Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Wednesday 26 February 2020,
Ash Wednesday

The Crucifixion and the Harrowing of Hell, depicted in a chapel in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Wednesday, 26 February 2020, is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

The readings for the principal service on Ash Wednesday are the same each year and do not vary.

Readings: Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58: 1-12; Psalm 51: 1-18; II Corinthians 5: 20b to 6: 10; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Introduction:

It is striking how often in the Bible encounters with God take place on a mountain top: Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, the Mount of Olives, Calvary and the Ascension from the mount called Olivet.

On the previous Sunday [23 February 2020], in our Gospel reading, we hear the story of the Transfiguration, where Christ is presented on a high mountain as the Father’s beloved Son, and placed on either side of him are Moses and Elijah – for Christ is truly the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, of all of God’s promises.

In the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, we meet Christ as we as we listen to his Sermon on the Mount.

In Lent, we are preparing once again for Good Friday and for Easter. This season began not as a time of repentance, but as a time of preparation for the catechumens – those preparing for baptism at Easter, those preparing to die with Christ and to rise again with Christ.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is a day that is often marked by the spiritual disciplines of fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance. And so, the Book of Common Prayer designates Ash Wednesday as a day of ‘special observance’ and a day of ‘discipline and self-denial.’

For many in this culture, it is a day associated with long faces, the joyless giving up of some questionable pleasures – such as smoking – and of doing so in a way that sometimes amounts to self-indulgent penitence.

But, instead, this should really be the start of a time of preparation, a time to look forward to our real hope and joy. For the countdown is beginning – Ash Wednesday is only 40 days from Easter.

Perhaps Easter is in danger of losing all meaning in society today. Just like people readily sing Christmas carols even before Advent begins, people are now eating Cadbury’s crème eggs long before Lent begins – without ever thinking of the symbolism the egg once carried of the gravestone being rolled back on Easter morn and new life rising in joy.

But just as the whole point of Advent is looking forward with joyful anticipation to Christmas, so too should Lent be a time of looking forward with joyful anticipation to Easter.

And in so many ways that tone – that set of values or priorities – is captured by TS Eliot in his first long poem, ‘Ash Wednesday.’

This poem has been described as Eliot’s conversion poem. It was written to mark his conversion to Anglicanism over 90 years ago, on 29 June 1927, although it was not published until 1930. In this poem, he answers the despair found in The Waste Land, and this is a poem that is less about penitence and more about repentance.

In ‘Ash Wednesday,’ Eliot deals with the struggles that arise when one who once lacked faith turns and strives to move towards God. In this poem, he writes about his hopes to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation. And that is what Lent and the spiritual disciplines we associate with it are all about.

Burning Palm Crosses from Palm Sunday to prepare ashes for Ash Wednesday (Photograph: Barbara Comerford)

Ashes on Ash Wednesday

In some parishes, people come forward for ashes. The practice is more common among our neighbours and throughout the Anglican Communion than in the Church of Ireland. Despite its gradual introduction in the Church of Ireland, some people are more reserved, bearing in mind, perhaps, the words of Christ in the Gospel reading: ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting … But when you fast, put oil on your face and wash your face …’ (Matthew 6: 16-17).

Those words are not merely wise, but words that reprove those who would misrepresent the meaning of the Lenten fast. For I sometimes think that the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Lent has, in turn, deprived many of its true meaning and significance.

Writing in the Guardian ten years ago [2010], the Orthodox theologian Aaron Taylor wrote of how he hoped that the Lenten fast ‘must never become a source of pride on the one hand, or something oppressive on the other. It is a measuring stick for our individual practice … [it] is primarily about obedience, and thus humility. But it also creates a sense of need and sobriety. It teaches us to seek our consolation in things of the spirit rather than of the flesh.’

He pointed out that fasting ‘is merely a physical accompaniment to the real heart and joy of Lent: the prayer and worship that are intensified during this season …’ and he referred to the ‘joy-making mourning’ recommended by an early writer, Saint John Klimakos, in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, to the ‘bright sadness’ of Lent.

At Lent, we should remind ourselves that we have all fallen short, so that we are not the people we should be. We all too easily focus on ourselves. But true Lenten fasting allows us to experience a sense of freedom as we relinquish our self-centredness and can produce joy in our hearts – just what TS Eliot experienced, just what we pray for in the Collect of Ash Wednesday.

And Aaron Taylor added: ‘If we do not to some extent attain to this joy-through-mourning, we have entirely missed the point of Lent.’

He concluded his ‘Face to Faith’ column in the Guardian by saying: ‘As long as there is evil in the world, we can be sure that some of it still lies hidden in our hearts. And as long as we are able to shed tears over our condition, there remains hope that we will one day see the glorious day of resurrection.’

Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world … the Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of Saint Mary le Bow, Cheapside, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21:

1 ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

A window ledge in the chapel in Dr Miley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: Violet (Purple).

The Gathering:

The traditional Ash Wednesday invitation or exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer begins:

‘Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord's passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the Church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

‘At first this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In course of time the Church came to recognize that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

‘I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Lord to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word.’

Silence may be kept.

Then the priest says:


Let us pray for grace to keep Lent faithfully.

Almighty and everlasting God
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent.
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we may be truly sorry for our sins
and obtain from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The Book of Common Prayer suggests that at the Confession and the Commandments may be read (and should be read during Advent and Lent), but neither the Beatitudes nor the Summary of the Law is used at the Ash Wednesday service. The Book of Common Prayer suggests ‘there should be two readers if possible, one reading the Old Testament statement and the second the New Testament interpretation’:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it.
You shall love your neighbour as yourself
On these two commandments depend all the law
and the prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-39)

Lord, have mercy on us,
and write these your laws in our hearts.


Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Book of Common Prayer (pp 340-341) also provides this form of Confession and Absolution:

After The Litany Two (pp 175-178), silence is kept for a time, after which is said:

Make our hearts clean, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us.

Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
in what we have thought, in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love, and marred your image in us.
We are sorry and ashamed, and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us,
forgive us all that is past;
and lead us out from darkness to walk as children of light. Amen.


This prayer is said:

God our Father,
the strength of all who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers;
and because, in our weakness,
we can do nothing good without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in keeping your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Or

The priest pronounces the Absolution:

Almighty God,
who forgives all who truly repent,
have mercy upon you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness
and keep you in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The canticle Gloria in Excelsis may be omitted in Advent and Lent and on weekdays that are not holy days. Other versions of this canticle may be used, or when appropriate another suitable hymn of praise.

The invitation to Communion:

The invitation to Communion begins:

Most merciful Lord,
your love compels us to come in.
Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared;
we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation,
and share your bread with sinners.
So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son,
That he may live in us and we in him;
and that we, with the whole company of Christ,
may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen.


This prayer may be used in place of the Prayer of Humble Access (see p 342). As such it comes before the Peace and not as part of the Invitation to Communion (the Church of England usage).

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have given your only Son to be for us
both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life:
Give us grace
that we may always most thankfully receive
these his inestimable gifts,
and also daily endeavour ourselves
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with you, and remain with you always. Amen.

The Crucifix on the Nave Altar in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

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

Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17:

210, Holy God of righteous glory
538, O Lord, the clouds are gathering

Isaiah 58: 1-12:

647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
592, O Love that wilt not let me go
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
497, The Church of Christ in every age
510, We pray for peace

Psalm 51: 1-18

630, Blessed are the pure in heart
297, Come, thou Holy Spirit, come
614, Great shepherd of your people, hear
208, Hearken, O Lord, have mercy upon us
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
638, O for a heart to praise my God
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me

II Corinthians 5: 20b to 6: 10

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
566, Fight the good fight with all thy might
352, Give thanks with a grateful heart
417, He gave his life in selfless love
322, I bind unto myself today (verses 1, 2, 8 and 9)
587, Just as I am, without one plea
652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
488, Stand up, stand up for Jesus

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21:

207, Forty days and forty nights
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
619, Lord, teach us how to pray aright
363, O Lord of heaven and earth and sea
625, Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire

The liturgical colours change to Violet in Lent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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

Monday, 17 February 2020

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 23 February 2020,
the Sunday before Lent

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

Patrick Comerford


Next Sunday, 23 February 2020, is the Sunday before Lent.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, offer two choices:

The Readings, Option A (The Transfiguration): Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; II Peter 1: 16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Readings, Option B (Proper 4): Genesis 6: 9-22, 7: 24, 8: 14-19; Psalm 46; Romans 1: 16-17, 3: 22b-28 [29-31]; Matthew 7:21-29.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Transfiguration depicted in a stained-glass window in the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Part 1, Option A (The Transfiguration):

Introducing the readings:

The Feast of the Transfiguration is traditionally celebrated on 6 August. So, you may wonder, why is it also marked in the Book of Common Prayer, the Church Calendar and the Lectionary as the first and preferred option for the Sunday before Lent?

In early Church tradition, the Transfiguration is connected with the approaching death and resurrection of Christ, and so was said to have taken place 40 days before the Crucifixion.

There is historical evidence that the feast of the Transfiguration belonged first to the pre-Easter season of the Church and that the Transfiguration was then celebrated on one of the Sundays of Lent. A sermon on the Transfiguration was preached in Lent by John Chrysostom while he was a priest in Antioch in 390. Saint Gregory Palamas, the great teacher of the Transfiguration, is commemorated during Lent.

We know from iconographic evidence that the Feast of the Transfiguration was celebrated on Mount Sinai from the mid-fifth century, and the feast may have reached Constantinople in the late seventh century.

From 1474 until at least 1969, it was observed in the Roman Catholic Church on the Second Sunday in Lent. In some modern calendars, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican calendars, the Transfiguration is now commemorated on the Sunday before Lent.

However, traditionally, the Feast of the Transfiguration is observed in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox calendars on 6 August. It may have been moved there because 6 August is 40 days before 14 September, the Feast of the Holy Cross, so keeping the tradition that the Transfiguration took place 40 days before the Crucifixion.

This celebration disappeared from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and when it reappeared in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer it was only named in the calendar without any other provisions.

In the Book of Common Prayer 2004, the Church of Ireland provided Collects and Post-Communion prayers for the Feast of the Transfiguration on 6 August, and there is an alternative provision to mark the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent.

The Transfiguration has immense Christological importance, for both the humanity and divinity of Christ are manifested to the disciples, and so to us. This was developed as a theological thought in a sermon on the Transfiguration once said to have been written by Saint Ephrem the Syrian (ca 306-373), but now thought to have been written by a latter writer. Nevertheless, celebrating the Transfiguration at that time helped to underpin the teachings on the divine and human natures of Christ, encapsulated in the Creeds of Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon.

The Transfiguration also points to Christ’s great and glorious Second Coming and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light. The vision of Christ in his glory and the experience of the divine light are at the very heart of both Orthodox mysticism and Orthodox eschatology. The ‘uncreated light’ is a hallmark theme in Orthodox spirituality, especially in the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas and the school of the thought that is hesychasm, which draws constantly on the themes of the Transfiguration.

Saint Gregory Palamas distinguishes between the essence of God, which is beyond human apprehension, and the energies of God, which are the ways in which we can experience and know God. According to him, the light of the Transfiguration ‘is not something that comes to be and then vanishes.’ Rather, Christ’s disciples experienced a transformation of their senses so that ‘they beheld the Ineffable Light where and to the extent that the Spirit granted it to them.’

This was, therefore, not only a prefiguration of the eternal blessedness to which all Christians look forward, but also of the Kingdom of God already revealed, realised and come.

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process. The original Greek word in the Gospel accounts for Transfiguration is metamorphosis (μεταμόρφωσις), and gives us access to deeper and more theological meaning, a deeper truth, than the word derived from the Latin transfiguratio, which can be translated by ‘to be changed into another from.’ But the Greek metamorphosis (μεταμόρφωσις) means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. The metamorphosis invites us into the event of becoming what we have been created to be. This is what orthodox writers call deification.

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

‘Aleph Male’ a ceramic glazed tile (20x30x1.5 cm) by Joel Itman, depicting Moses with the Ten Commandments and illustrating a Jewish Art Calendar published in Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Exodus 24: 12-18:

Moses has ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Law. Now God offers to put all the laws in permanent form, on tablets of stone. So important is Moses’ ascent of the mountain that it is mentioned four times in this reading. Moses leaves the elders in charge and commissions Aaron and Hur to administer justice in his absence.

God’s glory is an envelope of light, a bright cloud, veiling his being. The people can see the cloud, but not God. Unlike the light from the Burning Bush (Exodus 3), this appearance of God is frightening, ‘like a devouring fire.’ Moses prepares to meet God for ‘six days’ (verse 16), the time of creation in last week’s creation reading. The 40 days and 40 nights in verse 18 recall the days of the Flood, the time the Israelites scouted out Canaan’s defences before entering the Promised Land, Elijah’s later experience on the same mountain.

This reading prepares us for the Gospel account of the Transfiguration, but also prepares us for the 40 days of Lent.

‘Moses and Aaron were among his priests’ (Psalm 99: 6) … Moses and Aaron depicted in a stained-glass window in Drumcliffe Church, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Psalm 2:

Psalm 2 was probably written for the coronation of a king of Judah. The word anointed is messiah in the Hebrew. It was used as the title of an Israelite king, but after the end of the monarchy it became the title or name of the ideal future king who would restore Israel to glory. New Testament writers apply this title to Christ.

Subject kings are plotting a rebellion against the new king instead of accepting him as the Lord’s anointed representative, so their rebellious plots are like a revolt against God himself. God responds (verse 4-6), saying he has chosen ‘my king’ and established him in his dwelling place on earth at Zion or Jerusalem.

The new king then then speaks (verses 7-12), accepting his adoption as God’s son, and warns other kings to submit.

Or:

Psalm 99:

Psalm 99 is a hymn of praise to God as king, and a call to worship him ‘on his holy mountain.’ God is on his throne above the cherubim in the Temple, and is to be worshipped by all the peoples. God has helped people in need, promoted justice, has given them just laws, heard their prayers, and punished and forgiven them.

When the people cried out to God, he spoke to them in the pillar of cloud.

The threefold endings of verses 3, 5 and 9 – ‘Holy is he!’ … ‘Holy is he!’ … ‘for the Lord our God is holy’ – may be a refrain by worshippers as they extol and worship God (verse 9).

The Transfiguration in an icon in the parish church in the hill-side village of Piskopiano in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

II Peter 1: 16-21:

In this reading, the writer speaks of the Transfiguration. While other, false teachers have used cleverly devised myths to deceive members of the community (see II Peter 2: 1-3), the author recalls that he was an eyewitness (verse 16) to the Transfiguration, in which the power of God was shown, and which was a also a preview of Christ’s second coming.

At the Transfiguration, at time, Christ received honour and glory from God the Father, when the heavenly voice identified him as ‘my Son, my Beloved …’ (verse 17). The Prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah, and the Transfiguration confirms this (verse 19). We are called to be consistent in holding to this hope despite false teachers until the Second Coming.

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

Matthew 17: 1-9:

Introduction: The Biblical story

This is one of the three descriptions of the Transfiguration in the 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 II Peter 1: 1-18, where Peter says he has been an eyewitness ‘of his sovereign majesty.’

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 by 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, which we have been reading for the past few weeks;
● The Mount of Olives is a key location in the Passion narrative;
● Christ is crucified on Mount Calvary;
● 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 (episkiazein), which in the Greek is a pun on the word tent (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 Transfiguration (Kirillo-Belozersk), anonymous, ca 1497 ... the Transfiguration is also considered the ‘Small Epiphany’

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, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him’ (Matthew 17: 5).
● 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).

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). 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 Transfiguration (Spaso Preobrazhensky Monastery, Yaroslavl, ca 1516) ... The Transfiguration is the fulfilment of all the Theophanies, a fulfilment made perfect and complete in the person of Christ

The meaning of the Transfiguration:

The Transfiguration of Christ in itself is the fulfilment of all of the Theophanies and manifestations of God, a fulfilment made perfect and complete in the person of Christ. We could say the Transfiguration is the culmination of Christ’s public life, just as his Baptism is its starting point, and his Ascension its end. As Archbishop Michael Ramsey, in his small book, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, wrote: ‘The Transfiguration stands as a gateway to the saving events of the Gospel.’

The Transfiguration reveals Christ’s identity as the Son of God. In the Gospel, after the voice speaks, Elijah and Moses have disappeared, and Christ and the three head down the mountain. The three ask themselves what he means by ‘risen from the dead’ (Mark 9: 9-10). When they ask Jesus about Elijah, he responds: ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come …’ (Mark 9: 12-13). He tells them to keep these things a secret until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. Yet, in keeping with the Messianic secret, he tells the three not to tell others what they have seen until he has risen on the third day after his death.

Saint Paul uses the Greek word for Transfiguration, metamorphosis (μεταμόρφωσις), as found in the Synoptic Gospels when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18). 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.

A reflection on the Transfiguration:

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 fresco in the Analipsi Church (Resurrection) in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Matthew 17: 1-9:

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

Part 2: Option B (Proper 4):

‘Noah’s Ark’ (1846), Edward Hicks, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Introducing the readings:

Last Sunday [16 February 2020], we marked Creation Sunday in the ‘Option A’ readings for the Second Sunday before Lent.

Now, in the ‘Option B’ lectionary readings for the Sunday before Lent, we have a challenge in the readings to reflect on the consequences of human abuse of both creation and human life.

The first reading needs careful preparation because of its edited version of the story of the Flood. Too often, we make this a ‘pretty’ story, particularly in Sunday School settings, when we invited children to colour rainbows and count the animals going into the Ark, two-by-two. But, in reality, it is a chilling account of the consequences that befall humanity when we disregard or abuse creation and human life.

The psalm is a reminder of God’s promise to protect human life and to respond to human needs and please. The epistle reading includes a cautionary note against boasting about our own deeds and achievements.

The Gospel reading, which brings to an end a series of readings from the Sermon on the Mount, includes a parable reminder of the consequences of relying on our own foolish ideas and ignoring the consequences that eventually follow ignoring the laws of God and the laws of nature.

‘Noah and the Dove,’ a sculpture by Simon Manby in the courtyard of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Genesis 6: 9-22, 7: 24, 8: 14-19:

The story of the Flood tells us that, despite widespread evil in the world, God does care for, and preserves, those who are faithful to him. Although flood stories are found in many cultures, these flood stories show the gods to be capricious. Here God is just and merciful and fulfils his promises. This story is long, so only parts are read in the lectionary reading provided for this Sunday.

Following last Sunday’s readings and reflections on the theme of the Creation, this is the story of a new creation. As humans, we have destroyed the earth. The Flood cleanses the earth of spilt blood, so there can be a new start, a new age. But plant life, animal life and human life are saved and preserved for life on a new earth.

God promises never again to do such a horrible deed again, even though as humans we tend to unfaithfulness. Never again will God intercede so destructively in human affairs. He has saved a remnant (see Genesis 8: 21-22). However, because humans have an inclination to evil, to avoid the earth being so polluted again, laws are needed. Later (Genesis 9: 1-17), God gives laws to Noah, that includes prohibitions on murder, ‘for in his own image God made humankind’ (Genesis 9: 6).

‘Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth’ (Psalm 46: 10) … flags of the nations outside an icon shop at Kalambaka, near the monasteries of Meteora in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 46:

Psalm 46 tells of God’s protection and defence of his people. The city of God is Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place on earth. Even in the face of natural disasters and political turmoil, even should the earth return to its primordial chaos, God will remain constant and faithful, answering heart-felt prayers.

The people have suffered desolations as a consequence of not following God’s ways, but are now invited to consider God’s promise of peace, to acknowledge that God reigns over all the earth, and that we are safe with him.

The Coliseum in Rome … Saint Paul is preaching the Gospel in the imperial capital, then seen as the centre of world power (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Romans 1: 16-17; 3: 22b-28 (29-31):

Saint Paul is preaching the Gospel in Rome, the imperial capital and then seen as the centre of world power. He brings this good news to people of all ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds, and we respond in faith to God’s trust in us.

God’s gift of grace to us is received through Christ’s death on the cross, which redeems us or buys us back, cancelling our sins. God has chosen not to punish us, showing his goodness and integrity. We are saved by God what God has done for us and not by what we have done for ourselves. So, boasting about our achievements is pointless, for God responds to faith, not deeds. We are all saved by the same means: faith.

The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat (Matthew 7: 25) … rushing in from a winter storm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 7: 21-29:

In the previous verses, Christ warns against of false prophets (verse 15) and says that those who speak for him will be known by their fruits (verse 20). Those who acknowledge him, and even do miracles, but lack his love, can expect to be judged harshly.

As we continue to read from the Sermon on the Mount, Christ now uses a parable to illustrate an important point. The wise man prepares for what is to come by going to the effort of building on firm foundations, but the foolish man does not think ahead and so takes the easy way when it comes to building his house. The first man stands for those who live a life of Christ’s love and example. Perhaps Jesus is thinking of Noah and the Flood.

Verse 28 marks the end of one of the five teaching sections in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. People are astonished by his teaching because he teaches as someone with authority, and not like the teachers they have been used to hearing.

A house built on rock by the coast at Panormos, near Rethymnon in Crete … (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

… and a house built on sand at the sand-dunes in Portrane, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Matthew 7: 21-29:

[Jesus said:] 21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23 Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”

24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!’

28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29 for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

‘A wise man who built his house on rock’ (Matthew 7: 24) … houses built on the rockface climbing up to Saint Colman's Cathedral, Cobh, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour:

Option A (Transfiguration): White;

Option B (Ordinary Time): Green

The Collect of the Day (Option A):

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
Give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Collect of the Day (Option B):

O God, our teacher and judge:
Enrich our hearts with the goodness of your wisdom
and renew us from within:
that all our actions, all our thoughts and all our words
may bear the fruit of your transforming grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word: (Option A):

O God,
in the transfiguration of your Son,
you confirmed the mysteries of the faith
by the witness of Moses and Elijah,
and in the voice from the cloud
you foreshadowed our adoption as your children:
make us, with Christ, heirs of your glory,
and bring us to enjoy its fullness,
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

The Collect of the Word: (Option B):

God with us,
whose unfailing mercy is our refuge,
even when our broken choices corrupt your glorious creation,
lead us to the safe haven of righteousness
and uphold us on the rock of your presence so that in times of trial
we may stand firm, anchored in faith,
through Christ, our rock and our redeemer

The 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.

These variations may be used on the Sunday before Lent if the Transfiguration option is used:

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 is 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.

Introduction to the Peace:

Christ will transfigure our human body
and give it a form like that of his own glorious body.
We are the Body of Christ. We share his peace.

(cf Philippians 3: 21, 1 Corinthians 11: 27, Romans 5: 1)

Preface:

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:

Blessing:

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 depicted in a fresco in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns (Option A):

Exodus 24: 12-18:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here
647, Guide me, O thou great Jehovah

Psalm 2:

646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
238, Ride on, ride on in majesty
509, Your kingdom come, O God

Psalm 99:

686, Bless the Lord, the God of our forebears
688, Come, bless the Lord, God of our forebears
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! lift up your voice

II Peter 1: 16-21:

501, Christ is the world’s true light
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
613, Eternal light, shine in my heart
381, God has spoken – by his prophets
654, Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind
388, Word of the living God

Matthew 17: 1-9:

325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here
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

A double rainbow on the beach at Portrane, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns (Option B):

Genesis 6: 9-22, 7: 24, 8: 14-19

567, Forth, in thy name, O Lord, I go
211, Immortal love for ever full
637, O for a closer walk with God
108, Praise to the Holiest in the height
186, What Adam’s disobedience cost

Psalm 46

608, Be still and know that I am God
325, Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
668, God is our fortress and our rock
12, God is our strength and refuge
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
211, Immortal love for ever full
95, Jesu, priceless treasure
659, Onward Christian soldiers

Romans 1: 16-17, 3: 22b-28 (29-31):

84, Alleluia! raise the anthem
218, And can it be that I should gain
358, King of glory, King of peace
244, There is a green hill far away
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

Matthew 7: 21-29:

206, Come, let us to the Lord our God
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
15, If thou but suffer God to guide thee
589, Lord, speak to me that I may speak
557, Rock of ages, cleft for me

The Transfiguration in a poster from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge

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).

Rain and rainbows … advice in a café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 10 February 2020

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 16 February 2020,
Second Sunday before Lent

‘Even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these’ (Matthew 6: 29) … a peacock in a vineyard in Rivesaltes in France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 16 February 2020, is the Second Sunday before Lent.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland, offer two choices:

The Readings: Option A, Creation: Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 3; Psalm 136 or Psalm 136: 1-9 (23-36); Romans 8: 18-25; Matthew 6: 25-34.

There is a link to each reading through the highlighted citation.

The Readings: Option B, Proper 3: Isaiah 49: 8-16a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

A cautionary note:

There is considerable confusion about the lectionary readings for next Sunday. At the time of preparing these notes for publication, the relevant page on the Church of Ireland website provides the wrong readings, the wrong propers and the wrong suggested hymns. In addition, some editions of the Revised Common Lectionary are difficult to follow, and it is difficult to disentangle them and find the preferred options in the Church of Ireland.

The best advise, normally, is to follow the Table of Readings in the Book of Common Prayer (2004) (see pp 27-70; for next Sunday, see 33), checking against the Church of Ireland Directory and the newly-published book of collects.

This posting, hopefully, clarifies any remaining questions about the appropriate readings to use next Sunday.

for convenience and ease of access, the notes and reflections on the Gospel reading are repeated in the notes on each option.

Sunset at the harbour in Skerries, Co Dublin … next Sunday may be observed as Creation Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introducing the Readings (Option A, Creation):

The three Sundays before Lent once had special Latin names in the Book of Common Prayer, names that were shared in most traditions in the Western Church. Although these Sundays are now counted as ‘Ordinary Time’ in many traditions, many Anglican parishes still use the original Latin names, and they are reminders that Lent and its disciplines are imminent.

These Sundays were known as:

Septuagesima Sunday: the Third Sunday before Lent, which fell this year on Sunday 9 February 2020. In the early Church, no Gloria or Alleluia was sung on this Sunday because this was the first Sunday of the call to Lenten discipline. Although the word Septuagesima means ‘seventieth’, this Sunday occurs only 63 days before Easter.

Early Christians began observing Lent the day after Septuagesima Sunday. This is because Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays were not days of fasting in the early Church. So, if the faithful wished to fast for 40 days before Easter, they would start the Monday after Septuagesima Sunday. Today, only Sunday is a non-fast day, and so Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Sexagesima Sunday: the Second Sunday before Lent, which is next Sunday (16 February 2020). In the Early Church, Lent would have started on the previous Monday. In some parts of the Eastern Orthodox church, this Sunday is known as ‘No Meat Sunday,’ and the dietary observances for Lent begin on this day.

Quinquagesima Sunday: the final Sunday before Lent, or the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (23 February 2020). It is 50 days before Easter, hence quinquagesima or ‘fiftieth.’

In some part of the Anglican Communion, the Sundays after Epiphany and before Lent continue to be counted as Sundays after Epiphany. However, the calendar in the Church of Ireland is much clearer in liturgical terms, counting the days between Christmas and the Presentation (Candlemas) as one, 40-day season, and the days after Candlemas not as Sundays after Epiphany but as Sundays before Lent.

Next Sunday has two options in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland. In the first option, it can be marked as ‘Creation Sunday,’ although many churches now mark the Sundays in September as the Creation Sunday. In the second option, it can be marked as the Second Sunday before Lent, continuing the themes in the Lectionary readings, which in Year A are drawn mainly from Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

With a growing awareness about climate change and the threats to God’s creation – emphasised by recent weather fluctuations, including the storms of the past weekend, the firestorms in Australia, and the debates about carbon emission and climate change in the recent election campaign – the Creation option next Sunday offers an interesting opportunity to preach about these concerns and to make them relevant in our parishes.

Care for the creation is neither a marginal theological consideration, nor a matter of keeping up with current social and political trends. The fifth of the Five Marks of Mission accepted throughout the Anglican Communion is:

● To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1: 1) … ‘on the seventh day he rested from all his work’ (Genesis 2: 2) ... sunrise at Igoumenitsa in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 3:

The first reading in our readings celebrating creation, is a poetic description of God’s creation, reaching its climax or fulfilment in describing God’s creation of humanity and God’s relationship with us.

Ancient cultures and religions in Mesopotamia and the Middle East shared a common creation story, similar to the creation story in Genesis, with a similar sequence of events. There is a second Creation narrative in Genesis 2: 4b-25, and the Bible closes with the account of a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, in the Book of Revelation (see Revelation 21 and 22).

Like all good stories, this story begins at the beginning: ‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1: 1). In other words, God pre-exists all creation, God exists before all time, and the whole visible creation comes into being as a result of God’s activity.

At first, there was chaos, ‘an empty, formless void’ (verse 2). However, the life-giving power of God, the ‘wind’ or Spirit ‘from God’ sweeps over this chaos. The creation story is then told in the form of a poem or hymn, with a refrain, ‘And God saw that it was good’ (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 20, 25).

Day 1 (verses 3-5): God creates light, overcoming the darkness. By naming them light and darkness, God is said to be in control of both.

Day 2 (verses 6-10): God creates the sky, which acts like a bowl above the earth, with water (rain and snow), and the waters that surround the dry land (seas, lakes and rivers). Again, God names them.

Day 3 (verses 11-13): God creates the trees, plants, fruit and vegetables.

Day 4 (verse 14-19): God creates the Sun and the Moon. In Biblical times, they were seen as beings moving in a circle around the dome of the earth, according to God’s command.

Day 5 (verses 20-23): God creates the creatures in the sea and the air, fish, birds, and even ‘the great sea monsters.’

Day 6 (verses 24-31): God creates the creatures on the land, wild and domestic animals, including snakes and insects.

Then God says, ‘Let us’ (26), invoking a royal we. The creation of humanity is the climax of the creation story. We are made in God’s image – the Hebrew word used here implies an exact copy or reproduction. Because of God’s blessing, we have procreative power, we are to be fruitful and multiply, and to have dominion over the earth, acting as God’s regents, with means taking responsibility for a just rule in and care for the creation.

And we are told that not only that ‘God saw that it was good’ – as on the other days of creation – but, ‘indeed, it was very good’ (verse 31).

Day 7 (Genesis 2: 1-3): The seventh day is the day of rest, a reminder of the Sabbath. God blesses the seventh day, and God sets it apart or makes it holy.

Notice how there is no evening at the end of this day – this relationship between God and humanity is to continue for ever, to the end of the story (see Revelation 21 and 22).

‘For his mercy endures forever’ (Psalm 136) … the polyelaios in the cathedral in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Psalm 136:

Psalm 136 could be complemented at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with the canticles ‘Great and Wonderful’ (Canticle 17, Book of Common Prayer, p 129), based on Revelation 15: 3, 4 and 5: 13b, and ‘Glory and Honour’ (Canticle 21, Book of Common Prayer, p 131), based on Revelation 4: 11 and 5: 9, 10 and 13b.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Psalms 135 and 136 are known together as the Polyeleos (Πολυέλεος) or ‘Many Mercies,’ because of the refrain ‘for his mercy endures forever’ (ὅτι εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ).

The Polyeleos is sung at Orthros or Matins on a Feast Day and at Vigils, and in the monasteries on Mount Athos it is read every Sunday at Orthros.

Indeed, on Mount Athos it is considered one of the most joyful periods of Matins-Liturgy, and the highest point of Matins. In Athonite practice, all the candles are lit, and the chandeliers are made to swing as these paired psalms are sung, accompanied by a joyful peal of the bells and censing of the church, sometimes with a hand censer which has many bells on it. In its fullest musical setting, it can last up to over an hour.

At vigils, it accompanies the opening of the Royal Doors and a great censing of the nave by the priests or deacons.

Because of its liturgical importance, beautiful settings for the Polyeleos have been composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff and other composers.

The name Polyeleos has given the name ‘polyelaios’ (πολυελαιος) to the chandelier in many churches in the form of a very large circle with many candles and often adorned with icons of saints. The polyelaios is suspended by a chain from the ceiling. During the chanting of the Polyeleos psalms, all the candles are lit, and it is pushed with a rod so that it turns back and forth during the singing to symbolise the presence of the angels and adding to the joy of the service. This custom is still a practice in the monasteries on Mount Athos and in many Orthodox monasteries.

‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God’ (Romans 8: 19) … afternoon on the River Shannon near Castleconnell, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Romans 8: 18-25:

The Apostle Paul compares the sufferings and imperfections we experience today with the fulfilment of God’s plans, for ‘the creation waits with eager longing for the glory about to be revealed to us’ (verse 19).

In the past, all creation has suffered the consequences of sinfulness and rebellion against God (verses 20). But now we know the promises of being set free from this ‘bondage to decay,’ and we are promised freedom as the children of God (verse 21).

The ‘whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’ (verse 22), and we have been part of that suffering and yearning until the coming of Christ (verse 23).

We have waited in hope and we are guided by the Holy Spirit, expecting what we cannot see, waiting patiently.


'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink' (Matthew 6: 25) … lunch in Lemonokipos in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Matthew 6: 25-34:

The Gospel reading continues our readings in Saint Matthew’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount. In verse 24, Christ speaks of the impossibility of serving two masters: we cannot love both. ‘You cannot serve God and wealth.’

A key word throughout this reading is ‘worry’ (see verses 25, 27, 31). The Greek verb μεριμνάω (merimnáo) means to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, in a way that gives priorities to my own interests, that is preoccupied with or absorbed by my own self-interest.

To be preoccupied with food and appearance is to have a very narrow view of life. On the other hand, birds, to take an example of a different attitude to food, work hard to find it, but they do not store it against future possible shortages.

Our worries and preoccupations are futile. We desire long lives, but our self-preoccupation and self-absorption cannot lengthen our lives (verse 27). On the other hand, lilies, though they grow abundantly on Palestinian hillsides, are dull brown for much of the year and are only brightly coloured for a few weeks. Yet, even Solomon, ‘in all his glory,’ could not compare to their beauty.

The grass of the field ends up being thrown into the oven as fuel for cooking (verse 30). But if God cares for such plants, how much more will God provide for those who are faithful to him?

So being preoccupied with our own needs is wrong because seeking security in possessions shows a lack of faith. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, we should ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (verse 34).

Today’s worries are enough for today. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (verse 34).

Reflecting on the Gospel reading

Do not worry about tomorrow?

Try to imagine two different ways of reading this Gospel passage.

The first is if to image you have a respectable and well-paying job, a good house in suburbia, a decent car, adult children who have good prospects too, you have regular holidays, and can change your car every two or three years.

The second way to read it is to imagine yourself living in a deprived urban area, a single parent with a mortgaged house in negative equity, unemployed, and facing severe cuts in your welfare payments, an adult child with special needs, and an ageing parent who needs residential care that you cannot afford.

How then do you then receive the message, do not worry about what you will eat or drink or wear (verse 25), because God will take care of you? Today’s trouble is certainly more than enough for many today.

For the first group, this is irrelevant, meaningless. You may be worried about higher taxes, winding down and preparing for retirement, that children marry the right sort of people. If you have worries, they are hidden from the neighbours, perhaps even hidden from yourself. Would you want them exposed and discussed in the pulpit?

For the second group, it verges on the absurd. If you have spent the last few years worrying about the roof your head, unable to afford and prepare adequate meals, worried about the friends and dangers your children meet, the future they face, then this is no easy message to hear. What does Christ mean, ‘do not worry’? Life is full of worries, every single waking day.

But is Christ really saying that the basic necessities of life do not matter?

Is he really saying that the basic necessities of life will appear miraculously if only we believe in him correctly?

Let us first put this reading in context – Christ is talking to people who have enough, it seems. Otherwise, his encouragement not to worry would simply be cruel.

But, what about those who truly do not have enough?

How are they going to hear good news in this Gospel reading?

Though the message is going to be heard differently by those who have enough and those who do not, the message is really the same: do not fret.

If you have enough, be thankful, but beware of making an idol of having what you want, rather than merely what you need.

If you do not have enough, it is not because God does not love you. Christ is working to break the connection that was commonly made in his day: those who please God are rewarded with plenty, while those suffer have earned God’s displeasure.

We still make that connection. How often we have an inner feeling of glee when we think people get what they deserve. How often we think people have brought about their own downfall. How often we think people could improve their lot if only they were not indolent, if only they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

We sometimes describe ourselves as a nation of begrudgers, too often, and too often we want grace for ourselves but law for others.

Christ encourages us to look beyond the narrow perspectives that attach virtue to success and vice to failure.

That challenge is expressed by Frederick Faber in the words of his hymn, ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ (Irish Church Hymnal # 9):

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.

If our love were but more simple,
we should take him at his word,
and our lives would be gladness
in the presence of the Lord.

God’s desire for us is that we all have enough, rather than calculating the degree to which each of us should be blessed or cursed.

That does not change the circumstances today for the single mother in Moyross or the unemployed father in Tallaght. But neither do present circumstances justify making political, economic and social decisions based on self-interest and selfishness.

It may be timely to turn to the Collect for Peace, which is the Second Collect at Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. This collect originated in the Sacramentary of Gelasius and was incorporated in the Sarum Breviary, from which Thomas Cranmer translated it in 1549:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Kingdom of God has different values from life in the empire, or life in a profit-based society. The kingdom of God includes the poor, the merciful, those who mourn. The kingdom of God calls us to bring light to the darkest parts of the world, to be salt in the world, to be signs and sacraments of mercy and justice.

God is not promising to meet all our needs, like some shopping list brought to the Kingdom-value-supermarket, if we pay up with the right kind of prayers. Tomorrow is going to bring its worries: ‘for tomorrow will bring worries of its own’ (verse 34). But God does not bargain with us. God expects us to serve him through living out the kingdom values, and in that we find perfect freedom.

As we seek first the Kingdom of God, we come to accept with joy the things God adds to us. Our trials and troubles remain real, but that reality can be transformed and made glorious as we serve God and seek to do God’s will.

‘Look at the birds of the air …’ (Matthew 6: 26) … birds in the air at sunset at Malahide Castle, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 25-34 (NRSVA):

25 [Jesus said:] ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

‘I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these’ (Matthew 6: 29) … a heron on the River Dodder at Rathfarnham Bridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introducing the Readings (Option B, Proper 3):

The Gospel reading in Option B for Sunday next is virtually the same as the Gospel reading in the Creation Sunday option, but with one, extra, introductory verse.

These readings challenge us to think about that faith means, and how we find our security in God’s promises, not in the promises and temptations of this world, and how we express this faith in the ways in which we follow God and live our lives.

‘And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up’ (Isaiah 49: 11) … a rough pathway along an ancient pilgrim route through fields in Kilcornan parish, Co Limerick, leading to Saint Brigid’s Well (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Isaiah 49: 8-16a:

The Prophet Isaiah has been called by God, even before he was born, to speak to people everywhere. He has tried, without success, to convince the people to trust in God, and now he feels his ministry has been waste of time. Yet he still trusts in God. In the verses immediately before this, God commissions him to a greater mission: he is to be ‘a light to the nations’ so that God’s ‘salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

In this reading, Isaiah continues to speak on God’s behalf. Through Isaiah, God reminds the people that he has kept his covenant with them, and they will indeed return from exile and slavery to the land they once owned as their heritage.

They will take with them the prisoners, those who live in darkness, the hungry and the thirsty. God will lead them as a people as a shepherd leads his sheep, feeding them, guiding them, protecting them from harm and from the weather, and making the journey easy for them.

As well as coming from Babylon in the east, the exiles will return from all directions, from the north and south, even from as far away as Syene in southern Egypt.

All creation, all the heavens and the earth are called to join in rejoicing at God’s deliverance and renewal.

Jerusalem and its inhabitants, the people who lived around Mount Zion and the Temple, may feel that they have been ignored by God. But now God assures them of his love, which is like mother’s love for the child she has conceived. The people are as close to God as the marks on my hand.

‘I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother’ (Psalm 131: 2) … ‘Divine Teardrop’ by Peter Cassidy in a recent exhibition at the Wexford Festival Opera (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 131:

Psalm 131 is sometimes known in English by its first verse in the King James Version, ‘Lord, my heart is not haughty,’ and in Latin it is known as Domine non est exaltatum cor meum. This is one of the 15 ‘Songs of Ascents; (Shir Hama’a lot) and one of the psalms of confidence.

Psalm 131 is one of the shortest psalms, being one of three psalms with only three verses (the others are Psalm 133 and Psalm 134) – the shortest psalm is Psalm 117, with two verses.

The superscription, ‘A Song of Ascents,’ suggests that this psalm was sung in procession to the Temple. In verse 1, the psalmist says he is neither vain nor arrogant to the point of denying God's greatness and standing.

In verse 2, he recalls that he has successfully become at peace spiritually; he is at peace, as a child in a mother’s arms.

Verse 3 may be a liturgical response sung by pilgrims in Jerusalem.

This psalm in Hebrew is the text of the final movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, an extended work for choir and orchestra, with verse 1 of Psalm 133 added.

When asked what it means to trust in God, the Jewish sage known as the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) of Vilnius, quoted verse 2 of this psalm:

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

He explained that just as a nursing baby who is satiated does not worry whether there will be more milk when he or she is hungry again, one who trusts in God does not worry about the future.

Corinthian-style columns supporting an entablature on the portico at Plassey House on the University of Limerick campus … Saint Paul commends the ‘stewards of God’s mysteries’ to the support of the divided Corinthian church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Corinthians 4: 1-5:

Earlier in this letter, the Apostle Paul responds to reports about factionalism and divisions in the Church in Corinth, where some say they belong to Paul, some to Apollos, others to Cephas, and still others to Christ (see I Corinthians 1: 1-9, Epiphany II, 19 January 2020).

He condemns these divisions and quarrels” (see 1: 10-18, Epiphany III, 26 January 2020).

But then, Saint Paul appears to have second thoughts, wondering whether it is not human to be attached to those who brought the Gospel and brought people to faith. He sees himself as having planted the garden that Apollos watered, and to which God gave growth. Saint Paul and Apollos have a common purpose and should not be set against each other, for they are both God's servants, working together.

Now, in this reading, Saint Paul asks his readers to accept Paul and Apollos – and perhaps Cephas – as ‘servants of Christ’ and ‘stewards of God’s mysteries (I Corinthians 4: 1).

A steward in a Greek and Roman household was responsible for protecting its assets. The word Greek word Saint Paul uses here for a steward, οἰκονόμος (oikonómos), is the same word Saint Luke uses in the Parable of the Unjust Steward (see Luke 16: 1-13), that Saint Paul uses when he says a bishop, as God’s steward, ‘must be blameless’ (Titus 1: 7), and that is also used in the Petrine letters (see I Peter 4: 10) about those in ministry.

What are God’s mysteries?

We often think of the word ‘mystery’ in terms of a genre of fiction or as a problem to be solved.

The word mystery in Greek is μυστήριον (mysterion) in the singular but usually appears in the New Testament as the plural μυστήρια (mysteria), the mysteries.

The word comes from the Greek word μυο (muo), to shut the mouth, or even to cover the eyes. In the Old Testament, God is the ‘revealer of mysteries’ (Daniel 2: 47). The Wisdom literature talks about ‘the secret purposes of God’ (see Wisdom 2: 22). In the Gospels, the word μυστήριον (mysterion) is used to refer to the secret meaning of parables (see Matthew 13: 11; Mark 4: 11; Luke 9: 1-10).

The noun was used in reference to the secrets of ancient mystery cults, but it is generally used in the plural in the New Testament to refer to a number of doctrines not known in the Old Testament. Saint Paul uses it in a technical, theological sense, in which Christ is the mystery, the secret plan of God that has always been implicit in creation but is now made explicit in Christ. Christ is the predestined mystery of God revealed within the fullness of time. In receiving him, people receive salvation.

To this day, the Eastern Church still uses the term ‘Mystery’ or ‘Sacred Mystery’ where we might use the term ‘Sacrament.’

We still use the word mystery in this way too to refer to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It occurs at least three times in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) in reference to the Eucharist in ways that we continue to use it: ‘we … have duly received these holy mysteries’ (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p 190); ‘so shall ye be meet partakers of these holy mysteries’ (p 200); ‘he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, pledges of his love’ (p 200).

In sharing ‘God’s mysteries’ or receiving the sacrament, we should not judge one another, for God alone knows people’s inner thoughts, and in time each of us will receive the praise we deserve from God.

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … a table set for dinner on the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 24-34:

The Gospel reading continues our readings in Saint Matthew’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount. In verse 24, Christ speaks of the impossibility of serving two masters: we cannot love both. ‘You cannot serve God and wealth.’

A key word throughout this reading is ‘worry’ (see verses 25, 27, 31). The Greek verb μεριμνάω (merimnáo) means to be anxious, to be troubled with cares, in a way that gives priorities to my own interests, that is preoccupied with or absorbed by my own self-interest.

To be preoccupied with food and appearance is to have a very narrow view of life. On the other hand, birds, to take an example of a different attitude to food, work hard to find it, but they do not store it against future possible shortages.

Our worries and preoccupations are futile. We desire long lives, but our self-preoccupation and self-absorption cannot lengthen our lives (verse 27). On the other hand, lilies, though they grow abundantly on Palestinian hillsides, are dull brown for much of the year and are only brightly coloured for a few weeks. Yet, even Solomon, ‘in all his glory,’ could not compare to their beauty.

The grass of the field ends up being thrown into the oven as fuel for cooking (verse 30). But if God cares for such plants, how much more will God provide for those who are faithful to him?

So being preoccupied with our own needs is wrong because seeking security in possessions shows a lack of faith. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, we should ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (verse 34).

Today’s worries are enough for today. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today’ (verse 34).

Reflecting on the Gospel reading

At the end of this Gospel reading, Jesus tells the disciples, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

Do not worry about tomorrow?

Imagine two different ways of reading this Gospel passage.

The first is if to image you have a respectable and well-paying job, a good house in suburbia, a decent car, adult children who have good prospects too, you have regular holidays, and can change your car every two or three years.

The second way to read it is to imagine yourself living in a deprived urban area, a single parent with a mortgaged house in negative equity, unemployed, and facing severe cuts in your welfare payments, an adult child with special needs, and an ageing parent who needs residential care that you cannot afford.

How then do you then receive the message, do not worry about what you will eat or drink or wear (verse 25), because God will take care of you? Today’s trouble is certainly more than enough for many today.

For the first group, this is irrelevant, meaningless. You may be worried about higher taxes, winding down and preparing for retirement, that children marry the right sort of people. If you have worries, they are hidden from the neighbours, perhaps even hidden from yourself. Would you want them exposed and discussed in the pulpit?

For the second group, it verges on the absurd. If you have spent the last few years worrying about the roof your head, unable to afford and prepare adequate meals, worried about the friends and dangers your children meet, the future they face, then this is no easy message to hear. What does Christ mean, ‘do not worry’? Life is full of worries, every single waking day.

But is Christ really saying that the basic necessities of life do not matter?

Is he really saying that the basic necessities of life will appear miraculously if only we believe in him correctly?

Let us first put this reading in context – Christ is talking to people who have enough, it seems. Otherwise, his encouragement not to worry would simply be cruel.

But, what about those who truly do not have enough?

How are they going to hear good news in this Gospel reading?

Though the message is going to be heard differently by those who have enough and those who do not, the message is really the same: do not fret.

If you have enough, be thankful, but beware of making an idol of having what you want, rather than merely what you need.

If you do not have enough, it is not because God does not love you. Christ is working to break the connection that was commonly made in his day: those who please God are rewarded with plenty, while those suffer have earned God’s displeasure.

We still make that connection. How often we have an inner feeling of glee when we think people get what they deserve. How often we think people have brought about their own downfall. How often we think people could improve their lot if only they were not indolent, if only they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

We sometimes describe ourselves as a nation of begrudgers, too often, and too often we want grace for ourselves but law for others.

Christ encourages us to look beyond the narrow perspectives that attach virtue to success and vice to failure.

That challenge is expressed by Frederick Faber in the words of his hymn, ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ (Irish Church Hymnal # 9):

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.

If our love were but more simple,
we should take him at his word,
and our lives would be gladness
in the presence of the Lord.

God’s desire for us is that we all have enough, rather than calculating the degree to which each of us should be blessed or cursed.

That does not change the circumstances today for the single mother in Moyross or the unemployed father in Tallaght. But neither do present circumstances justify making political, economic and social decisions based on self-interest and selfishness.

It may be timely to turn to the Collect for Peace, which is the Second Collect at Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. This collect originated in the Sacramentary of Gelasius and was incorporated in the Sarum Breviary, from which Thomas Cranmer translated it in 1549:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Kingdom of God has different values from life in the empire, or life in a profit-based society. The kingdom of God includes the poor, the merciful, those who mourn. The kingdom of God calls us to bring light to the darkest parts of the world, to be salt in the world, to be signs and sacraments of mercy and justice.

God is not promising to meet all our needs, like some shopping list brought to the Kingdom-value-supermarket, if we pay up with the right kind of prayers. Tomorrow is going to bring its worries: ‘for tomorrow will bring worries of its own’ (verse 34). But God does not bargain with us. God expects us to serve him through living out the kingdom values, and in that we find perfect freedom.

As we seek first the Kingdom of God, we come to accept with joy the things God adds to us. Our trials and troubles remain real, but that reality can be transformed and made glorious as we serve God and seek to do God’s will.

‘They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns …’ (Matthew 6: 26) … a barn at Comberford Manor Farm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: (24) 25-34 (NRSVA):

24 [Jesus said:] ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

‘I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these’ (Matthew 6: 29) … a family of swans on the Royal Canal near Castleknock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources (Option A, Creation):

Liturgical Colour: Green (Year A, Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

The Collect of the Word:

God of the living,
with all your creatures great and small
we sing your bounty and your goodness,
for in the harvest of land and ocean,
in the cycles of the seasons,
and the wonders of each creature,
you reveal your generosity.
Teach us the gratitude that dispels envy,
that we may honour each gift
as you cherish your creation,
and praise you in all times and places.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today …’ (Matthew 6: 30) … green fields and countryside at Cross in Hand Lane, north of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

Genesis 1: 1 to Genesis 2: 3:

23, Álainn farraige spéirghlas (Beautiful the blue-green sea)
25, All things bright and beautiful
66, Before the ending of the day
121, Creator of the starry height
74, First of the week and finest day
48, God in his love for us lent us this planet
3, God is love: let heaven adore him
26, God sends us refreshing rain
4, God, who made the earth
67, God, who made the earth and heaven
27, God, who stretched the spangled heavens
324, God, whose almighty word
94, In the name of Jesus
29, Lord of beauty, thine the splendour
31, Lord of the boundless curves of space
58, Morning has broken
537, O God, our help in ages past
32, O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
33, O Lord of every shing constellation
34, O worship the King all-glorious above
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers
35, The spacious firmament on high
77, This day, at God’s creating word
36, We thank you, God our Father

Psalm 136 (or Psalm 136: 1-9, 22-36):

682, All created things, bless the Lord
711, All you heavens, bless the Lord (Surrexit Christus)
353, Give to our God immortal praise
30, Let us, with a gladsome mind
45, Praise, o praise our God and King

Romans 8: 18-25:

501, Christ is the world’s true Light
654, Light of the lonely pilgrim’s heart
49, Lord, bring the day to pass

Matthew 6: 25-34:

28, I sing the almighty power of God
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand
365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation
596, Seek ye first the kingdom of God

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … tables set for dinner at Pigadi restaurant in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources (Option B, Proper 3):

Liturgical Colour: Green (Year A, Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

The Collect of the Word:

Eternal God,
you counsel us not to be anxious about earthly things.
Keep alive in us a proper yearning
for those heavenly treasures awaiting all who trust in your mercy
, that we may daily rejoice in your salvation
and serve you with constant devotion;
trough 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 our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Almighty God, you have created the heavens and the earth’ (The Collect of the Day) … sunrise on the Slaney Estuary at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Suggested Hymns:

Isaiah 49: 8-16a:

643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
644, Faithful Shepherd, feed me
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
466, Here from all nations, all tongues, and all peoples
128, Hills of the north, rejoice
467, How bright those glorious spirits shine!
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
20, The King of love my shepherd is

Psalm 131:

10, All my hope on God is founded
569, Hark my soul, it is the Lord
661, Through the night of doubt and sorrow

I Corinthians 4: 1-5:

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus
127, Hark what a sound, and too divine for hearing
132, Lo! he come with clouds descending
457, Pour out thy Spirit from on high
527, Son of God, eternal Saviour
140, The Lord will come and not be slow

Matthew 6: 25-34:

28, I sing the almighty power of God
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
57, Lord, for tomorrow and its needs
657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand
365, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation
596, Seek ye first the kingdom of God

‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink’ (Matthew 6: 25) … a table for two in 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).

‘God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today …’ (Matthew 6: 30) … green fields and countryside at Cross in Hand Lane, north of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)