Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
6 August 2019,
The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration by Adrienne Lord … an icon in the south ambulatory in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday next, 6 August 2019, is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The Book of Common Prayer allows Festival such as the Transfiguration to be celebrated on the Sunday in the same week (p 21), so some parishes may find these resources valuable for next Sunday [4 August 2019].

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Feast of the Transfiguration as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland are:

Readings: Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14; Psalm 97; II Peter 1: 16-19; Luke 9: 28-36.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The resources for Sunday 4 August 2019, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, were posted on Monday morning, and are available HERE.

Introduction: The Transfiguration, the Biblical story

The Transfiguration is described in the three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-8; Luke 9: 28-36). In addition, there may be allusions to the Transfiguration in John 1: 14 and in the New Testament reading provided for the Feast of the Transfiguration (II Peter 1: 16-19), in which the Apostle Peter describes himself as an eyewitness ‘of his sovereign majesty’ (verse 16).

Of course, there is an obvious question: Why is there no Transfiguration narrative in Saint John’s Gospel?

But then, there is no Eucharistic institution narrative in the Fourth Gospel either.

Perhaps we could say that the Fourth Gospel is shot through with the Transfiguration and the light of the Transfiguration, from beginning to end, just as it is shot through with Eucharistic narratives from beginning to end.

But should we describe the Transfiguration as a miracle? If we do, then it is the only Gospel miracle that happens to Christ himself. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas spoke of the Transfiguration as ‘the greatest miracle,’ because it complemented baptism and showed the perfection of life in Heaven.

None of the accounts identifies the ‘high mountain’ by name. The earliest identification of the mountain as Mount Tabor was made by Saint Jerome in the late fourth century.

But does it matter where the location is? Consider the place of Mountains in the salvation story and in revelation:

● Moses meets God in the cloud and the burning bush on Mount Sinai, and there receives the tablets of the Covenant (Exodus 25 to 31);

● Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18);

● Elijah climbs Mount Sinai and finds God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice in the cleft of the Mountain (I Kings 19: 12);

● The Sermon, which is the ‘manifesto’ of the new covenant, is the Sermon on the Mount;

● The Mount of Olives is a key location in the Passion narrative;

● Christ is crucified on Mount Calvary;

● Saint John receives his Revelation in the cave at the top of the mountain on Patmos.

As for the cloud, as three Synoptic Gospels describe the cloud’s descent in terms of overshadowing (επισκιαζειν, episkiazein), which in the Greek is a pun on the word tents (σκηνάς skenas), but is also the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 35).

In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud leads the people through the wilderness by day, just as the pillar of fire leads them by night. Moses entered the cloud on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24: 18), the Shekinah cloud is the localised manifestation of the presence of God (Exodus 19: 9; 33: 9; 34: 5; 40: 34; II Maccabees 2: 8).

The cloud takes Christ up into heaven at the Ascension (Acts 1: 9-10).

Saint Paul talks about the living and the dead being caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord (I Thessalonians 4: 17).

The principle characters:

Christ is the focus of the Transfiguration, but who are the other principle characters in this story?

1, The Trinity: In Orthodox theology, the Transfiguration is not only a feast in honour of Christ, but a feast of the Holy Trinity, for all three Persons of the Trinity are present at that moment:

● God the Father speaks from heaven: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’ (Luke 9: 35).

● God the Son is transfigured;

● God the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a cloud.

In this sense, the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’ – the ‘Great Epiphany’ being the Baptism of Christ, when the Holy Trinity appears in a similar pattern.

The Transfiguration (Kirillo-Belozersk), anonymous, ca 1497 … the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’

2, Moses and Elijah: At the Transfiguration, Christ appears with Moses and Elijah, the two pre-eminent figures of Judaism, standing alongside him. Saint John Chrysostom explains their presence in three ways:

● They represent the Law and the Prophets – Moses received the Law from God, and Elijah was a great prophet.

● They both experienced visions of God – Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel.

● They represent the living and the dead – Elijah, the living, because he was taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire, and Moses, the dead, because he did experience death.

Moses and Elijah show that the Law and the Prophets point to the coming of Christ, and their recognition of and conversation with Christ symbolise how he fulfils ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 5: 17-19; cf Luke 16: 16). Moses and Elijah also stand for the living and dead, for Moses died and his burial place is known, while Elijah was taken alive into heaven in order to appear again to announce the time of God’s salvation.

It was commonly believed that Elijah would reappear before the coming of the Messiah (see Malachi 4), and the three interpret Christ’s response as a reference to John the Baptist (Matthew 17: 13).

3, The Disciples: Peter, James and John were with Christ on the mountain top.

Why these three disciples?

Do you remember how this might relate to Moses and Elijah? Moses ascended the mountain with three trusted companions, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, to confirm the covenant (Exodus 24: 1), and God’s glory covered the mountain in a cloud for six days (Exodus 25 to 31).

In some ways, Peter, James and John serve as an inner circle or a ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the Gospels.

They are at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1, Mark 9: 2; Luke 9: 28), but also at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 9: 2; Luke 6: 51), at the top of the Mount of Olives when Christ is about to enter Jerusalem (Mark 13: 3), they help to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22: 8), and they are in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 37).

They are the only disciples to have been given nickname by Jesus: Simon became the Rock, James and John were the sons of thunder (Luke 5: 10). Jerome likes to refer to Peter as the rock on which the Church is built, James as the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death, John as the beloved disciple.

They are a trusted group who also serve to represent us at each moment in the story of salvation.

The Ancient of Days (Ο Παλαιός των Ημερών) … a fresco in the Parish Church in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In today’s worldly ways, in our culture today, we may find it difficult to come to terms culturally with apocalyptic visions, and think they are only for people who have their heads in the clouds. But the Old Testament reading (Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14) and the Gospel story (Luke 9: 28-36) offer two visions that pull us in different directions.

The Prophet Daniel is caught up in an experience that is very much in the present, but that looks back to the past, and yet is full of promise for the future.

In his present predicament, Daniel has a vision of the Ancient One, the Ancient of Days (Ο Παλαιός των Ημερών). Most of the Eastern Church Fathers who comment on this passage interpret this figure as a revelation of the Son before his Incarnation.

Eastern Christian art sometimes portrays Christ as an old man, the Ancient of Days, to show symbolically that he existed from all eternity, that Christ is pre-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In experiencing the Divine presence in the present, Daniel looks back to the past with the title the Ancient One or the Ancient of Days (verse 9). But he also looks forward to the future, when Christ is given dominion that is everlasting, that shall not pass away, that shall never be destroyed (verse 14).

In a similar way, the Transfiguration is a moment that brings the experience of the past and the promise of the future together in the moment of the present.

I saw this recently in two icons of the Transfiguration in two different places.

I was visiting a new church built in a village in the mountains above the tourist resorts in Crete. There I was shown an icon of the Transfiguration presented to that Church in 2007, shortly after it opened 12 years ago.

A few weeks earlier, I was invited to open a summer exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, of icons by Adrienne Lord. The poster for this exhibition, and one of the principal exhibits, was an icon of the Transfiguration.

In both icons, we see on the left, Christ leading the three disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain; in the centre, we see these three disciples stumbling and falling as they witness and experience the Transfiguration; and then, to the right, Christ is depicted leading these three back down the side of the mountain.

In other words, we are invited to see the Transfiguration not as a static moment but as a dynamic event. It is a living event in which we are invited to move from all in the past that weighs us down, to experience the full life that Christ offers us today, and to bring this into how we live our lives as Disciples in the future, a future that begins here and now.

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process. The original Greek word for Transfiguration in the Gospels is μεταμόρφωσις (metamorphosis), which means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. Saint Paul uses the same word (μεταμόρφωσις) when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18).

This metamorphosis invites us into the event of becoming what we have been created to be. This is what Orthodox writers call deification. Transfiguration is a profound change, by God, in Christ, through the Spirit. And so, the Transfiguration reveals to us our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all people and all creation – to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendour of God himself.

The Transfiguration points to Christ’s great and glorious Second Coming and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation shall be transfigured and filled with light.

According to Saint Gregory Palamas, the light of the Transfiguration ‘is not something that comes to be and then vanishes.’ It not only prefigures the eternal blessedness that all Christians look forward to, but also the Kingdom of God already revealed, realised and come.

In a lecture in Cambridge some years ago [2011], Metropolitan Kallistos [Ware], the pre-eminent Orthodox theologian in England, spoke of the Transfiguration as a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, to the final glory of Christ’s second coming, because through the incarnation Christ raises our human nature to a new level, opens new possibilities.

The Incarnation is a new beginning for the human race, and in the Transfiguration we see not only our human nature at the beginning, but as it can be in and through Christ at the end, he told us.

But with the Transfiguration comes the invitation to bear the cross with Christ. Peter, James and John are with Christ on Mount Tabor, and they are with him in Gethsemane. We must understand the Passion of Christ and the Transfiguration in the light of each other, not as two separate mysteries, but aspects of the one single mystery. Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary go together; and glory and suffering go together.

If we are to become part of the Transfiguration, we cannot leave our cross behind. If we are to bring the secular, fallen world into the glory of Christ, that has to be through self-emptying (κένωσις, kenosis), cross-bearing and suffering. There is no answer to secularism that does not take account of the Cross, as well as taking account of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.

The Transfiguration provides a guideline for confronting the secular world, he said. And Metropolitan Kalistos reminded us of the story from Leo Tolstoy, Three Questions. The central figure is set a task of answering three questions:

What is the most important time?

The most important time is now, the past is gone, and the future does not exist yet.

Who is the most important person?

The person who is with you at this very instant.

What is the most important task?

‘This task is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!’

The light that shone from Christ on the mountaintop is not a physical and created light, but an eternal and uncreated light, a divine light, the light of the Godhead, the light of the Holy Trinity.

The experience on Mount Tabor confirms Saint Peter’s confession of faith which reveals Christ as the Son of the Living God. Yet Christ remains fully human as ever he was, as fully human as you or me, and his humanity is not abolished. But the Godhead shines through his body and from it.

In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. But at other points in his life, the glory is hidden beneath the veil of his flesh. What we see in Christ on Mount Tabor is human nature, our human nature, taken up into God and filled with the light of God. ‘So, this should be our attitude to the secular world,’ Metropolitan Kallistos said.

Or, as the Revd Dr Kenneth Leech (1939-2015) once said: ‘Transfiguration can and does occur “just around the corner,” occurs in the midst of perplexity, imperfection, and disastrous misunderstanding.’

Metropolitan Kallistos spoke that day of the Transfiguration as a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, opening new possibilities.

The Transfiguration shows us what we can be in and through Christ, he told us.

In secular life, there is a temptation to accept our human nature as it is now. But the Transfiguration of Christ offers the opportunity to look at ourselves not only as we are now, but take stock of what happened in the past that made us so, and to grasp the promise of what we can be in the future.

The Transfiguration is not just an Epiphany or a Theophany moment for Christ, with Peter, James and John as onlookers. The Transfiguration reminds us of how God sees us in God’s own image and likeness, sees us for who we were, who we are and who we are going to be, no matter how others see us, no matter how others dismiss us.

The Transfiguration is a challenge to remember always that we are made in the image and likeness of God. And, no matter what others say about you, how others judge you, how others gossip or talk about you, how others treat you, God sees your potential, God sees in you God’s own image and likeness, God knows you are beautiful inside and loves you, loves you for ever, as though you are God’s only child. You are his beloved child in whom he is well pleased.

The Transfiguration depicted in a church in Lucan, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 9: 28-36

28 Ἐγένετο δὲ μετὰ τοὺς λόγους τούτους ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ [καὶ] παραλαβὼν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰωάννην καὶ Ἰάκωβον ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος προσεύξασθαι. 29 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ προσεύχεσθαι αὐτὸν τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον καὶ ὁ ἱματισμὸς αὐτοῦ λευκὸς ἐξαστράπτων. 30 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄνδρες δύο συνελάλουν αὐτῷ, οἵτινες ἦσαν Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας,

31 οἳ ὀφθέντες ἐν δόξῃ ἔλεγον τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ, ἣν ἤμελλεν πληροῦν ἐν Ἰερουσαλήμ.

32 ὁ δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ σὺν αὐτῷ ἦσαν βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ: διαγρηγορήσαντες δὲ εἶδον τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς δύο ἄνδρας τοὺς συνεστῶτας αὐτῷ. 33 καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ διαχωρίζεσθαι αὐτοὺς ἀπ' αὐτοῦ εἶπεν ὁ Πέτρος πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Ἐπιστάτα, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι, καὶ ποιήσωμεν σκηνὰς τρεῖς, μίαν σοὶ καὶ μίαν Μωϋσεῖ καὶ μίαν Ἠλίᾳ, μὴ εἰδὼς ὃ λέγει. 34 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ λέγοντος ἐγένετο νεφέλη καὶ ἐπεσκίαζεν αὐτούς: ἐφοβήθησαν δὲ ἐν τῷ εἰσελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εἰς τὴν νεφέλην. 35 καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος, αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε.

36 καὶ ἐν τῷ γενέσθαι τὴν φωνὴν εὑρέθη Ἰησοῦς μόνος. καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐσίγησαν καὶ οὐδενὶ ἀπήγγειλαν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις οὐδὲν ὧν ἑώρακαν.

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ – not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Transfiguration … an icon in the parish church in Piskopianó on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White.

Penitential Kyries:

Your unfailing kindness, O Lord, is in the heavens,
and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Your righteousness in like the strong mountains,
and your justice as the great deep.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light shall we see light.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured
before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain,
and spoke of the exodus he would accomplish at Jerusalem:
Give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross in this world,
that in the world to come we may see him as he is;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Christ will transfigure your human body,
and give it a form like that of his own glorious body.
We are the Body of Christ. We share his peace.
(Philippians 3: 21, I Corinthians 11: 27; Romans 5: 1)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
whose divine glory shone forth upon the holy mountain
before chosen witnesses of his majesty;
when your own voice from heaven
proclaimed him your beloved Son:

Post Communion Prayer:

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
May we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The God of all grace,
Who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus,
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith:

The Transfiguration, a Romanian copy of an icon in Stavronikita Monastery in Mount Athos

Suggested hymns:

Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14

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

Psalm 97:

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

II Peter 1: 16-19:

501, Christ is the world’s true light
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
613, Eternal light, shine in my heart
654, Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart

Luke 9: 28-36:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is he
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
501, Christ is the world’s true light
205, Christ upon the mountain peak
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
331 God reveals his presence
209 Here in this holy time and place
101, Jesus, the very thought of thee
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
102, Name of all majesty
60, O Jesus, Lord of heavenly race
449, Thee we adore, O hidden Saviour, thee
112, There is a Redeemer
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

The Transfiguration in a window in Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church, Galway (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

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

The hymn 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)

Monday, 29 July 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 4 August 2019,
Seventh Sunday after Trinity

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … a large barn at Comberford Manor Farm in Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 4 August 2019, is the Seventh Sunday after Trinity.

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups.

The readings are:

Continuous readings: Hosea 11: 1-11; Psalm 107: 1-9, 43; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21. There is a link to the readings HERE.

Paired readings: Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14, 2: 18-23; Psalm 49: 1-12; Colossians 3: 1–11; Luke 12: 13–21. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves’ (Luke 12: 21) … inside an antique shop in Blackrock, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the continuous readings:

Next Sunday’s continuous readings offer opportunities to reflect on the dangers of turning our backs on God’s ways, and to recall the blessings we have received from God.

The Prophet Hosea warns of the looming consequences for an unfaithful people, including violence and exile. Yet God will be compassionate and tender-hearted, there is hope for the future, and the people will return from exile to their homes.

Psalm 107 is a collective thanksgiving, reminding the people of their past slavery an exile, and urging them:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders he does for his children

In the Epistle reading, we are reminded how in Baptism we caste aside old ways and put on a new life in Christ.

The Gospel reading tells the well-known ‘Parable of the Rich Fool’ who thinks his abundant crops as an opportunity to ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry’ rather than a time to give thanks to God for his blessings.

‘They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion’ (Hosea 11: 10) … a roaring lion in a deserted factory in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hosea 11: 1-11:

Last week, we read part of the introduction to Book of Hosea (1: 2-10). In the first three chapters of this book, the Prophet Hosea graphically describes how the people of the northern kingdom (Israel) have fallen away God’s ways, abandoning God and the covenant with him, and have worshipped pagan gods or the Baals and idols. He then warns of the consequences.

Now, however, God speaks through Hosea, recalling the Exodus from Egypt (verses 1-4). Hosea visualises God’s loving care of the people, personalised as Ephraim, is like a parent’s care for a child.

But Hosea warns of the looming consequences (verses 5-7). Because they have not returned to God, they will be exiled to Assyria, and they will be in bondage, as they once did in Egypt. There will be violence in the streets, (verse 6), their priests will be killed. And even though they will call to God for help, he will not hear them (verse 7).

Nevertheless, God’s anger – unlike our human anger – does not last (verses 8-9). Once again, God will be compassionate and tender-hearted. He will not allow the complete destruction of the cities and their inhabitants in the way that Admah and Zeboiim were destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah.

There is hope for the future, and the people will return from exile to the land, to their homes (verse 11).

‘Some went astray in desert wastes and found no path’ but ‘he set their feet on the right way’ (Psalm 107: 4-7) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

Psalm 107: 1-9, 43:

Psalm 107 is a collective thanksgiving, sung by a group of pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival. The incipit says they are thanking God for delivering them for many dangers.

Verses 2-3 may have been written after the Exile, and added, along with verses 33-43, to change the original psalm from an individual thanksgiving to one suited to communal use.

This psalm is punctuated with a refrain based on verse 6:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders he does for his children
(verses 8, 15, 21 and 31).

The portion of this psalm appointed for next Sunday opens with a call to praise. It recalls the people returning from exile at all points of the compass (verse 3) and tells of the people wandering in the desert during the Exodus (verses 4-9). When they were ‘hungry and thirsty,’ in body and soul, God came to their aid (verses 5-6).

God helped them in their troubled times, and the pilgrims now thank God for his deliverance, guidance and love, satisfying the thirsty and feeding the hungry.

The concluding portion of the psalm (verses 33-43) is part of a hymn praising God for his bounty, and reminds us to continue to thank God for his steadfast love (verse 43).

‘In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew’ (Colossians 3: 11) … in a Greek synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Colossians 3: 1-11:

We are at the end of a series of four readings from the Letter to the Colossians that began on Sunday 14 July.

The author has described baptism as being raised with Christ and giving us a share in his suffering and death. In the early Church, candidates for Baptism removed their old clothes before being baptised and donned new ones afterwards, symbolising casting aside old ways and putting on a new life in Christ.

This reading begins with the author summarising this concept (Colossians 1: 1-4). On at least 25 occasions, the New Testament speaks of Christ being seated at God’s right hand (see Psalm 110: 1, ‘Sit at my right hand …’).

The author tells us that we already have close fellowship with Christ, but this is not yet fully revealed. Our lives are still ‘hidden with Christ in God.’ When Christ’s glory is ‘revealed,’ at the end of time, our complete union with him will be visible.

Being baptised, we are expected to conduct ourselves ethically, casting aside both sins of the body (verse 5) and of the mind (verses 5-17).

The word πορνεία (porneía) in verse 5, which is translated as ‘fornication’ in the NRSV, means all forms of sexual immorality, and gives us the word pornography in English. It can refer to illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, sexual intercourse with close relatives (see Leviticus 18), and sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman (Mark 10: 11,12). But its metaphorical use, which may be intended here, refers to the worship of idols, and the defilement of idolatry, incurred by eating sacrifices offered to idols or taking part in cult prostitution.

Impurity is sexual; passion is lust; evil desire is self-centred covetousness; greed motivates a person to set up a god besides God.

Because people still commit these sins wilfully and without seeking forgiveness, ‘the wrath of God is coming’ on them at the end of time (verse 6; see Romans 1: 18, 5: 9, I Thessalonians 1: 10, 2: 16, 5: 9).

The reference to the new self which is in the image (εἰκών, icon) of the creator (verse 10), recalls that God makes humans in God’s own image.

In the baptised community, ethnic, language and social barriers have been broken down to the point that they no longer exist, for ‘Christ is all and in all’ (verse 11).

‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly’ (Luke 12: 16) … fields at summertime in Bunratty, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 12: 13-21:

A large crowd, totalling thousands of people, has gathered to hear Jesus, trampling on one another so that they can hear him (Luke 12: 1). He is speaking to the disciples when one person in the crowd comes forward and asks Jesus to tell this man’s brother to share their family inheritance (verses 13-14).

Jesus has just told the disciples not to fret when they are being questioned and scrutinised, but to expect to be taught by the Holy Spirit what to say (verses 11-12).

However, in response to this question from a man in the crowd, Jesus simply asks another question: ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ The Mishnah guided rabbis on how to handle questions of inheritance. The Mosaic law prescribed that an elder son should receive twice the inheritance of a younger son (see Deuteronomy 21: 17). However, by rabbinical times, the Mishnah indicates, this seems to have been largely ignore (see Bava Batra 8: 4-5).

However, Christ avoids being drawn into an argument about the merits of Mosaic law and rabbinical practice, and asks whether the man wants to place him in role akin to that of Moses.

The word ἄνθρωπος (anthropos), translated ‘friend’ in the NRSV (verse 14), literally means human, and may have been heard as a stern rather affectionate form of address. Jesus explains: ‘all kinds of greed’ (verse 15) have no place in anyone’s life; true being (real and meaningful ‘life’) is more than ‘possessions.’

Having asked a rhetorical question, Christ does not wait for an answer. Instead, he warns the disciples against greed and possessions (verse 15), and he moves on telling the ‘Parable of the Rich Fool’ (verses 16-21), a parable that is unusual because God is a character in the story.

The rich farmer’s land has ‘produced abundantly’ (verse 16). His frequent use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ (verses 17-19) shows how he thinks only of himself and his of his own material well-being. He fools himself into thinking material possessions can satisfy the needs of both his body and his soul (verse 19).

To ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (verse 19) can be a proper response to God’s gifts and generosity (see Ecclesiastes 8: 15; Tobit 7: 10; I Enoch 97: 8-9). Indeed, this parable does not attack wealth as such. But it criticises amassing wealth solely for one’s own enjoyment. It is the purely selfish accumulation of wealth that is incompatible with discipleship.

God says to the farmer ‘You fool!’ (verse 20) for ignoring his relationship with God. In the Old Testament, foolishness often implies immorality and deviating from God’s ways. Materialism can get in the way of godliness. Earthly riches do not last, but a time is coming when we will be judged by God.

‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves’ (Luke 12: 21) … inside an antique shop in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A reflection on the Gospel reading

I am not fond of television quiz programmes, or programmes that ask silly questions of people.

You have the programme presenter sitting there, looking smug with both the questions and answers, researched by a paid researcher, and the poor member of the public sitting there, anxious about obscure questions about the crew members of the Moon Landing in 1969, or the No 1 hits in 2009, or celebrity weddings in 2019.

I could not, for the life of me, answer any one of those questions. But some poor people, for the sake of €100 or €1,000 – never, it seems, on the way to being a millionaire – are made to look silly or ridiculous.

Quite frankly, I find it demeaning. And I have never wanted to hoard up all the answers for a television quiz, or, for that matter, for a parish table quiz. As I get older, I know this is anxiety that I do not need, and it is probably knowledge I am better off not storing up.

Recently, watching one of those programmes as we were idly flicking through television channels, I was told: ‘I could never go on a programme like that with you!’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because I could never answer: “What is his favourite piece of music.” Or: “If money was no barrier, what would he buy?”’

Well there is a lot of good music to listen to.

But if money was no barrier, what would I buy?

Would it make me happy?

Would it make anyone else happy?

Would it tell anyone that they are loved, loving, worth loving, that I love them, that I really enjoy their love?

But I understand why the man in this Gospel reading does many of the things he does.

He has a bumper crop one year, and not enough room to store it in. Was he to leave what he could not store to rot in the fields?

It is a foundational principle of all economics, whatever your political values – from Marx and Malthus to Milton Freedman – that the production of surplus food is the beginning of the creation of wealth and the beginning of economic prosperity.

Even if you are a complete ‘townie,’ it should bring joy to your heart the see the fields of green and gold these weeks, for the abundance of the earth is truly a blessing from God.

And it would have been wrong for this man to leave the surplus food to rot in the fields because he failed to have the foresight to build larger barns to store the surplus grain.

It provides income, creates wealth, allows us to export and so to import. Surplus food is the foundation of economics … and makes possible generosity, charity and care for the impoverished.

For the people who first heard this story, just image those people who first heard this parable – they would have imagined so many images in the Old Testament of the benefits of producing surplus food.

Joseph told Pharaoh to store surplus food in Egypt and to prepare and plan ahead for years of famine (see Genesis 41: 1-36). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of the very brothers who had sold him into slavery (see Genesis 42), and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

The production of extra grain in the fields at the time of the harvest allows Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to glean in the corners of the field behind the reapers (Ruth 2: 1-4). In the long run, this provides too for the survival of Boaz and his family line, and, eventually, for the salvation of the people of God.

When the people of God go hungry, the provision of surplus food is seen as a sign of God’s love and God’s protection … whether it is:

● the hungry people in the wilderness who are fed with manna (see Exodus 16), which is alluded to in the appointed Psalm (Psalm 107: 1-9, 43);

● or the way the Prophet Hosea reminds the people, in the Old Testament reading (Hosea 11: 1-11), that God is the God who can say throughout their history: ‘I bent down to them and fed them’ (Hosea 11: 4);

● or the hungry people who are fed with the abundant distribution of five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 30-44; Luke 9: 10-17; John 6: 1-14; see Mark 8: 1-9);

● or the Disciples who find the Risen Christ has provided for their needs with breakfast (John 21: 9-14).

Surplus food, wealth, providing for the future, building bigger and better barns … it is never an excuse to ‘relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry’ (Luke 12: 19).

This Gospel reading offers the abundance and generosity of God’s provision as a sign of God’s love, for us as individuals and for all around us.

The rich man is not faulted for being an innovative farmer who manages to grow an abundant crop.

The rich man is not faulted for storing up those crops.

The rich man is not condemned for tearing down his barns and building larger ones to store not only his grain but his goods too.

The rich man is not even condemned for being rich.

The man condemns himself, he makes himself look foolish, for thinking that all that matters in life is our own pleasure and personal satisfaction.

We are human because we are made to relate to other humans. There is no shared humanity without relationship. We are made in the image and likeness of God, but that image and likeness is only truly found in relationship … for God is already relational, God is already revealed as community, in God’s existence as Trinity.

This man thinks not of his needs, but of his own pleasures. He has a spiritual life … we are told he speaks to his Soul. But he speaks only to his own soul. His spiritual life extends only to his own spiritual needs, to his own Soul, it never reaches out to God who has blessed him so abundantly, the God who in the Psalm reminds us that he ‘fills the hungry soul with good’ (Psalm 107: 9).

His spiritual persona never reaches out to or acknowledges God who has blessed him so abundantly, or to the people around him who have needs and who could benefit from his charitable generosity or from his business acumen.

In failing to take account of the needs of others, he fails to realise his own true needs: for a true and loving relationship with God, and a true and loving relationship with others.

He has no concern for the needs of others, physical or spiritual. He is spiritually dead. No wonder Saint Paul says in the epistle reading that greed is idolatry (Colossians 3: 5).

But if he has stopped speaking to God, God has not stopped speaking to him. And God tells him that night in a dream that this man is spiritually dead.

God says to him in that dream that his life is being demanded of him (Luke 12: 20).

But did you notice how we never hear how he responds, how we never hear whether he dies?

The story ends just there.

The Gospel reading on the last Sunday in September [29 September 2019, the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity] is the story of the rich man who kept Lazarus at the gate, and then died (see Luke 16: 19-31). But unlike that rich man, we are never told what happened to the rich man in this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Did he die of fright?

Did he die after drinking too much?

Did he wake up and carry on regardless?

Or, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, did he wake up and realise his folly, and embrace the joys of the Incarnation?

I am challenged not to pass judgment on the Rich Man. Instead, Christ challenges me, in the first part of this reading (Luke 12: 13-15), to put myself in the place of this man.

If we are to take the earlier part of this Gospel reading to heart, perhaps we might reserve judgment on this foolish rich man.

Perhaps, instead of judging this young man with the benefit of hearing this story over and over again, perhaps in the light of the first part of this Gospel reading, we might reflect on this Gospel reading by asking ourselves two questions:

‘If money was no barrier, what would I buy?’


‘Would that choice reflect the priorities Christ sets us of loving God and loving one another?’

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … an empty barn on my grandmother's former farm near Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 13-21:

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

‘And I will say to my soul … relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (Luke 12: 19) … a summer lunch in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

O Lord,
grant us wisdom to recognise the treasures
you have stored up for us in heaven,
that we may never despair
but always rejoice and be thankful for the riches of your grace;
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

‘And I will say to my soul … relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (Luke 12: 19) … waiting for dinner in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

Hosea 11: 1-11:

518, Bind us together, Lord
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
211, Immortal love for ever full
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
231, My song is love unknown

Psalm 107: 1-9, 43:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
353, Give to our God immortal praise
30, Let us, with a gladsome mind
484, Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
361, Now thank we all our God
45, Praise, O praise our God and King
372, Through all the changing scenes of life
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12-14; 2: 18-23:

563, Commit your ways to God

Psalm 49: 1-12:

10, All my hope on God is founded
319, Father, of heaven, whose love profound
533, God of grace and God of glory

Colossians 3: 1-11:

260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing
501, Christ is the world’s true light
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
496, For the healing of the nations
268, Hail thou once–despisèd Jesus
522, In Christ there is no east or west
272, Jesus lives! thy terrors now
427, Let all mortal flesh keep silence
392, Now is eternal life
287, The whole bright world rejoices now

Luke 12: 13-21:

10, All my hope on God is founded
647, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
533, God of grace and God of glory
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … an empty barn at harvest time by the banks of the River Slaney, between Bunclody and Enniscorthy, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

The hymn 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)

‘I will pull down my barns and build larger ones’ (Luke 12: 18) … a barn on Cross in Hand Lane, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 22 July 2019

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 28 July 2019,
Sixth Sunday after Trinity

‘Padre Nuestro, que estas en el Cielo … Our Father, who art in Heaven’ … the words of the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish in the shape of a Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 28 July 2019, is the Sixth Sunday after Trinity.

The appointed readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, are in two groups.

The readings are:

Continuous readings: Hosea 1: 2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2: 6-15, (16-19); Luke 11: 1-13. There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

Paired readings: Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2: 6-15, (16-19); There is a link to the paired readings HERE.

The Lord’s Prayer on the reredos in the Church of Saint Stephen Walbrook in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Introducing the readings:

Next Sunday’s readings offer a number of challenges and opportunities.

We are all so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, that we often recite it by rote without noticing the significance and intention of each petition. Have you noticed this in your own prayer life?

How many people next Sunday, as the Gospel is read, are going to notice that the version of the Lord’s Prayer is not the same as the familiar text we use, based on the version in Saint Matthew’s text?

Without looking, are you aware of the differences? What is missing? Is there a shift in emphasis?

It might be worth printing out the version in Sunday’s Gospel reading, let people know why you are handing it out, ask them to use this version at the point where you normally use the Lord’s Prayer, and ask them to read it slowly, noticing the differences.

It will surprise you how little time this takes, and it is worth asking people for their reaction.

A second difficulty next Sunday is the very strong imagery and strong language in the Old Testament reading (Hosea 1: 2-10). This is not the polite vocabulary we expect to hear in church on a Sunday, and you will be very glad that this is not the Sunday you have asked the Sunday school to read or act out the first reading.

This is one of the passages that has historically contributed to anti-Semitism in the Church. But it is worth noticing the promise at the end of the reading. In addition, to counter the danger of anti-Semitism, this posting includes a study that looks at the Jewish prayer traditions that are part of the phrasing and thoughts in the Lord’s Prayer.

They ‘shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered’ (Hosea 1: 10) … the sands by the sea on a beach on Inishmore on the Aran islands in Galway Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019))

Hosea 1: 2-10:

The Prophet Hosea was active in the northern kingdom of Israel in the decades before it fell to the Assyrians in 721 BC, a time of warfare and virtual anarchy.

Ever since the covenant made through Moses on Mount Sinai, the relationship of the people with God was compared with being married to God. Israel is now described as a whore (prostitute) for deserting her covenantal relationship with God. The idolatry of the people who worship pagan gods is unfaithful too and described as shameful and adultery and as whoring and whoredom.

Some scholars ask whether Hosea’s marriage to a whore should be taken literally or symbolically. The names of Hosea’s wife, Gomer, and their first daughter, Diblaim, are both pagan names.

The name of their first son Jezreel is the plain between Galilee, Samaria and the Jordan, where the kings of the north lived. Jezreel was the place where Jehu killed the wicked Queen Jezebel, and installed himself as king after much bloodshed. Through Hosea, God speaks of the looming end of Jehu’s dynasty and of the northern kingdom.

The second daughter of Hosea and Gomer is given the name Lo-ruhamah, which means unloved or unpitied by her by parents, God will no longer have compassion on the northern kingdom, Israel, but will save the southern kingdom, Judah, although not by military means.

The name of their second son, Lo-ammi, means ‘not my people.’ God is to end the pact with the people. Yet, verse 10 promises that this punishment is not for ever. We hear a reminder of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be ‘as numerous as … the sand … on the seashore’ (verse 10; see Genesis 22:17), and they shall once again be recognised as the ‘Children of the living God.’

‘Righteousness will look down from the sky’ (Psalm 85: 11) … sunrise over Wexford town and the Slaney estuary seen from Ferrycarrig (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 85:

Psalm 85 is described as a ‘prayer for the restoration of God’s favour,’ a promise that concludes the reading from the Prophet Hosea. Many are familiar with verse 7 through its repetition in the versicles and responses at Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

The psalmist recalls God’s restoration of his people (‘Jacob’) and forgave their sins (verses 1-3). But things have become difficult again, and the psalmist prays that God may again show his favour to his people , restoring them to their land, ending his anger with them, reviving them so they may rejoice, showing them his love and giving them life and salvation (verses 4-7).

The psalmist then asks God to give peace to the people when they return to his worship. This is a prayer that hopes for peace, steadfast love and faithfulness. In contrast with Hosea’s description of an unfaithful people, the psalmist prays for a future in which:

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground
and righteousness will look down from the sky.

As a sign of God’s blessings to the people, both spiritually and materially, the yield of the land will increase (verses 8-12).

‘You were buried with him in Baptism’ (Colossians 2: 12) … George Gilbert Scott’s octagonal Baptismal font in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Colossians 2: 6-15 (16-19):

In his letter to the Church in Colossae, Saint Paul addresses the dangers of religious syncretism and the pressures on these Christians to integrate aspects of Gnosticism, mystery religions and Judaism into their rituals and beliefs.

There are two options with this reading on Sunday: a shorter version (verses 6-15), and a fuller reading (verses 6-19). In this reading, Saint Paul discusses some of the ideas they were under pressure to accept or integrate.

He advises them to remain true to the Gospel they have received and the share a common sacrament life (verses 6-7), and not to be deceived by or captive to clever but false teaching (verses 8-13). Others in the Gnostic and mystery cults may introduce ideas about cosmic forces and angelic powers, but they are to find God in Christ (verses 9-10), for they have become part of the Body of Christ and the Church in their Baptism (verses 11-14).

He speaks of Baptism as ‘spiritual circumcision’ (verse 11), and this means we share in Christ’s suffering and death, and share in his risen glory (verse 12).

Before Baptism, we were spiritually dead because of sin (verse 13). Now we live in God’s love and forgiveness. Once we were captive (verse 8), but now we triumph over all evil and oppressive powers (verse 15).

In the second part of this reading (verse 16-19), which provides an optional ending, Saint Paul refutes specific beliefs and practices. He advises us to not to be upset about what we or others eat or drink, how and when others fast, or the holy days they observe or celebrate. The real festivals are Christ’s, and we are to take care not to separate ourselves from Christ, who is our true source of nourishment, and who holds us, the Church together.

To conclude, this passage could be read as encouraging the Church in Colossae to remain faithful as a community by listening to the teaching together (verse 6), acknowledging their common Baptism (verse 13) and by continuing to celebrate the Eucharist together – the phrase translated as ‘abounding in thanksgiving’ (verse 7) could also be interpreted as regularly celebrating the Eucharist together (περισσεύοντες ἐν εὐχαριστίᾳ). For, to be the Church, to paraphrase Article 19 of the 39 Articles, is the have the pure Word of God preached and the Sacraments duly administered.

The Lord’s Prayer (left) in the reredos in Saint Vedast Foster Lane (Saint Vedast-alias-Foster) in Cheapside in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 1-13:

There are two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament: in Matthew 6: 9-13; and in this reading, in Luke 11: 2-4. However, Saint Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which we read in this Gospel passage is shorter than Saint Matthew’s more familiar version, the one we normally use in our prayer life, in our liturgy and in our Church life.

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Christ teaches the Lord’s Prayer within the context of the Sermon on the Mount. But in Saint Luke’s Gospel, immediately after visiting the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Christ finds a private place to pray. It is then that the disciples ask him to teach them ‘to pray, as John taught his disciples’ (Luke 11: 1).

The disciples are already familiar not only with the prayers of Saint John the Baptist, but also with traditional Jewish prayers in the home, in the synagogue and in the Temple in Jerusalem.

As a rabbi and a religious leader, Christ is responsible for teaching his followers how to fulfil Jewish religious commandments, including the obligation to pray at certain times and in certain forms.

Then and now, a religious community has a distinctive way of praying; ours is exemplified by the Lord’s Prayer, which is a communal rather than individual prayer, expressed in the plural and not the singular:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

We approach God in a personal way, as Father. We then bring before him five petitions, the first two placing ourselves in God’s presence (‘hallowed be your name’ and ‘your kingdom come’), the next two bring our needs before God, both physical (‘daily bread,’ verse 3) and spiritual (forgiveness, verse 4), and the final petition has an eschatological dimension (‘the time of trial,’ verse 4).

The ‘time of trial’ is the final onslaught of evil forces, before Christ comes again, but also refers to the temptations we experience day-by-day.

So there is a temporal and an eternal dimension to these petitions, even when we pray for ourselves in the here and now.

In the public worship of the Church we often facilitate people missing out on the collective impact of the Lord’s Prayer … the choir stalls and chapter stalls in Lichfield Cathedral before Evensong (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Lord’s Prayer in the life of the Church

Some years ago, I was invited to facilitate two interest groups at the USPG Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, at which I was speaking about ‘Spirituality and Mission.’

In searching for resources for mission, at one point I pointed to the traditions of prayer within Anglicanism, including the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – especially the canticles, the mission-loaded language we find in all the rites of Holy Communion, and in prayer, including public prayer, the intercession, and – of course – the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes we miss out on the impact of the Lord’s Prayer because we are so familiar with it. But in the public worship of the Church we often facilitate people missing out on the impact – particularly the mission impact – of the Lord’s Prayer when we privatise it.

How many of us were taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer as a private personal prayer as children, perhaps even saying it kneeling by our bedside, hands joined together, fingers pointing up?

So often, in the Liturgy, we encourage people to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if this was now both the most sacred and the most personal part of the Liturgy, rather than asking them to remain standing and to continue in collective prayer.

Or, at great public events, including mission conferences, I am sorry to say, we invite everyone present to say the Lord’s Prayer in their own first language, so that it becomes a private, personal prayer, detached from and ignoring where everyone else is at each stage in the petitions.

For those of us who have English as our first language, we notice how others finish a lot later than we do – the Finns in particular, but even the Germans too. Each language has its own rhythms and cadences, so it sounds as if we are in Babel rather than praying together, collectively and in the plural.

The privatisation of the Lord’s Prayer, even on Sundays, takes away from its mission impact and from the collective thrust of each of the petitions.

The teaching is delivered not to an individual but to the disciples as the core, formative group of the Church. God is addressed not as my but our Father, and each petition that follows is in the plural: our daily bread, our forgiveness, our sins, our debts, how we forgive, and do not ‘bring us.’

When we say ‘Amen’ at the end, are we really saying ‘Amen’ to the holiness of God’s name, to the coming of Kingdom, to the needs of each being met, on a daily basis, to forgiveness, both given and received, to being put on the path of righteousness and justice, to others falling into no evil or into no harm?

As a prayer, it contains each of the five Anglican points of mission. But if we privatise it, we leave little room for its mission impact to grab hold of those who are praying, and leave little room for our own conversion, which is a continuing and daily need.

And so, let the kingdom, the power and the glory be God’s as we pray together:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.

Prayer books and prayer shawls in the synagogue in Porto … how Jewish is the Lord’s Prayer? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

How Jewish is the Lord’s Prayer?

As a rabbi and religious leader, Christ was responsible for teaching his followers how to fulfil Jewish religious commandments, including the obligation to pray at certain times and in certain forms.

The most important Jewish prayer, the Shema, is the basic Jewish affirmation of faith and is based on Deuteronomy 6: 7. Other basic prayers include Grace After Meals, derived from Deuteronomy 8: 10.

But the central prayer of Jewish public worship is the Amidah (‘the Standing Prayer’) or the Shemoneh Esreh, which means 18, referring to 18 petitions, although the number of petitions is now 19. Observant Jews recite the Amidah at each of the three weekday prayer services: morning, afternoon, and evening. Praying three times a day is a long-established Jewish tradition (see Daniel 6: 11, Psalm 55: 18).

By the time of Christ, daily prayer was an integral part of Jewish religious life, and the basic structure of the Amidah was well established. Its form was regularised soon after, so that the prayer had taken its present form in the early first century AD.

The schools of Hillel and Shammai both accepted as the proper form nine petitions for Rosh Ha-Shanah (New Year) and seven petitions for the Sabbath. By the first century, the Amidah was one of the most important series of petitions. By then, there were probably 12 to 14 petitions, and more were added after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 AD to reflect changes in Jewish life.

There are many discussions in the Talmud about the minimum number of petitions, but consensus was not reached until the sixth century.

The rabbis recognised that not everyone in every circumstance could find time to pray the entire Amidah. Even as early as the third century, shortened versions were being prayed. So, is the Lord’s Prayer an early version of the Amidah that Christ taught his disciples so they could fulfil their minimum obligations of prayer?

But, just how Jewish is the Lord’s Prayer?

Perhaps when the disciples are asking Jesus to teach them to pray, they are also asking him the minimum number of petitions needed to fulfil the obligation to pray.

1, ‘Father’ or ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’: The Lord’s Prayer opens with the acknowledgment of the fatherhood of God and his place in heaven. While the opening verses of the Amidah talk of God as the God of our fathers in, the fatherhood of God is a common phrase throughout Jewish liturgy.

Avinu, meaning ‘Our Father,’ is a word repeated constantly throughout the prayers that make up the Jewish services (see also Deuteronomy 32: 6; Isaiah 63: 16).

In the Amidah, the title occurs twice: ‘Cause us to return, O our Father, unto thy Torah; draw us near, O our King, unto they service …’ (fifth benediction); ‘Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned; pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed’ (sixth benediction). It is also found in the second benediction before the Shema: ‘O our Father, our King, for our fathers’ sake, who trusted in thee, and whom thou didst teach the statutes of life, be also gracious unto us and teach us. O our Father, ever compassionate, have mercy on us.’

The name ‘Father’ is also widely used in the liturgy of the celebrations of the new year and of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), where the phrases ‘Father of mercy’ and ‘O our Father’ occur frequently.

2, ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ or ‘may your name be sanctified’: The Hebrew word kadosh can be translated as either holy or sanctified. The third petition in the Amidah prays: ‘Thou art holy and thy name is holy and the holy praise thee daily. Blessed art thou O Lord, the holy God.’

3, ‘Your kingdom come’ or ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’: In the Amidah, the words pray: ‘Reign thou over us O Lord, thou alone in loving kindness and tender mercy and clear us in judgment. Blessed art thou O Lord the King who lovest righteousness and judgment.’

The words ‘thy will be done’ also occur in I Maccabees: ‘It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary. But as his will in heaven may be, so he will do’ (I Maccabees 3: 59-60). The same attitude of abandonment to God’s will finds expression in the prayer Jews utter as they feel death drawing near: ‘May it be thy will to send me a perfect healing. Yet if my death be fully determined by thee, I will in love to accept it at thy hand.’

4, ‘Give us each day our daily bread’ or ‘Give us this day our daily bread’: The ninth Amidah blessing prays: ‘Bless this year unto us O Lord our God together with every kind of the produce thereof for our welfare.’ A short prayer ascribed to the rabbis prays: ‘O God, the needs of thy people are many, their knowledge slender. Give every one of thy creatures his daily bread and grant him his urgent needs.’

There is an interesting thought in the Book of Proverbs: ‘give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need,’ or, ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread’ (Proverbs 30: 8).

5, ‘Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us’ or ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’: The sixth Amidah blessing prays: ‘Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned, pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed, for thou dost pardon and forgive. Blessed art thou O Lord who art gracious and dost abundantly forgive.’

It is an important Jewish concept that one cannot ask for forgiveness from God until first making amends with others I may have wronged or I have been wronged by. Before going to sleep at night, pious Jews pray, ‘Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonised me or who sinned against me.’

The majority of the rabbis taught, ‘if you forgive your neighbour, the One will forgive you; but if you do not forgive your neighbour, no one will have mercy on you’ (Midrash Tanhuma Genesi).

6, ‘And do not bring us to the time of trial’ or ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’: The seventh blessing in the Amidah is a prayer for deliverance from afflictions of all kinds. A modern version says, ‘Look with compassion on all afflicted among us; be thou our guardian and our advocate, and redeem us speedily from all evil, for in thee do we trust as our mighty Redeemer.’

7, ‘For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever’: the doxology is not included in the Lord’s Prayer in Saint Luke’s Gospel, but is added in some manuscript versions of Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 6: 13). It is similar to David’s benediction (see I Chronicles 29: 10-13), which is part of the daily prayer service and an essential component of the section called Pesukei D’zimrah (‘Verses of Praise’) that comes immediately before reciting the Shema. Whether or not the doxology is included in the Lord’s Prayer, it is rooted firmly in Jewish tradition.

‘Give us each day our daily bread’ ... bread in a bakery window in Kournas, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Verses 5-13:

In verses 5 ff, Christ tells two stories: even one who is asleep with his family responds ‘because of ... persistence’ to a neighbour in need; a parent provides for a child.

Even these people, separated from God, respond to the needs of others. How much more so will God respond to our prayers for help, through the Holy Spirit.

‘Give us each day our daily bread’ … bread in a shop window in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 11: 1-13: (NRSVA):

1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

‘Knock, and the door will be opened for you’ (Luke 11: 9) … a front door in Bore Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be attentive to the prayers of your servants,
and by your word and Spirit
teach us how to pray
that our petitions may be pleasing before you;
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer (left) on the reredos in Saint Margaret Lothbury in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Hosea 1: 2-10:

319, Father, of heaven, whose love profound
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord

Psalm 85:

695, God of mercy, God of grace
539, Rejoice, O land, in God thy might
149, The Lord will come and not be slow

Genesis 18: 20-32:

619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice

Psalm 138:

250, All hail the power of Jesus’ name
358, King of glory, King of peace
21, The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want

Colossians 2: 6-15 (16-19):

389, All who believe and are baptized
261, Christ, above all glory seated
221, Hark! the voice of love and mercy
523, Help us to help each other, Lord
102, Name of all majesty
248, We sing the praise of him who died

Luke 11: 1-13:

550, ‘Forgive our sins, as we forgive’
614, Great Shepherd of your people, hear
429, Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand
623, Our heavenly Father, through your Son
625, Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire
596, Seek ye first the kingdom of God
509, Your kingdom come, O God

‘Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? ’ (Luke 11: 11) … fish at a taverna in the harbour in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

The hymn 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)

The Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer (centre) flanked by the Ten Commandments on the north aisle wall in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)