25 April 2010

Joining the saints in the company of the Lamb

Saint Bartholomew's Church, Clyde Road, Ballsbridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 25 April 2010, the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin

9 a.m.: Said Eucharist

Acts 9: 36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7: 9-17; John 10: 22-30

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is particularly nice to be back in Saint Bartholomew’s this morning, and to join you in celebrating the Eucharist.

I know you don’t normally expect a sermon at this Eucharist, but I just thought I’d take a few moments to share some of the things I may say later this morning.

Since my last visit, I have been thinking about why this church is named Saint Bartholomew’s. I can’t imagine it was because the founding figures wanted to commemorate the Huguenots martyred in Paris in 1572. Nor was the Church dedicated on Saint Bartholomew’s Day.

Nor, despite the window here of the calling of Saint Nathanael, is Saint Bartholomew a particularly happy apostle to illustrate – it is said he was skinned to death, and there is a gruesome, skeletal statue of him in the Duomo in Milan, holding his own skin.

I think the more probable reason is connected with the fact that by the mid or late 19th century, Saint Bartholomew was one of the few apostles who had yet to have a church named in his honour in this diocese. Already we had churches names after the four evangelists and after most of the apostles … apart from Simon, Bartholomew, who is also identified with Nathanael, and, of course, Judas.

At the time this parish was shaping its particular identity and its place within tradition. An important statement was being made about the Church of Ireland and our claim to be heirs to the full apostolic legacy of the church – not just part of it.

We need to be reminded every now and then that we are part of the Communion of Saints – not just one part of it, but part of the whole Communion of Saints, heirs to the full apostolic legacy of the Church.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter calls the saints together as witnesses to the promise of new life in Christ. In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we are reminded that the Communion of Saints is drawn from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, across time and space, breaking down all the barriers of history and discrimination.

In our Gospel reading, we are told that the saints, those who have eternal life, are those who hear Christ’s voice, answer his call, follow him and do his will. He knows them, they know him, and they have the promise of eternal life.

Have you ever looked up in recent years at the West Front of Westminster Abbey? It now contains the statues of ten 20th century martyrs including Maximillian Kolbe, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The calendar of the Church of England commemorates not only English saints, but Irish saints that have yet to make an appearance in any calendar of the Church of Ireland, including Jeremy Taylor and Mother Harriet O’Brien Monsell from Dromoland, Co Clare.

Why do we have a problem in the Church of Ireland in remembering saints other that the Apostles and the founding figures of our dioceses and great monasteries?

I know a church in the Diocese of Lichfield that has remembered as saints both Jeremy Taylor from the Church of Ireland and Thomas Cranmer, for his role in shaping Anglicanism and his contribution to the beauty of literary English through his Collects and the Book of Common Prayer.

If you were to pick your own modern saints, the saints who had influenced you in your faith journey, modern exemplars of Christian faith and discipleship, who would you name?

The late Bishop John Yates (1925-2008), who at Lichfield Cathedral, first prompted me to think about ordination when I was only a 19-year-old …

Canon Eddie Grant and Canon Norrie Ruddock, who did the same in Wexford …

Dietrich Bonhoeffer …

Martin Luther King …

Colin O’Brien Winter, the exiled Bishop of Namibia, who combined his pacifism with a firm resistance to apartheid, racism and militarism …

Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, the priest who first showed me what engaged discipleship really demands, and the cost of it …

I truly enjoy the way my Greek friends put a greater emphasis on celebrating their name days than their birthdays. For when we join the saints in glory before the Lamb on the Throne, the only birthday that matters is the day in which we enter that wonderful company of saints.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Said Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin, on Sunday 25 April 2010

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