criminals whom they consider completely defiled and irredeemable. First, the man is hunted, then stoned, and finally he is killed; this is why the possessed lived among the tombs. The Gerasenes must have had some understanding of why they are reproached, or they would not respond as they do. Their mitigated violence is an ineffective protest. Their answer is: “No, we do not want to stone you because we want to keep you near us. No ostracism hangs over you.” Unfortunately, like anyone who feels wrongfully yet feasibly accused, the Gerasenes protest violently, they protest their good faith with violence, thereby reinforcing the terror of the possessed. Proof of their awareness of their own contradiction lies in the fact that the chains are never strong enough to convince their victim of their good intentions toward him.’

On Girard’s account, then, the uneasy truce that the Gaderenes and the demonic have worked out is that the evil power in him is contained and so neutralised. The arrival of Jesus on the scene introduces a spiritual power stronger than Legion, which upsets the societal balance by removing the scapegoat. This reversal of the scapegoat mechanism by Jesus is central to Girard’s entire reading of Christianity, and this reversal is on display in this story as well.

Contrasting the self-destruction of the herd of pigs with the typical motif of an individual evildoer being pushed over a cliff by an undifferentiated mob (see Luke 4: 29), Girard comments:

‘But in these cases, it is not the scapegoat who goes over the cliff, neither is it a single victim nor a small number of victims, but a whole crowd of demons, two thousand swine possessed by demons. Normal relationships are reversed. The crowd should remain on top of the cliff and the victim fall over; instead, in this case, the crowd plunges and the victim is saved. The miracle of Gerasa reverses the universal schema of violence fundamental to all societies of the world.’

After this episode, the man not only sits ‘at the feet of Jesus,’ as disciples did, but he becomes a missionary to other Gentiles. This is a story of dramatic transformation.

Look at the changes in this man’s life: he moves from outside the city to inside it; he moves from living in tombs and being driven into the desert to being alive in a house; he moves from nakedness to being clothed, from being demented to being of sound mind.

He moves from destructive isolation to being part of a nurturing, human community. He moves from being expelled from the religious community to being part of the Church and proclaiming the good news.

He is sent back to live in his house or home (verse 27). The word Saint Luke uses here is οἶκος (oikos), which means a house, an inhabited house, even a palace or the house of God, as opposed to δόμος (domos), the word used for a house as a building. Those who live there now form one family or household, and this comes to mean the family of God or the Church (for examples, see I Timothy 3: 15; I Peter 4: 17, and Hebrews 3: 2, 5).

Without trying to read too much into this use of language, we could still draw from this that the outsider, the person seen as unclean and defiled, the scapegoat, is restored to a full place in the Church too, in God’s family.

Who do you think we see as Scapegoats today, as outsiders to be pushed to the margins, so that we can maintain the purity of our family, church or society?

Who do we expose and shame so that we can maintain the appearance of our own purity?

Are these the very people who might bring the good news to people on the margins, inviting them into the household of God?

‘Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding’ (Luke 8: 32) ... wooden sculptures of pigs throughout Tamworth celebrate the political achievements of Sir Robert Peel, including ‘bread for the millions’ and ‘religious tolerance’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 8: 26-39:

26 [Jesus and his disciples then] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’ – 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

‘So he got into the boat and returned’ (Luke 8: 37) ... on the middle lake in Killarney, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

the strength of all those who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts.
May our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘As the deer pants for the water’ (Hymn 606) … a young deer by a lake side in Killarney, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

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

I Kings 19: 1-4 (5-7) 8-15a:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the holy one is here
549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
593, O Jesus, I have promised
624, Speak, Lord, in the stillness
387, Thanks to God whose Word was spoken
141, These are the days of Elijah

Psalms 42 and 43:

607, As pants the hart for cooling streams
606, As the deer pants for the water
15, If thou but suffer God to guide thee
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts
384, Lord, thy word abideth
434, My Jesus, pierced for love of me

Isaiah 65: 1-9:

No suggested hymns

Psalm 22: 19-28:

492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

Galatians 3: 23-29:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
389, All who believe and are baptized
218, And can it be that I should gain
496, For the healing of the nations
522, In Christ there is no east or west
101, Jesus, the very thought of thee
358, King of glory, King of peace

Luke 8: 26-39:

549, Dear Lord and Father of mankind
554, Lord Jesus, think on me
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

The Prophets Elijah (left) and Elisha (right) in a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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.

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.

For René Girard and this Gospel reading, see René Girard, The Scapegoat (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp 165-183.

‘At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there’ (I Kings 19: 9) … the once inhabited caves at Matala on the south coast of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 10 June 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 16 June 2019,
Trinity Sunday

An image of the Trinity in Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the Western Church, we are marking Sunday next [16 June 2019] as Trinity Sunday.

The doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed to the world after the first great Pentecost. So, it is fitting that the feast of the Trinity follows immediately after that of Pentecost. However, this tradition of observing the First Sunday after Pentecost as Trinity Sunday has unique roots in the Anglican tradition.

The Book of Common Prayer (2004) says Trinity Sunday is marked in the Church of Ireland as one of the ‘principal holy days which are to be observed.’ On this day, ‘it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and parish church or in a church within a parochial union or group of parishes.’ It says the liturgical provisions for this day ‘may not be displaced by any other observance’ (p. 18).

The appointed readings for Trinity Sunday [Year C] are:

The Readings: Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Inside the chapel in Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Observing Trinity Sunday

Following the pre-Reformation Sarum use, both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England name the Sundays that follow this Sunday as ‘Sundays after Trinity.’ However, in the US the Episcopal Church (TEC) now follows Roman Catholic usage and calls these the ‘Sundays after Pentecost.’

Although liturgically we are now in Ordinary Time, the liturgical colours change from green to white on Trinity Sunday. The Book of Common Prayer (pp 771-773) places ‘The Creed (commonly called) of Saint Athanasius, also known as the Quicunque Vult,’ between the Catechism and the Preamble to the Constitution. But it makes no provision for its use. However, some churches in the Church of Ireland and the Church of England have a tradition of using this creed on Trinity Sunday.

The early Church had no special Office or day to honour the Holy Trinity. However, with the spread of the Arian heresy, the Church Fathers prepared an Office with canticles, responses, a Preface, and hymns, to be recited on Sundays.

There are prayers and the Preface of the Trinity in the Sacramentary of Saint Gregory the Great. However, the Micrologies, written when Gregory VII was Pope, call the Sunday after Pentecost a Dominica vacans, or an ordinary Sunday, when there was no special office, although it did note that the Office of the Holy Trinity composed by Bishop Stephen or Liège (903-920) was recited in some places on this Sunday, and in other places on the Sunday before Advent.

Pope Alexander II (1061-1073) refused a petition for a special feast on this day. He pointed out that such a feast was not customary and that the Church honoured the Holy Trinity every day with the use of the doxology, Gloria Patri.

Two plaques on a street corner in London recall Saint Thomas Becket … he introduced Trinity Sunday to the Church Calendar (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

When Saint Thomas Becket (1118-1170) was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost, his first act was to decree that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity.

This observance spread from Canterbury throughout the Western Church. In the following century, a new Office for the Holy Trinity was written by the Franciscan friar, John Peckham (died 1292), who later became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Pope John XXII (1316-1334) ordered the feast for the entire Church on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Surprisingly, this feast day never spread to the Orthodox Church. In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the Sunday of Pentecost itself is called Trinity Sunday, and instead the Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated as All Saints’ Sunday. The Monday after Pentecost is called the Monday of the Holy Spirit, and the next day is called the Third Day of the Trinity.

The Visitation of Abraham or the ‘Old Testament Trinity’ … a fresco in the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, interprets a Trinitarian and Eucharistic theme (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Preaching on Trinity Sunday

The late Professor Thomas Hopko (1939-2015) of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary has argued that if God were not Trinity, God could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow God’s love. This love or communion of God as Trinity is extended to us in the communion of the Church. It is not just the Trinitarian faith into which we are baptised, but the love or fellowship of the Trinity.

Yet many clergy tell me how they are frightened of getting into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday and some will use any excuse to avoid preaching that day.

Perhaps their difficulties and fears are well explained by Dorothy Sayers, the playwright, translator of Dante, and author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels, who was also a respected Anglican theologian and writer on spirituality in her own right.

It was she who came up with a whimsical definition of the Trinity: ‘The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible – the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult.’

For many Christians, the Trinity is incomprehensible, and has nothing to do with daily life.

It appears that many Christians behave as Unitarians when it comes to their spiritual and prayer life:

There are those who see God in Christ but in Christ only, and address all their prayers to Jesus, even in the Eucharist, when they should be addressed to the Father through the Son.

Or there are those who appear to reduce the role of Christ to that of a super logos, who frustrates the plans of a vengeful but distant God. Their Christology owes more to Arius than the orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

And there are those who criticise – and rightly criticise – others for neglecting the Holy Spirit, but who are in danger of neglecting the other two persons of the Trinity.

For many more, it appears, the Son and the Spirit are merely manifestations of – or masks for – the Father, a concept condemned in the early Church as Modalism or Sabellianism.

Each separate emphasis is fraught with danger and is symptomatic of a drift away from appreciating the centrality of the Trinity to faith and life.

A ‘Father-only’ image of God is in danger of reflecting power-lust and a need to dominate on the right, reducing God to an idol or mere totem; or, on the left, of reducing God to a mere metaphor for goodness, however one decides to define ‘goodness.’

Similarly, ‘Jesus-only’ images lead to moralistic action by Christians on the theological left or individualistic pietism on the theological right.

For its part, a ‘Spirit-only’ emphasis brings real dangers of either introspective escapism or charismatic excesses.

Yet these images are real throughout the Church, because the concept of the Trinity often appears irrelevant, due to poor teaching in many churches and what many be a prevailing anti-intellectual climate.

Those who venture bravely into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday are often reduced to explaining away the Trinity as a ‘mystery’ that they expect ‘mere’ lay people not to grapple with.

As Christians, we are baptised in the name of the Trinity. But there may reasons to fear that there has been a visible and audible decline in Trinitarian emphases in worship and liturgy. Many of our prayers, canticles and psalms should end with praise to the Trinity. But when they do, the doxology or Gloria often provides a liturgical but thoughtless full stop rather than a statement of faith.

Worship that becomes Unitarian in this way becomes a transaction between an external deity and an autonomous worshipper. And it is not possible for a collection of separated and disconnected individuals to become the community of faith, to enter into the life of the Trinity.

The general decline in the Trinitarian character of worship, theology and life in the Church today parallels a decline in rigorous intellectual thinking. This is typified in the decline in social emphasis in our time, typified in the infamous claim by one politician some decades ago that there is no society, that there are only individuals.

But we can only be human through our relationships; we can only have self-respect when we know what it is to respect others.

The Church is primarily communion, a set of relationships, exactly as we find in the Trinitarian God. Christianity is not a private religion for individuals; personal piety is only truly pious and personal when it relates to others and to creation.

Trinitarian truths expressed in a stained-glass window in Michaelhouse, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In today’s anti-intellectual climate, it is hard to imagine the passions raised by the earlier debates on the Trinity, which led to patriarchs being deposed, priests banished, and a Pope such as Honorius I being declared a heretic. Arguments about the Trinity evoked deep passions at Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, and they continue to be the most divisive issue separating the Eastern and Western Churches.

Today, the Church needs to recover a teaching of the Trinity that is not divisive and yet is relevant. There is a certain truth in the adage that man has created God in his own image and likeness. Our attitudes to the Trinity shape our models of God, and our models of God either shape or are shaped by our attitudes to the world: a unipolar God is an authoritarian model; the Trinity is a communitarian, inclusive, embracing, co-operative model.

Authoritarian or monist models have dominated the Church for centuries, providing male, authoritarian images of God. But in the New Testament and in the Early Church, the words used for the Spirit (pneuma, πνευμα), wisdom (Sophia, Σoφíα) and the Holy Trinity (Aghia Triadha, Αγία Τριάδα) are neuter and feminine nouns.

Monist models of God help to confirm men, particularly men with power in the Church, in their prejudices. The Trinity is inclusive rather than exclusive of human images.

During the Nazi era, the German theologian Erik Peterson (1890-1960) argued that monist theologies tend to legitimise absolutist and totalitarian political and social orders, while Trinitarian theologies challenge them.

The Trinity means that as humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, then it is not just as individuals that we reflect God’s image, but that when we are a community we are most human and most God-like. In the true community, each is valued, each takes account of the other, each has an equal place, contribution and voice. True community cannot concentrate sole authority, privilege and infallibility in one gender alone, let alone one member.

A recovery of the reality of the Trinity has radical implications for our models of the Church, for authority, service and inclusiveness in the Church. It implies respect for diversity and seeks a communal form of unity that respects, desires and even encourages diversity in the community of faith.

Compared with the great social and political challenges facing the Church, discussing the Trinity may seem to many to be as relevant as debating the number of angels on the head of a pin. Yet the Trinity is not only the archetype of all created reality, but without a fuller understanding of the nature of the Trinity, the Church will never be able to apprehend the truth of the infinite goodness of God.

The love and coinherence or perichoresis of the Trinity is a joyful dance that is at the heart of our understanding of God’s love for us and for creation, of our fellowship with God and one another, and of our understanding of our ministry and mission. Without a proper teaching on the Trinity, the Church will continue to provide answers to social and political questions that make God more like an idol than like our model for a loving community.

The Church of Aghia Sophia, dedicated to Divine Wisdom, in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Looking at the readings:

Have you reluctance to preach on Trinity Sunday?

Would you have considered the Old Testament passage (Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31) for a sermon on Trinity Sunday?

Do you find a difficulty in shifting from an approach of explanation to one of celebration?

How would a Trinitarian approach change your understanding of the Old Testament reading?

Are you comfortable with or challenged by feminine images of God in the Bible?

Do you have a Trinitarian understanding of the creation account in Genesis 1?

Have you made a connection between this understanding and the Gospel accounts of the Baptism of Christ?

Wisdom cries out ‘beside the way … at the crossroads … beside the gates in … the town, at the entrance’ (Proverbs 8: 2-3) … Toby jugs in the image of town criers once displayed in a front window in Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31

Lichfield has a traditional town crier. Ken Knowles, a retired teacher, dresses in the traditional town-crier’s red frock coat and tricorn hat, and goes around the town centre ringing his bell to proclaim the great news of the day. When he was living on Beacon Street, I enjoyed the row of Toby jugs, all dressed like town criers, he had on display in his front window.

The beginning of our Old Testament reading provides an instant image of a town crier calling out aloud at the gates and through the streets of the city. But in this case, Wisdom is proclaiming the good news of God’s creation, and the role of the Holy Spirit in that creation.

This Old Testament reading gives us part or all of three stanzas of a seven-stanza poem in which Wisdom is personified as a woman.

Verses 1-5 are the first stanza, and verses 22-31 are the fifth and sixth stanza.

Wisdom ‘cries out’ (verse 3) to ‘all that live’ (verse 4), to all people everywhere. But her message is primarily to young people.

Verses 22-31 tell of Wisdom’s relationship with creation. God created her at the beginning of his work, as ‘the first of his acts,’ ‘before the beginning of the earth’ (verse 23), before he created the depths (verse 24).

She was ‘brought forth’ (verse 24). The Hebrew word here presents an image of birth, as in begot or formed.

In verses 24-26, Canaanite mythological motifs, such as ‘depths,’ ‘springs,’ shaping the ‘mountains,’ are drawn on to say that Wisdom existed before creation began.

Verse 27 tells us that Wisdom pre-exists the world. She was present at creation, as a witness.

Wisdom came to know God’s secrets in creating the heavens and the earth, as in limiting the extent of the sea (verse 29).

She was ‘beside him’ at the time of creation (verse 30). Later writers, including the authors of Sirach and Wisdom, show that Wisdom had an active role in creation.

Wisdom was either was ‘like a master worker’ (verse 30), a craftsperson, in creative acts, or the Hebrew can mean little child. This notion which fits well with ‘brought forth’ (see verses 24 and 25) and with the rest of verse 30, where Wisdom is God’s ‘daily … delight’ and she delights in God’s creation of humanity (verse 31).

In other words, Wisdom rejoices both in God and in those created by God.

When later trans-culturated into the Greek world, Wisdom becomes the logos, the pre-existent divine Word: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ He ‘became flesh and lived among us’ (John 1: 1, 14). However, in this case I relate the images of Wisdom in Creation to the opening of the creation account in Genesis 1, where the Spirit of God hovers over formless void and darkness (Genesis 1: 2; cf John 1: 32).

‘You have set your glory above the heavens’ (Psalm 8: 1) … on the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 8:

Psalm 8 provides a picture in which God is praised for his glory (verses 1a and 9), reflected in his creation. God fashions creation, and is greater than all creation.

Once again, we have images of infants and children (verse 2). God is also a craftsman (compare ‘the work of your fingers’ in verse 4 with the master craftsman or worker in Proverbs 8: 30).

This psalm recalls the first creation story. God has given us a share in his power by conferring on us authority over the rest of all that he has created.

The Holy Trinity … an image in a side chapel in the Mezquita-Catedral or Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Romans 5: 1-5

Our Epistle reading is one of the great and succinct Trinitarian passages in the New Testament. In Romans 5: 1-5, the Apostle Paul writes that union with God comes through faith, and Christ is our entry point to God’s grace (verse 1).

We are not going to be disappointed, for God has given us the Holy Spirit, who is given to us, and who continually pours God’s love into our hearts (verse 5).

A mediaeval fresco of the Holy Trinity in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral … severely damaged by 17th century Puritans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 16: 12-15:

After the Last Supper, Jesus continues to tell the disciples about the mission they are to undertake. The Gospel reading (John 16: 12-15) is a natural continuation from the Gospel reading from the previous Sunday (9 June 2019), the Day of Pentecost (John 14: 8-17).

In this Gospel reading, once again we have a succinct Trinitarian passage. We are at that moment after the Last Supper when Christ promises the disciples that the ‘Spirit of truth’ is coming (verse 13).

The Spirit will guide them into all truth giving glory to Christ (verse 14), and they will receive all this from the Father (verse 15).

The former Trinity Episcopal Church on Catherine Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 16: 12-15 (NRSVA):

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity

One of the best-known presentations of the Trinity is found in Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham. This icon recalls the passage in Genesis 18, in which God visits Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Abraham’s guests – now only a single guest – is God.

Rublev’s icon itself is a masterpiece of composition: The viewer is being invited to join the meal; the doctrine of the Trinity as a community of Love into which the believer is invited to enter is depicted with clarity and simplicity; the icon communicates the idea that basis of the divine life is hospitality. The vanishing point in the sacred space is placed in front of the icon, inviting the viewer to enter into the holy mystery.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews picks up the theme of the Hospitality of Abraham at the end of his epistle when he advises Christians not to neglect hospitality: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13: 2).

Trinity College, Cambridge, where George Herbert was a student, fellow and then Reader in Rhetoric (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

George Herbert and ‘Trinitie Sunday’

When I was first preparing these notes for Trinity Sunday, I found myself re-reading the poem ‘Trinitie Sunday’ from The Temple (1633) by the Welsh-born English priest and poet George Herbert (1593-1633).

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy bloud,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;

Purge all my sinnes done heretofore:
For I confesse my heavie score,
And I will strive to sinne no more.

Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charitie;
That I may runne, rise, rest with thee.

George Herbert’s response to the mystery of the Holy Trinity is a response of heart, mouth, and hands. In this poem, he is creative, evocative and imaginative in his use of Trinitarian images, prayers and motifs in rhymes, alliteration and ideas throughout the three stanzas, which give wonderful glimpses, prayers and insights into our Trinitarian faith.

The poem is a delightful use of word, rhythm and structure, inviting the reader to become familiar with the concept of three, reminding us of the threefold nature of God as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Each stanza is three lines long, and each is in triple rhyme.

Stanza 1 is a prayer of invocation, with Line1 addressing God the Father as Creator, Line 2 addressing God the Son as Redeemer, and Line 3 addressing God the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier.

Stanza 2 is a confession. Line 1 refers to sins committed in the past, Line 2 to the present act of confessing, and Line 3 to the firm intention not to sin in the future.

Stanza 3 is an expression of expectation, and each line refers to three things. Line 1 speaks of heart, mouth and hands being enriched. Line 2 outlines that which will do the enriching – the three Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity. Line 3 expresses a desire to run, rise and rest with God. In the third stanza, Herbert continues with three little triplets of petitions.

A modern copy of Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham, by Eileen McGuckin

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White (Green in the weekdays)

Penitential Kyries:

Father, you come to meet us when we return to you.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, you died on the cross for our sins.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, you give us life and peace.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace to you from God our heavenly Father.
Peace from his Son Jesus Christ who is our peace.
Peace from the Holy Spirit the Life-giver.
The peace of the Triune God be always with you.
And also with you.


You have revealed your glory
as the glory of your Son and of the Holy Spirit:
three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour,
yet one Lord, one God,
ever to be worshipped and adored:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
may we who have received this holy communion,
worship you with lips and lives
proclaiming your majesty
and finally see you in your eternal glory:
Holy and Eternal Trinity,
one God, now and for ever.


God the Holy Trinity
make you strong in faith and love,
defend you on every side,
and guide you in truth and peace:

The east end of Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, with the vestry on the south side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31:

84, Alleluia! raise the anthem
537, O God, our help in ages past

Psalm 8:

316, Bright the vision that delighted
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
362, O God beyond all praising
32, O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
33, O Lord of every shining constellation

Romans 5: 1-5:

294, Come down, O Love divine
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
429, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
618, Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
636, May the mind of Christ my Saviour
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
306, O Spirit of the living God

John 16: 12-15:

295, Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove
324, God, whose almighty word
299, Holy Spirit, come, confirm us
300, Holy Spirit, truth divine
112, There is a Redeemer

A copy of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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.