Thursday, 30 September 2010

Liturgy 1.2: secular liturgy and ritual

Church and State have their own language, symbols and expectations when it comes to public ritual … so too with theatre, sport and domestic occasions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 09:00 to 11:00, Thursdays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 1.2: 30 September 2010


Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual:
Evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.

‘Liturgy’ and our expectations

‘Liturgy’ and ritual in the world today:

1, Drama/Theatre (Plays, Opera, Pantomime).
2, Cinema
3, Sport (Soccer, Rugby, Golf)
4, Domestic
5, Political and secular

Five working groups:

1, Drama/Theatre (Plays, Opera, Pantomime)

The theatre in Epidavros ... theatre has its own language and rituals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Special language:

• Shakespeare’s English, silence in Beckett
• Opera Italian (or German/Wagner),
• Rhyming-slang-type names in Pantomime (Stinky-Pooh).

Special Movements:

• Off-stage directions and voices
• Dramatised swooning and dying
• Raising up a dagger
• The final bow and encore

Special clothing

• You know who is the good fairy and who is the wicked step-mother
• Period costume.
• Clothing in opera often a very different cut; this is especially so in ballet
• At the Opera, the audience often dresses very differently too.

Sacred space

• The pit for the orchestra;
• The wings and off-stage;
• Where would we be watching Romeo and Juliet without a balcony?

Where would we be watching Romeo and Juliet without a balcony? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Responsorial language

• An important part of drama and opera;
• There is a special form in pantomime:
“Look out, he’s behind you.” “Oh yes he is, oh no he’s not.”

Signs (what do they point to)

• Curtains close for end of act;
• End of scene/end of act differentiated with an inner curtain
• Throwing roses at the diva (smashing plates in Greece);
• Chekov: if a gun on the wall, not for decoration, but symbol of later drama
• Curtain calls symbolise the end, but also invite participation in applause

Roles

• Important to know who is who in a play.
• But also a programme will name the producer, the director, the lighting team, stage hands ... even if not seen.

Special food?

• Interval drinks?
• People take picnics to the opera in Verona

The Opera at Verona is popular and informal … but often people dress differently for the Opera (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

What is alienating for you as a participant, as part of the audience?

• It is important to see and to hear.
• If you are a child at pantomime, then you need to be engaged, to participate, to enjoy
• What if the programme notes are not good?
• If the lighting is bad?
• If the actors’ movements don’t match the roles they’re acting.

2, Cinema

Special language

• Certainly a special time, not go in the morning.
• But even language can indicate your generational approach:
• Are they films, or movies?
• Are they westerns or cowboys.
• Is it the cinema?

Special Movements

• The blackout has its own ritual symbolism
• The usher’s light.
• There is a wonderful Rowan Atkins’ sketch the illustrates the ritual acts appropriate in a cinema when people are watching a horror movie, and they are quite different to the ones I remember as being appropriate for young boys watching westerns.

Special clothing

• The usherettes in the past
• Special clothing and behaviour for watching The Rockie Horror Movie.
• Special glasses for 3D movies

Sacred space

• Don’t stand up between me, the projector and the screen.

Responsorial language

• Yes actually, watch outside when people are leaving a movie.

Signs (what do they point to):

• How to find the exit, the loo and the food sales point; they too make a difference.

Roles:

• Not just the roles in the movie
• The ticket seller,
• The ticket checker,
• The usher, the projectionist
• Each has a role that is different from my place in the audience

Special food?

• Popcorn!

What is alienating for you as a participant, as part of the audience?

• If the lights come on at the wrong time
• If the advertising goes on too long.
• If others stand up or talk during the sacred moment.

3, Sports (Soccer, Rugby, Golf)

Villa Park ... like many English football clubs, Aston Villa has its origins in local church activities … but football has evolved its own rituals and language

Special language:

• technical terms:
• I don’t know what a birdie or an eagle is
• “Fore!”
• What does love mean in tennis?
• The referee’s whistle is a special sign language, with different meanings in one or two pips, and a long sharp blast

Special Movements:

• special entrances and exits
• addressing the ball,
• lining up the teams at a cup final.
• The hakka

Special clothing:

• Players distinct from the referee as well as from each other;
• Special kit for the goalkeeper;
• Golf!
• Tennis and Cricket whites;
• Soccer supporters.

Sacred space

• The umpires behind the wickets
• The penalty box
• The tennis umpire’s chair
• The goal line
• The side line
• For spectators, the difference between terraces, or Hill 16, or The Kop.

Responsorial language

• Football chants and slogans
• “The referee’s a …”
• Where is it appropriate to sing The Fields of Athenry?
• The drums among French rugby supporters
• Mexican wave?

Signs (what do they point to?):

• Mexican wave?
• Yellow card, red card
• The flag at the hole on the green
• The goal posts
• The circle, and the penalty box
• The scoreboard in cricket

Roles

• Umpires
• Goalkeepers
• Linesmen
• Ball boys
• Ticket sellers
• Waterboy

Special food?

• Certainly at American football.
• Strawberries at Wimbledon.
• How often play at a cricket adjourns for tea.
• Captain’s dinner in a golf club.
• Champagne, and popping corks at Formula 1

What is alienating for you as a participant or part of the audience?

• Sitting among the wrong supporters, or the Kop, Hill 16 or the Canal End.
• Ladies’ day in golf clubs?
• Fixing times of matches to suit television viewers (in China)?
• Flares are a real bugbear at Greek soccer matches.

4, Domestic

Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, name days, Sunday dinner:

At our dinner table, even on weekdays, we like to have flowers on table, usually candles, bread, wine, a salad … then we know the table is set and we can begin dinner. We serve each other the food, we raise glasses, καλή όρεξη, bon appetite.

Special language

• Congratulations.
• Many happy returns
• Condolences
• Many happy returns

Special Movements

• Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake
• Candles and flowers
• Who carves the Sunday roast

Special clothing

• One of my sons at the age of six started saying he wanted us to dress for dinner.
• Party dress / little black number, and when inappropriate.
• Wedding clothes nothing to do with church tradition

Sacred space:

• The table for a wedding anniversary
• Our dinner table: flowers, candles, a salad, bread, wine, often candles too

Responsorial language

• “For he’s a jolly good fellow ...”
• “Hip, hip ...”

Signs and icons (what do they point to?)

• The birthday cake.
• Birthday cards,
• Clinking glasses

Special food?

• Birthday cake
• Champagne
• The Sunday roast, Yorkshire pud?
• Is Turkey inappropriate outside Christmas/Thanksgiving?

Roles

• You don’t initiate singing happy birthday to yourself
• You don’t pop the cork at your own birthday

What is alienating for you as a participant, in the audience?

• When others don’t sing.
• When others don’t respond
• When others forget your birthday, or gatecrash.

It is alienating when others behave inappropriately, using wrong language, songs, signs, and movements at the wrong times.

How many remember clips of Marilyn Monroe popping up and singing … “Happy Birthday.” But it was inappropriate. She was and still is the focus of attention. Who remembers how old JFK was then?

5, Political and secular

Special language

• The speaker calling the house to order.
• Invoking points of order
• Giving way.

Special Movements

• The state opening of parliament
• The Lord Mayor’s parade
• Judges processing into court, “Please arise.”
• Sitting on different sides of the house (hence, left and right)
• Waving order papers.
• Speaking from the dispatch box
• Swearing in the jury/or the jury retiring.
• The house adjourning.

Special clothing

• Judges’ wigs.
• The speaker’s robes
• The way Black Rod or a court usher dresses

Sacred space

• Please approach the bench
• The speaker’s chair.
• At parades, the reviewing platform, and who is seated where.
• The press gallery

Responsorial language

• Order, order.
• Hear, hear.

Signs/icons (what do they point to?)

• The woolsack
• A Mayor’s chain of office.
• The keys of the city
• A judge’s wig or black cap.

Special food?

• If you’ve been on a jury you may not like to recall that
• But draw on other ritual food, like birthday cakes, popping champagne, &c
• The members’ bar

Roles:

• The court bailiff
• Black Rod
• The Gentlemen Ushers
• The tellers

What is alienating for you as a participant/or in the audience?

• Parliamentary procedures can be alienating.
• But look at the number of people who queue up to visit the Dail or Westminster.
• There are people with positive experience of being jurors … justice was done, and they had a good day.
• The state opening of parliament.

Summary:

In all of these, body language matters.

If I put out my hand for a handshake and you refuse it, who feels bad?

Do you give each other a kiss? When is it not appropriate?

An example of misinterpreted body language is easily provided by Greek head movements for yes and no, and can have consequences if I am in the line for a loo.

We create ritual and liturgy in every walk of society.

We are alienated when we are counted out, when we fail to understand what’s going on, or when it loses meaning for us.

In all of these, there are essential ingredients to make sure it works, and they usually include:

• Special language
• Special movements (including body language)
• Special clothing
• Special place and space.
• Responsorial language.
• Meaningful and indicative signs.
• Assigned roles.
• Perhaps special food.

We are alienated when:

• the wrong language, signs, responses, movements, roles are used,
• when the right ones are misappropriated,
• when we feel counted out,
• when we fail to understand what’s going on,
• or when the ritual or liturgy loses meaning for us.

And a good understanding of these social uses of ritual help us to understand when and how good liturgy works for us and for others, and how and why bad liturgy can be alienating for us and for others.

Worksheet for seminar/workshop:

Space and sign, meaning and timing:


Special language

Special Movements

Special clothing

Sacred space

Responsorial language

Signs/Icons (what do they point to)

Roles

Special food?

Manual/facial actions:

What is alienating for you as participant/audience?

Next week:

Liturgy 2.1
: The theology of space, and its implications for church buildings.

Liturgy 2.2: The use of church buildings in relation to the mission of God expressed through the Church (Seminar, based on readings from Richard Giles).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were shared in a seminar/workshop on the MTh module, EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on 30 September 2010

Liturgy 1.1: Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 09:00 to 11:00, Thursdays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 1.1: 30 September 2010

Introduction to liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language

Opening Prayer:


The Lord be with you:
And also with you

O Lord,
hear the prayers of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill them;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introductions:

Our opening prayer is the collect of the Sunday before last, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. It talks about both perception and knowledge. And this module on liturgy, worship and spirituality is about both knowledge and perception.

In our first hour, I hope we can have:

(a) Introduction to Liturgy;
(b) Signs and symbols in today’s culture;
(c) Introduction to the texts, readings and methodology.

In other words, I want to introduce us to the topics being covered in this semester and the methodologies used in this course; and in particular this morning to develop an understanding of liturgical space, place, time and structure, with a critical comparison with secular ‘liturgies’.

(A) Introduction to Liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language:

Some introductory remarks:

• Good and bad experiences

• Liturgy and our expectations

• Liturgy in the world today:

1, Drama (Plays, Opera, Pantomime).
2, The Cinema
3, Sport (Soccer, Rugby)
4, Domestic
5, Political and secular
[Full discussion of Point 5 later in 1.2]

• Liturgy not in the Book of Common Prayer:

1, Harvest Thanksgiving
2, Remembrance Sunday
3, Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?

Not all liturgy in the Church of Ireland is to be found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Give examples:

• Harvest Thanksgiving
• Remembrance Sunday
• Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
• Christingle Services

Some of these have been easily adapted in recent years by imaginatively tailoring them to a Service of the Word. But they were there long before we introduced the idea of a Service of the Word. Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?

And there are quasi-religious liturgies too:

• Orange marches
• Remembrance Day services

What do we mean by liturgy?

Liturgy is more than rite and words. The components of all liturgy include an understanding of the role and function of:

• liturgical space,
• liturgical venue,
• liturgical time,
• liturgical structure.

How do we apply this to liturgy of the Church?

What do we mean by liturgy?

The word itself means “the work of the people.”

The Greek word laós (λαός) means the people.

The laós might even mean the rowdy, the masses, the populace.

Liturgy is not necessarily a sacred word. Sometimes it even has vulgar connotations. Some examples include:

Laou-laou (Λαου-λαου): on the sly, sneakingly.

Λαουτζίκος (Laoutzíkos) ... the common people; we are all members of the laity

Laoutzíkos (Λαουτζίκος): the populace, the rabble, the vulgar horde; this use has been current this year during the strikes and protests in Greece about public spending cuts.

And it gives rise to secular words we all understand: the word basileós (βασιλεύς, modern βασιλιάς), for a king, literally means the one who goes before or leads the people.

The Greek word leitourgía (λειτουργία) means public duty. We now restrict this to the worship of the church, and even more specifically and restrictively to the ritual worship of the Church. In Greece, essentially, it is the Eucharist.

The word liton for a town hall is derived from λος, los, a dialectal variant of λαός (laós, people), is combined with ἔργον (érgon), work (werg- in Indo-European roots).

So basically liturgy means the “public work of the people”, the masses, all of us, for we are all members of the λαός, laós, the people.

Liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgía) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are λειτος, leitos (from leos or laos, people) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do.

From this we have leitourgós (λειτουργός), “a man who performs a public duty,” “a public servant,” often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, “to do such a duty,” leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgía, the public duty itself.

The word comes from the Classical Greek word λειτουργία (leitourgía) meaning “a public work.”

In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens of the city state at their own expense (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Greek city-states, it had a different sense: some public good which a wealthy citizen arranged at his own expense, either voluntarily or by law. In Athens, the Assembly assigned liturgies to the wealthy, and there was a law by which any man who had been assigned a liturgy while a richer man had had none could challenge him either to undertake the liturgy or to exchange property with him.

In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens at their own expense, such as the offices of:

The Gymnasium at Olympia, where the athletes trained ... the Gymnasíarchos superintended the gymnasium

Gymnasíarchos (γυμνασίαρχος), who superintended the gymnasium.

The Greek chorus in The Bacchai at the National Theatre ... the Choregós paid the members of the chorus in the theatre (Photograph: Tristram Kenton)

Choregós (χορηγός), who paid the members of the chorus in the theatre.

The hestiátoras gave a banquet ... and his public service finds a reminder in the modern Greek word for a restaurant, εστιατόριο (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Hestiátoras (εστιάτορας) who gave a banquet to his tribe – the word survives in the modern Greek, meaning a restaurateur (the modern Greek word for a restaurant is εστιατόριο, a place of public service, where the public is served food.

The Triérarchos in Athens outfitted and paid for a warship for the state (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Triérarchos (τριήραρχος) provided public service to the state in Athens by outfitting and paying for a warship for the state.

How do you see those four roles represented in those who provided the service of the people, the liturgy of the Church, today?

[Discussion]

The meaning of the word liturgy is then extended to cover any general service of a public kind. In the Septuagint, the word liturgy (and the verb λειτουργέω leitourgéo) is used for the public service of the temple (e.g., Exodus 38: 27; 39: 12, etc). It then it came to have a religious sense: the function of the priests, the ritual service of the Temple (e.g., Joel, 1: 9; 2: 17, etc.).

Icon of the Priest Zacahary in the Temple

In the New Testament, this religious meaning has become definitely established. In Luke, 1: 23, Zachary goes home when “the days of his liturgy” (αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ, ai hemérai tes leitourgías autou) are over. In Hebrews 8: 6 (διαφορωτέρας τέτυχεν λειτουργίας, diaphorotéras tétuchen leitourgías), the high priest of the New Law “has obtained a better liturgy,” that is, a better kind of public religious service than that of the Temple.

So in Christian use, liturgy meant the public, official service of the Church that corresponded to the official service of the Temple in the Old Law.

In today’s usage, by liturgy we mean the form of rite or services prescribed by the various Christian churches.

The liturgy of the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox Eastern, and some other branches of the Church centres upon the Eucharist.

In the Western Church, the principal services traditionally centred on the Eucharist

In the Western Church, the principal service – in both the Gallican (including Celtic, Mozarabic and Ambrosian) and Roman families of the liturgy – centred on the Eucharist. In the Roman Catholic Church there are nine rites with distinctive liturgies, in various languages. The Orthodox Eastern Church has several liturgies. The ancient liturgies of the East are classified as Antiochene or Syrian, with modern liturgies in Greek, Old Slavonic, Romanian, Armenian, Arabic, and Syriac, and Alexandrine or Egyptian (with liturgies in Coptic and Ethiopic.]

But, in a broader sense, liturgy includes the divine office (given in the Breviary) and also services other than the Eucharist.

With the Reformation, the Reformers generally shifted towards the sermon as the focus of formal worship, and adopted vernacular speech.

In the 20th century, the liturgical movement sought to purify and renew the liturgy. This movement is a shared experience for all Western churches. The changes the liturgical movement ushered in include:

• the use of vernacular languages in the liturgies;
• participation of the laity in public prayer,
• a new emphasis on music and song.
• the formulation and reform of services.
• and wider awareness of the value of form itself.

Two factors often lead to confusion:

1, Liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions.

In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms – including the canonical hours, administration of sacraments, etc. – that are used officially by any local church, as the liturgy of such a church: the Liturgy of Antioch, the Roman Liturgy, and so on. So liturgy means rite. We speak indifferently of the Byzantine Rite or the Byzantine Liturgy.

In the same way, we distinguish the official services from others by calling them liturgical. Those services are liturgical that are contained in any of the official books of a rite. In the Roman Church, for instance, Compline is a liturgical service, while the Rosary is not.

2, The word liturgy, now the common one in all Eastern Churches, restricts it to the chief official service only – the Eucharist or the rite we also call the Holy Communion. This is now practically the only sense in which leitourgia is used in Greek, or in its derived forms (e. g., Arabic al-liturgiah) by any Eastern Christian.

(B) Signs and symbols in today’s culture:

In our use of language today, we know the difference between signs, icons, symbols, indices, and what they actually represent or point us to:

Icon:

Icons on computers serve as an international language

On the computer, icons serve as an international language:

• A half-open manila folder allows me to open a document or folder;
• Who remembers floppy discs? A floppy disc is not a floppy disc: it is an iconic sign allowing me to “Save the Present Document”;

These icons have international use and value. A new set of icons is developing for iPhones. But the icons work only if I can grasp the link between the sign and the function being carried out.

Index:

The weather cock on Christ Church Cathedral ... a weather cock on a church is not an icon, it is an index (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Unlike an icon, an index does not look like the concept it is conveying:

• A weather cock points to the direction the wind is blowing.
• An arrow on the road points the direction for traffic – it could be fatal to confuse it with an icon, and think there was a danger of an attack by archers if I continue to drive on.
• A knock on the door: this is not about the sound, but is an indication that someone outside wants to get in. If I attend to the sound and count the rhythm, they may go away.
• Clues point to a criminal, they are not the crime, they are not the criminal.

All of these depend on habit and custom, convention and interpretation. If we use the wrong one, if I am in the wrong place, if we make the wrong use of one or misinterpret an icon or an index, this may be alienating and even life-threatening.

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing ... but they all need to know whether to stop or to go at red and green lights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During the Cultural Revolution in China, the colour red indicated revolution and therefore forward thinking. Green turned to red at traffic lights, and red to green. If you misinterpret the colours of traffic lights – in Beijing or in Dublin – you may find yourself in the wrong lane, at best, in the casualty ward or funeral home at worst.

So, next week, I want us to look particularly at space and its role in the liturgy: liturgical space as liturgical icon and liturgical sign.

In preparation for that, I want you to watch next Sunday in your parish churches, and next Wednesday at the community eucharist, at the ways in which we liturgically use signs, symbols and space.

(C) Introduction to the texts, readings and methodology:

Texts:

The Book of Common Prayer (2004).
The Church Hymnal (5th ed., 2000).
C. Hefling, C. Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning: a liturgical theology for late modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul: a user’s guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, 2004).

Key text books:

Paul Bradshaw (ed), The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (London: SCM Press, 2nd ed, 2002).

Building up your own resources:

G.R. Evans and J.R. Wright (eds), The Anglican Tradition London: SPCK/Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1991).
S. Sykes and J. Booty (eds), The Study of Anglicanism (London: SPCK/Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).
J.F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 3rd ed, 2000).

Readings:

Supplied each week, including this week for next week

Methodology:

• Lectures.
• Working in seminars and workshops.
• Your presentations, research, home work and group work.
• Preparation for and engagement in chapel life.

Next:

Liturgy 1.2:

Seminar
: Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual: Evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.

Next week:

Liturgy 2.1
: The theology of space, and its implications for church buildings.

Liturgy 2.2: The use of church buildings in relation to the mission of God expressed through the Church (Seminar, based on readings from Richard Giles)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a lecture on the MTh module, EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on 30 September 2010

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Service and slavery in the ministry of the Church


Patrick Comerford

Luke 17: 5-10


Καὶ εἶπαν οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῷ κυρίῳ, Πρόσθες ἡμῖν πίστιν. εἶπεν δὲ ὁ κύριος, Εἰ ἔχετε πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, ἐλέγετε ἂν τῇ συκαμίνῳ [ταύτῃ], Ἐκριζώθητι καὶ φυτεύθητι ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: καὶ ὑπήκουσεν ἂν ὑμῖν.

Τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν δοῦλον ἔχων ἀροτριῶντα ἢ ποιμαίνοντα, ὃς εἰσελθόντι ἐκ τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Εὐθέως παρελθὼν ἀνάπεσε, ἀλλ' οὐχὶ ἐρεῖ αὐτῷ, Ἑτοίμασον τί δειπνήσω, καὶ περιζωσάμενος διακόνει μοι ἕως φάγω καὶ πίω, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα φάγεσαι καὶ πίεσαι σύ; μὴ ἔχει χάριν τῷ δούλῳ ὅτι ἐποίησεν τὰ διαταχθέντα; 1οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς, ὅταν ποιήσητε πάντα τὰ διαταχθέντα ὑμῖν, λέγετε ὅτι Δοῦλοι ἀχρεῖοί ἐσμεν, ὃ ὠφείλομεν ποιῆσαι πεποιήκαμεν.

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.

‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”.’

Serving without reward

The Gospel reading in the Lectionary for Sunday next [3 October], the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, is a short one. Do you find it difficult to preach on a short reading, compared with a long reading?

In this reading, we are told that our relationship with God makes obedience to God a duty to be fulfilled and not an occasion for reward.

Do we expect rewards for our ministry other than knowing that we have answered the call of God and the call of the Church?

Do we expect our faith to sow seeds for the faith and deeds of others that bears fruit for which we gain no praise or glory?

Are you prepared for a life of service?

There are two Greek words for service in this short passage:

In verse 8, note how the word to serve, διακονέω, relates particularly to supplying food and drink. It means to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon. It is the same term that gives us the word “deacon” in the ministry of the Church.

The story is told about a young curate in his first year of ordained ministry, and who was attending a parish function for pensioners. When he was asked by the rector’s wife to go around the tables and top up the cups of tea, he protested, insinuating that this was not what he had been ordained for.

“Oh,” said the rector’s wife. “Did you not know it’s a deacon’s job to serve at tables.”

In the New Testament, the service of this type of servant is different to the role of a steward or a slave. It means to minister to someone, to render service to them, to serve or minister to them; to wait at a table and to offer food and drink to the guests. It often had a special reference to women and the preparation of food. It relates to supplying food and the necessities of life.

The second word, δοῦλος (verses 7, 9 and 10), refers to a slave, someone who is in a servile condition. But it also refers metaphorically to someone who gives himself or herself up to the will of another, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause.

Are you expecting to be a servant and a slave in the ministry of the church?

Remember, when you become a priest, that you still remain a deacon. Indeed, should one of you become a bishop, you will still remain a deacon in the Church of God.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This essay is based on notes for a Bible study in a tutorial group on 29 September 2010

An invitation into a church built on the past but looking to the future

Saint Michael above the main door into Saint Michael on Greenhill in Lichfield … but what does this story say to you today? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

We have been back at work since Monday, having started a new academic year as staff and students at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. Our first Community Eucharist is at 5 p.m. this evening [29 September], and in the Calendar of the Western Church we are commemorating Saint Michael and All Angels.

It is a privilege to preside this opening Eucharist this evening, and the preacher is my colleague, the Revd Patrick McGlinchey. The Lectionary readings are: Genesis 28: 10-17; Psalm 103: 19-22; Revelation 12: 7-12; John 1: 47-51.

Last year, when I preached on this day in the institute chapel, I spoke of how I am a cathedral buff, and admitted that on city breaks I love visiting cathedrals, not just for their liturgy, worship and music, but for their architecture and art too. I spoke too of many visits since the 1970s to Coventry Cathedral, which is one of the most influential cathedrals in the Church of England when it comes to art and architecture.

Sir Jacob Epstein’s bronze statues of Saint Michael and the Devil on the wall outside Coventry Cathedral

Coventry’s art and architecture have had a profound and lasting influence: even my old school chapel was a mini-replica of the cathedral. As you approach the cathedral, you are overlooked – overwhelmed – by Sir Jacob Epstein’s bronze statues of Saint Michael and the Devil on the wall outside. When Basil Spence commissioned Epstein, some members of the rebuilding committee objected because the controversy over some of his earlier works. And, although Coventry was at the centre of post-war reconciliation, some even objected that he was a Jew – to which Spence retorted: “So was Jesus Christ.”

This year, during the summer months, I have managed to visit and revisit some of my favourite churches here in Ireland and in England, especially in Co Wexford and in Staffordshire.

One of those churches is Saint Michael on Greenhill in Lichfield, a parish church built on the high ground of Greenhill on the east of the city. The church dates back to at least 1190, but the site, on a sandstone ridge overlooking the city, is much older: the churchyard, which is now preserved as a wildlife area, is one of five ancient burial grounds in England and – at nine acres – is also one of the largest churchyards in England.

Local lore says the site was consecrated by Saint Augustine of Canterbury, and that it was this ancient place that attracted Saint Chad to Lichfield, making it the centre of the new diocese in the Kingdom of Mercia.

The earliest church on the site was first noted in 1190, and the oldest remaining parts of the present church, dating from the 13th century, are found in some masonry in the chancel. In a recess in the north wall of the chancel, under the pointed arch, is the tomb of William de Walton, who in 1344 was the first recorded benefactor of Saint Michael’s. In the chancel is an effigy of a man in civilian dress, said to be a 14th century lawyer.

In the centre of the nave, a floor slab commemorates Samuel Johnson’s parents, Michael and Sarah Johnson, and his brother Nathaniel, all buried in the church. But the memorial is not as old as it appears: the original stone was removed when the church was repaved in the late 1790s; although the inscription is one composed by Johnson a few days before his death, the present slab was only placed here in 1884 to mark the centenary of Johnson’s death.

Much of the mediaeval fabric of the church was lost when the church was restored in 1842-1843 under the local architect, Thomas Johnson. His work included re-roofing the nave, repairing the side aisles and the nave clerestory, reintroducing perpendicular windows in the north aisle, rebuilding the north porch, remodelling the south aisle with new buttresses and adding a south door in place of a window. The chancel was restored in 1845 and 1846 to designs by Sydney Smirke, the east window was turned into a three-light window, all the side windows became single lancets, and the clerestory was removed.

The chancel was restored again and refurbished in 1890-1891, the tower was repaired and the internal lancet window was unblocked; later, the spire was restored.

Saint Michael’s is an active parish church within the local community today, grouped in a benefice with Saint Mary’s, which was once at the heart of civic and guild life in the city centre but is now designated a chapel of ease, and Saint John’s in the neighbouring village of Wall.

The climb up the hill to Saint Michael’s, through the growth and the graves, provides an impressive view back across Lichfield and over to the cathedral. Above, on the wall above the main door into the church, is an image of Saint Michael slaying the devil. I have loved visiting this church for the past forty years. But it is not only about historic sites, ecclesiastical architecture, and literary associations. The ancient dedication of this church to Saint Michael is also an important reminder of core values worth recalling on this day, as we remember Saint Michael and All Angels.

The Archangel Michael ... a contemporary icon

What is your image of an angel? Is it a fluffy little cherub with white wings and pudgy cheeks, floating above the earth on white fluffy clouds? Or is an angel for you someone like Saint Michael above the main door into Saint Michael on Greenhill, inviting you into the Communion of Saints, to put behind all that rejects God, inviting you into a Church that is built on the past but looking anew to the future?

Is an angel some “new age” figure, easily dismissed because of the weird views of the authors of all those angel books on the popular “Mind and Spirit” shelves in the bookshops? Or is an angel for you like the Archangel Michael depicted in Lichfield and Coventry, inviting you into the triumph of good over evil, to join Christ in Glory?

Is Saint Michael the patron saint of shoppers at Marks and Spencer and all others who have made the shopping malls their earthly cathedrals? Or, like the Michael of Lichfield and Coventry, does he challenge you to reflect on our values today? For the name Michael (Hebrew, מִיכָאֵל; Greek, Μιχαήλ) asks the question: “Who is like El (the Lord God)?”

In the Bible, Michael is mentioned by name only in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude and the Book of Revelation. But he represents reliance on the strength of God and the triumph of good over evil. In today’s world, where angels and archangels are often the stuff of fantasy, science fiction and new-age babble, it is worth reminding ourselves that angels are nothing more than – but nothing less than – the messengers of God, the bringers of good news.

Traditionally Michael’s virtues were standing up for God’s people and their rights, taking a clear stand against manifest evil, firmly opposing oppression, violence and corruption, while always seeking forbearance and mercy, clemency and justice – virtues we should always keep before us in our ministry and mission as messengers of God.

In our processional hymn this evening, Ye holy angels bright (Irish Church Hymnal 376), Richard Baxter invites each of us to join with the angels, the saints above and the saints on earth in praising God. We join in that praise in the Gloria, and it is an invitation that is repeated again in the Great Thanksgiving: “And so with all your people, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you ...”

How shall I sing that majesty ... Coe Fen in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Our Post-Communion hymn, How shall I sing that majesty (Irish Church Hymnal 468), contrasts God’s heavenly glory, splendour and majesty with our own inadequacies and frailties. It emphasises the truth that when we attempt to sing of God’s glory, all our human efforts appear feeble and pathetic.

When I sing that hymn – set to one of my favourite tunes, Kenneth Naylor’s Coe Fen – I am forced to ask: “Who am I?” It is the question we all ask when we first hear God’s call to mission and ministry. I may not feel as powerful and agile as Michael when it comes to battling for the world and confronting evil. But we do this in the company of the great heavenly host of archangels and angels, patriarchs and prophets, apostles and saints, strengthened by God alone. For we should always be prepared, like Michael and the angels, to ask and to answer the question: “Who is like the Lord God?”

Collect:

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministries
of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
Grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Monday, 27 September 2010

Mediaeval mayhem and murder ... after a walk on the beach

Mediaeval Leighlin ... a charming cathedral in Co Carlow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Co Carlow last night for the installation of my former colleague, the Very Revd Tom Gordon, as Dean of Saint Laserian’s Cathedral in Old Leighlin, and his commissioning by the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory as diocesan adult education adviser.

Saint Laserian’s is a delightful 13th century Gothic cathedral that looks at once like both a castle and a church, without sophistication or grandeur, hidden away beyond Bagenalstown and Leighlinbridge.

In his sermon, the Revd Dr Adrian Empey regaled us with tales of mayhem and murder in mediaeval Leighlin.

Aubrey Gwynn and R.N. Haddock painted a charming image of life in late mediaeval Leighlin when they quoted a description of Bishop Nicholas Maguire. It was said that he “studied at Oxford, although it was but 2 years and 3 months, yet he profited so much in logik, philosophie, the seven liberall sciences and divinitie that in his latter days he seemed to excel.” It was said he “was noted for his hospitality and the number of cows that he was able to graze without loss (so well was he beloved) upon the woods and mountains ...”

Less well beloved, it seems, was Bishop Matthew Sanders. The story is told that although Bishop Sanders was “an eloquent preacher and a man of unsullied life,” he was murdered in 1549 by Archdeacon Maurice Kavanagh, whom he had reproved for misconduct. The bishop was buried in the cathedral and the archdeacon and his accomplices were hanged on the site of the murder. When the cathedral was being repaired three centuries later in 1848, the bishop’s skull was discovered, with forensic evidence of his murder – a piece was missing from the left side of the skull.

In my search last night I was unable to find another reminder of our frailty and mortality said to be inscribed in a 16th century memorial on the floor in the chancel that has the words: “O all you who pass by, remember us, I beseech you. We were what you are; and what we now are you will sometime be.”

Calm after a storm ... the harbour in Skerries yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Earlier in the day, I led Morning Prayer and preached in Kenure Church Rush, and preached and celebrated the Eucharist in Holmpatrick Parish Church in Skerries.

Despite the onset of autumn, there was strong sunshine as I sat out for lunch in the Olive in Skerries before going for a walk on the beach. The tide was almost in and the shoreline was still showing the effects of the storm last Thursday night.

As I reached Red Island, I realised the last swim of the season was about to take place. A large number of had set off from the steps opposite the rugby club in Holmpatrick and, accompanied by kayaks and small boats, they had braved the cold waters to swim across to Red Island in order to raise funds for the Skerries Lifeboats.

On the other side of Red Island, a large number of yachts and sailboats were out at sea. It was cheering to see so many people taking advantage of the calm after the storm and the lingering autumn sunshine.

Then it was a call into Gerry’s to buy the Sunday newspapers before heading home and setting out for Old Leighlin.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Being religious without love is no religion at all

Bonifacio Veronese, Dives and Lazarus, 1540-50. Oil on canvas, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 September 2010: The 17th Sunday after Trinity

10.30 a.m.: Holy Communion, Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin.

Collect:


Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16; I Timothy 6: 6-19; Luke 16: 19-31.

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

Our Gospel reading this morning is a popular Bible story. We usually know this as the story of Dives and Lazarus, and it is almost as well known a story as the parables of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.

But there are some unique and distinctive aspects to this story.

For example, this story is found only in Saint Luke’s Gospel.

And did you notice who is named in this story?

Surprisingly, God is not named in this story. But, of course, as in the Book of Esther, God is seldom named in the Gospel parables either.

Instead, the parables challenge us to think who is God for us by asking us to see who is most God-like, who acts like God would act.

Apart from God, who is not named in this story?

The poor man at the gate is named, but the name Lazarus could be confusing, because this is also the name of the brother of Mary and Martha, the dead friend Jesus raised to life in Bethany.

The name Lazarus, or in Hebrew Eleazar, which means ‘the Lord is my help,’ is an interesting name for those who first heard Jesus tell this story, for the rich man in his castle certainly is of no help to the poor man at his gate.

Abraham is named.

And Moses is named.

Both are key figures in this story, for all the descendants of Abraham are promised that they are going to be children of the covenant with God. And it is Moses who receives that covenant in the wilderness on Mount Sinai. So just think of what that covenant must mean for people in the wilderness, people in exile. The man at the gate, who is being ignored by a leading religious figure of the day must have been made to feel hopeless, outside the scope of the covenant, abandoned, in a wilderness, impoverished, exiled outside the community.

But there are six other characters in the story – and not one of them is named.

The Rich Man, who is at the centre of the story, is sometimes called “Dives.” But the name Dives is one he does not have in the Gospel story, in the parable as Jesus tells it. Tradition has given him that name, we have given him the name Dives. When you read the story again, you can notice that the rich man is anonymous. He has no name. The name Dives derives simply from a misreading of an early Latin translation of the Bible.

And the rich man has five brothers – but not one of them is named.

In the past, some commentators have tried to over-historicise this story, identifying the rich man, in his robes of purple and gold, with Caiaphas, the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and that his five brothers are his brothers-in-law, the sons of Annas, the other High Priest who plays a role eventually in the Crucifixion of Christ.

I like to think this man is anyone who claims to be religious but who falls in love with riches. It is not his wealth that is his downfall, but his love of wealth and how he uses it.

The Apostle Paul is often misquoted as saying money is the root of all evil. But as our Epistle reading this morning reminds us, what he actually tells Timothy is that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and that, “in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Yes, you can be religious and rich at one and the same time. But if I appear to be religious, I need to be careful that my religious practices are not a contradiction of, a denial of, the way I live my life in the world, and respond to the needs of others.

God’s covenant is only meaningful when it is lived as a covenant of love. The rich man loves himself first, and, perhaps, his family, his own inner circle second. But that is as far as his religion goes. It doesn’t go beyond his own front door.

I like to think Jesus is playing a little game with those who are religious and listening. If you remember the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), she is told that she is wed to five husbands but has no true marriage at all.

The five husbands could represent the first five books of the Bible – the Torah. The Samaritans would not accept any other writings as Holy Scripture, and there was a joke among Jews at the time that the Samaritans were so insistent on these five books alone that it was like being wedded to them. They were the Biblical fundamentalists of their day. She is being told that you cannot be wed to Holy Scripture and have a covenantal relationship with God without love.

She realises that just as being wed but without love is no marriage, being religious without love is no religion at all.

Love is the active ingredient of true religion. And when that dawns on her, she becomes one of the greatest missionaries in the Gospels.

The story of Dives and Lazarus has inspired great artists, and composers like Vaughan Williams

Similarly, Jesus may be playing a game with those who are listening to this morning’s parable. If the rich man, as it appears, is a priest of the Temple, then he too is a religious figure. But the priestly caste of the day were Sadducees, not Pharisees. And so the Pharisees who were listening to this story (verse 14) would have known that the Sadducees too refused to accept as part of the Bible any books other than the first five– when it came to Holy Scripture they only admitted those five into the family of faith.

The rich man realises that being wed to the Torah without love is no covenant. But unlike, the Samaritan woman, it is too late for him when this truth dawns on him.

There is no covenant without love, and this is true for marriage and for religion.

There is no true religion without love ... not self-interest, but love for God and love for others.

Oh – and there is one other character in this story who is not named. This is not a human character. But an animal – the dog.

Does anyone remember the 1996 movie produced at the Sullivan Bluth studios in Dublin, All Dogs go to Heaven, with a voice over by Burt Reynolds?

There was a religious tradition in the time of Jesus that dogs did not get into heaven. Dogs were seen as scavengers and therefore impure and defiled. Jezebel is devoured by the dogs in the street, who leave only her skull, her hands and her feet (II Kings 9: 33-37). To be thrown to the dogs was a most degrading death (Psalm 22: 20).

The little dogs may have eaten the scraps under the table in the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15: 21-28; Mark 7: 24-30). But dogs were still were kept outside the walls of the house, even the walls of a town. It is a cultural attitude so inbred that in the Book of Revelation the people kept outside the gates of the Heavenly City include those who are described as “dogs” (Revelation 22: 15).

We think of dogs today as faithful pets. But even Argos, the faithful hound of Odysseus, waiting for years for his master’s return from Troy, waited sitting on a dunghill. And that cultural perception of dogs as dirty was prevalent throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.

Lazarus is hungry and covered with sores, and sits outside the gate of what must have looked like a Heavenly City inside. He is in such a condition and in a place where even the dogs come and lick his sores (verse 21). For its time, this is a description of abject living, so abhorrent that this man is totally outside normal, good clean company. He is in the wilderness, in exile, and at a point where only God can redeem him.

Dives is not a single identifiable rich man. He is each and every one of us. Who among us, on first hearing this story, as it opened, as the first part of it began to be told, would not have delighted in the lifestyle of the rich man. After all, how often do I find myself saying, quite rightly, all I want is for me and my family to have somewhere decent to live, decent clothes and decent food?

But that decency turns to indecency when these things soon become all we want in life … and want nothing for others, have no place for meeting the needs of others.

I heard a comedian last week complaining about the size of a pizza slice he was served in a café – if you had a pie chart for what you’d do if you a won a million in the lotto, this was the size of the slice for what I’d give to charity, he said.

Having lost his compassion for others, especially the needy on his doorstep, Dives loses his religion, for without love their can be no true religion; and Dives loses his humanity, for I am only human in so far as I am like God and love others.

The loss of Dives’ humanity is symbolised by his loss of a personal name. I am baptised with a personal name, and so incorporated into the Body of Christ; that name is how I am known to God and to others – God calls me and you recognise me by my name. Without a name, can Dives remain in the image of God? Can he be called on by others as a fellow human being.

On the other hand, the coming of Christ turns all our skewed values upside down: those we think are most outside God’s compassion and outside the Kingdom of Heaven may well be those most likely to be signs of what the Kingdom of God is, and to be reminders of kingdom values.

Lazarus who is an outsider becomes the true insider; Lazarus who is totally poor, becomes rich in the one way that really matters; Lazarus who is at death’s door finds eternal life.

The dogs too play an important role – like the woman who mops the brow of Jesus on his way to Calvary, and the women who weep with him above the city … they do not take away his suffering, but they tell him that his suffering is shared in creation.

So, who is most like God, most like Christ, in this Gospel story this morning?

Those who first heard this story, would initially have expected the person to be most like God to be the religious leader, the one who can cite the Bible, call out to Abraham and Moses. When his fate is revealed they must have thought: “There’s some mistake here surely?”

Those who first heard this story would have initially expected the person to be least like God to be the beggar at the gates, the man out with the dogs.

But is that not what Christ is like? He gives up everything to identify with our humanity in his incarnation, life and death; he is rejected, and dies outside the city walls.

You may not want to be like Lazarus, but Christ wants us to be like him. And we are most like him not when we hope for riches and pleasures beyond our reach, but when we love God and when we love one another. God calls each and every one of us to be like him, to love like him, and when he calls us he calls us by name.

We may marginalise others, we may exclude others, we may push others outside the gates. But God never counts me out, God never excludes you, God never closes the gates on others. We too, despite what others may think of us, are invited to the Heavenly Banquet. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast.

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

Post Communion Prayer

God our guide,
you feed us with bread from heaven
as you fed your people Israel.
May we who have been inwardly nourished
be ready to follow you
all the days of our pilgrimage on earth,
until we come to your kingdom in heaven.
This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was first preached at the Parish Eucharist in Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin, at 10.30 a.m. on Sunday 26 September 2010.

Counting me out, or counting me in?

The Rich Man and Lazarus ... a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Church, Banbury, OxfordThe Rich Man and Lazarus ... a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Church, Banbury, Oxford

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 September 2010: The 17th Sunday after Trinity

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin.

Collect:


Almighty God,
you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you:
Teach us to offer ourselves to your service,
that here we may have your peace,
and in the world to come may see you face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings: Psalm 91: 1-6, 14-16; I Timothy 6: 6-19; Luke 16: 19-31.

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

Our Gospel reading this morning is a popular Bible story. We usually know this as the story of Dives and Lazarus, and it is almost as well known a story as the parables of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son.

But there are some unique and distinctive aspects to this story.

For example, this story is found only in Saint Luke’s Gospel.

And did you notice who is named in this story?

Surprisingly, God is not named in this story. But, of course, as in the Book of Esther, God is seldom named in the Gospel parables either.

Instead, the parables challenge us to think who is God for us by asking us to see who is most God-like, who acts like God would act.

Apart from God, who is not named in this story?

The poor man at the gate is named, but the name Lazarus could be confusing, because this is also the name of the brother of Mary and Martha, the dead friend Jesus raised to life in Bethany.

The name Lazarus, or in Hebrew Eleazar, which means ‘the Lord is my help,’ is an interesting name for those who first heard Jesus tell this story, for the rich man in his castle certainly is of no help to the poor man at his gate.

Abraham is named.

And Moses is named.

Both are key figures in this story, for all the descendants of Abraham are promised that they are going to be children of the covenant with God. And it is Moses who receives that covenant in the wilderness on Mount Sinai. So just think of what that covenant must mean for people in the wilderness, people in exile. The man at the gate, who is being ignored by a leading religious figure of the day must have been made to feel hopeless, outside the scope of the covenant, abandoned, in a wilderness, impoverished, exiled outside the community.

But there are six other characters in the story – and not one of them is named.

The Rich Man, who is at the centre of the story, is sometimes called “Dives.” But the name Dives is one he does not have in the Gospel story, in the parable as Jesus tells it. Tradition has given him that name, we have given him the name Dives. When you read the story again, you can notice that the rich man is anonymous. He has no name. The name Dives derives simply from a misreading of an early Latin translation of the Bible.

And the rich man has five brothers – but not one of them is named.

I like to think this man is anyone who claims to be religious but who falls in love with riches. It is not his wealth that is his downfall, but his love of wealth and how he uses it.

The Apostle Paul is often misquoted as saying money is the root of all evil. But as our Epistle reading this morning reminds us, what he actually tells Timothy is that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and that, “in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”

Yes, you can be religious and rich at one and the same time. But if I appear to be religious, I need to be careful that my religious practices are not a contradiction of, a denial of, the way I live my life in the world, and respond to the needs of others.

God’s covenant is only meaningful when it is lived as a covenant of love. The rich man loves himself first, and, perhaps, his family, his own inner circle second. But that is as far as his religion goes. It doesn’t go beyond his own front door.

I like to think Jesus is playing a little game with those who are religious and listening. If you remember the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), she is told that she is wed to five husbands but has no true marriage at all.

The five husbands could represent the first five books of the Bible – the Torah. The Samaritans would not accept any other writings as Holy Scripture, and there was a joke among Jews at the time that the Samaritans were so insistent on these five books alone that it was like being wedded to them. They were the Biblical fundamentalists of their day. She is being told that you cannot be wed to Holy Scripture and have a covenantal relationship with God without love.

She realises that just as being wed but without love is no marriage, being religious without love is no religion at all.

The story of Dives and Lazarus has inspired great artists, and composers like Vaughan Williams

Love is the active ingredient of true religion. And when that dawns on her, she becomes one of the greatest missionaries in the Gospels.

Similarly, Jesus may be playing a game with those who are listening to this morning’s parable. If the rich man, as it appears, is a priest of the Temple, then he too is a religious figure. But the priestly caste of the day were Sadducees, not Pharisees. And so the Pharisees who were listening to this story (verse 14) would have known that the Sadducees too refused to accept as part of the Bible any books other than the first five– when it came to Holy Scripture they only admitted those five into the family of faith.

The rich man realises that being wed to the Torah without love is no covenant. But unlike, the Samaritan woman, it is too late for him when this truth dawns on him.

There is no covenant without love, and this is true for marriage and for religion.

There is no true religion without love ... not self-interest, but love for God and love for others.

Oh – and there is one other character in this story who is not named. This is not a human character. But an animal – the dog.

Does anyone remember the 1996 movie produced at the Sullivan Bluth studios in Dublin, All Dogs go to Heaven, with a voice over by Burt Reynolds? But, while we think of dogs today as faithful pets, there was a religious tradition in the time of Jesus that dogs did not get into heaven.

Lazarus is hungry and covered with sores, and sits outside the gate of what must have looked like a Heavenly City inside. He is in such a condition and in a place where even the dogs come and lick his sores (verse 21). For its time, this is a description of abject living, so abhorrent that this man is totally outside normal, good clean company. He is in the wilderness, in exile, and at a point where only God can redeem him.

Dives is not a single identifiable rich man. He is each and every one of us. Who among us, on first hearing this story, as it opened, as the first part of it began to be told, would not have delighted in the lifestyle of the rich man. After all, how often do I find myself saying, quite rightly, all I want is for me and my family to have somewhere decent to live, decent clothes and decent food?

But that decency turns to indecency when these things soon become all we want in life … and want nothing for others, have no place for meeting the needs of others.

Having lost his compassion for others, especially the needy on his doorstep, Dives loses his religion, for without love their can be no true religion; and Dives loses his humanity, for I am only human in so far as I am like God and love others.

The loss of Dives’ humanity is symbolised by his loss of a personal name. I am baptised with a personal name, and so incorporated into the Body of Christ; that name is how I am known to God and to others – God calls me and you recognise me by my name. Without a name, can Dives remain in the image of God? Can he be called on by others as a fellow human being?

On the other hand, the coming of Christ turns all our skewed values upside down: those we think are most outside God’s compassion and outside the Kingdom of Heaven may well be those most likely to be signs of what the Kingdom of God is, and to be reminders of kingdom values.

Lazarus who is an outsider becomes the true insider; Lazarus who is totally poor, becomes rich in the one way that really matters; Lazarus who is at death’s door finds eternal life.

The dogs too play an important role – like the woman who mops the brow of Jesus on his way to Calvary, and the women who weep with him above the city … they do not take away his suffering, but they tell him that his suffering is shared in creation.

So, who is most like God, most like Christ, in this Gospel story this morning?

Those who first heard this story, would initially have expected the person to be most like God to be the religious leader, the one who can cite the Bible, call out to Abraham and Moses.

And those who first heard this story would initially have expected the person to be least like God to be the beggar at the gates, the man out with the dogs.

But is that not what Christ is like? He gives up everything to identify with our humanity in his incarnation, life and death; he is rejected, suffers and dies outside the city walls.

You may not want to be like Lazarus, but Christ wants us to be like him. And we are most like him not when we hope for riches and pleasures beyond our reach, but when we love God and when we love one another. God calls each and every one of us to be like him, to love like him, and when he calls us he calls us by name.

We may marginalise others, we may exclude others, we may push others outside the gates. But God never counts me out, God never excludes you, God never closes the gates on others. We too, despite what others may think of us, are invited to the Heavenly Banquet. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast.

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, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was first preached at Morning Prayer in Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin, at 9.30 on Sunday 26 September 2010

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Nuclear pensions: destroying fiscal morality

Patrick Comerford with Dr David Hutchinson-Edgar (left), Chair of Irish CND, and Mr Tony D’Costa (right), of Pax Christi, guest speaker at the annual general meeting of Irish CND in the Oak Room of the Mansion House, Dublin

Patrick Comerford

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the Oak Room, The Mansion House, Dublin, this afternoon [25 September 2010], the President of Irish CND, the Revd Canon Patrick Comerford, said:

It is shocking to read research by the development agency Trócaire that the Irish state has over €30 million invested in companies that produce single-use components for nuclear weapons systems. This money is invested through the National Pensions Reserve Fund. Why is that Norway can ban its state pension fund from investing in such companies, while our state considers to invest in them as if there was no connection between what the state says and how the state invests our money?

If we continue to invest like this, there will be no need to worry about the future of our pension funds. For if nuclear weapons are used, then there may be no-one alive to draw down those pensions.

We all know the consequences when morality is no longer a factor in the public finances of this state. A state that allows our money to be invested this way, despite its public pronouncements on the nuclear arms race, eventually loses sight of the real moral priorities in life today. Is it any wonder that in Ireland we are in such an appalling and dreadful fiscal abyss of today?

The remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Micheál Martin, reported in The Irish Times this morning, are encouraging when it comes to government policy and intentions, but disappointing as a true insight into where the nuclear powers are at the moment, digging their heels in and refusing to acknowledge the pressing and moral need for nuclear disarmament.

Mr Martin, who is in New York for a meeting on revitalising the work of the Conference on Disarmament, says the Conference on Disarmament, which Ireland joined in Geneva in 1999, “has not managed to engage in substantive work for well over a decade.” And he expressed the frustration of us all when he says emphatically: “The status quo cannot continue”.

Mr Martin rightly says that the conference, which is bogged down in procedural wrangling, “is an example of all that is worst in the UN system. It is in urgent need of dramatic reform.”

Paralysis at the Conference on Disarmament is all the more unacceptable because President Obama had given a new impetus to disarmament by calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. And that stagnation is in sharp contrast with recent Irish successes in disarmament. For example. the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in Dublin in 2008, entered into force at the beginning of last month, on 1 August. Earlier, in May, the Irish diplomat Alison Kelly chaired the debate on the Middle East at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, overcoming US reluctance to schedule a conference in 2012 on making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

The NPT Review Conference was an obvious priority for Irish CND this year, and this has built up and deepened closer working relationships with government, political parties and other organisations and campaigns, including World without Wars and without Violence (Ireland), Mayors for Peace, AfrI, Trócaire, PANA, Pax Christi, CND in Britain, and the Irish School of Ecumenics. The foreign affairs spokespersons of various political parties have reiterated the importance of Ireland’s role in promoting nuclear disarmament. But those words must be translated into action with strong political leadership from Ireland on this life-and-death issue.

The NPT Review Conference also provided opportunities for further positive and constructive dialogue with the Department of Foreign Affairs and for pushing internationally for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The ambassadors to Ireland of the five nuclear-weapons powers – the US, Russia, France, the UK and China – also heard our views in advance of the Review Conference.

In New York this week, Mr Martin urged the US to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to ratify the CTBT, which has been blocked by Republicans in the US Senate. “Ireland has consistently been a proponent of a rules-based global order centred on strong international institutions,” he told a ministerial meeting for promoting the entry into force of the CTBT.

That treaty aims to hamper the development and the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and is one of the essential pillars in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation framework. Ireland is one of 182 countries to have ratified the treaty, and the greatest obstacle to implementation remains the resistance of nine “annex two” states with civil or military nuclear programmes.

Members of Irish CND took part in a major conference on an independent Irish foreign policy, hosted by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance earlier this month. The conference included a workshop on the NPT.

In the past two years, the International Peace Bureau’s Seán MacBride Peace Medal, which is sponsored by Irish CND, has been was awarded to American Peace Education and human rights campaigner Betty Reardon and the Indian arms control campaigner Binalakshmi Nepram.

It was an honour to take part in the programme surrounding the visit of the Peace Boat and the hibakusha to Dublin this year. With World without Wars we co-hosted this visit in June. On board the Peace Boat were nine hibakusha, survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, who spoke about their experiences around the world as part of the Peace Boat’s Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World project.

After a round-table discussion in Dublin, the hibakusha laid a garland of paper cranes at the cherry tree in Merrion Square, and were guests at a reception here in Mansion House hosted by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ms Emer Costello. I found it truly encouraging at that reception that the Lord Mayor would so publicly reaffirm this city’s support for the Mayors for Peace. The project director, Akira Kawasaki, says the visit to Dublin was one of the most worthwhile port stops the hibakusha made during their voyage.

We have marked Hiroshima Day twice since the last a.g.m. On both occasions, it was an honour as president to speak at the this moving commemoration at the cherry tree in Merrion Square, in the presence of a Deputy Lord Mayor and the Japanese Ambassador to Ireland, Mr Toshinao Urabe.

Last night was Culture Night in Dublin. But Irish CND has long made the connection between culture and campaigning. And in the past year Irish CND and the Irish Film Institute jointly sponsored a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire on the madness of nuclear weapons, Dr Strangelove. The playwright Bernard Farrell introduced the movie, and there was a large turnout. In Temple Bar this year too, two hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, shared their experiences, with both Irish musicians and Japanese guests offering their musical contributions.

Irish CND faces difficult times ahead. But we can be encouraged by the increase in our activities in the past year, and the response they have generated. Campaigning for nuclear disarmament is a moral imperative, but in the past year we have also found it is politically challenging, socially rewarding and culturally enhancing. The urgency of campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons is as pressing now as it has ever been. Let us take heart from a year that in many ways has been a good one for Irish CND.

The guest speaker at the annual general meeting of Irish CND was Mr Tony D’Costa of Pax Christi .

Friday, 24 September 2010

Calm on Fingal’s beaches after last night’s storm

White clouds and blue skies reflected in the wet shoreline on Corballis Beach in Donabate this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Last night’s storm was disappointing. I had hoped to get to Skerries for the parade to the harbour and the fireworks display. With a full moon and a high tide for the autumn equinox, it must have been an amazing evening. Hundreds of people turned out despite the lashing rain, there were floats, drummers, fire jugglers and pipers, and I was sorry not to be there for an evening marked by great humour and passion.

Everything had dried up by late morning, and so I headed out to Fingal this afternoon, for a walk on the beaches at Donabate and Portrane.

It was bit too windy to have lunch sitting out on the terrace at the Waterside House Hotel beside the Martello Tower in Donabate. But we got a table by a window, and sat looking out at the waves rolling in from Lambay Island, before going for a stroll on Corballis Beach.

Autumn has settled in, those who have jobs are back at work, and children are back at school. Apart from a few isolated stragglers and a dog or two, we had the beach to ourselves. The tide was out, the sun was shining, and despite some clouds, we were still blessed with plenty of good blue sky. The view was so clear I could see beyond Howth peninsula to the peaks at Bray, the Sugarloaf and the beginnings of the Wicklow Mountains

Turning around to walk back north towards the Martello Tower, Saint Ita’s Hospital in Portrane, designed by George Ashlin, stood out in clear relief on the near horizon, with its clock tower, water tower and the Evans Round Tower.

Looking out onto the Burrow from the Quay in Portrane this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Around in Portrane later in the afternoon, the effects of last night’s storm could still be seen. But there was a warm welcome from our Lynders cousins, and from the Quay there was a clear view across the Burrow and out over Rogerstown Estuary to Rush. I wondered whether the fireworks in Skerries were visible last night through that torrential downpour.

I’ve noticed my lungs haven’t been too good for the past few nights, with a little more sarcoidosis-linked coughing. But this afternoon’s walks on the beaches of Donabate and Portrane did me so much good! They truly lifted my spirits.

I’m looking forward to being back in this part of north Dublin on Sunday morning, preaching at Morning Prayer in Kenure Church, Rush, at 9.30 and preaching and celebrating the Eucharist in Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, at 10.30 a.m. And I’m looking forward to the students on the MTh course returning on Monday morning for a new academic year.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A rustic retreat in the middle of suburbia

The mediaeval church ruins in Templeogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Walking back home from my GP’s surgery this afternoon, I stopped at the top of Wellington Lane, near the Spawell roundabout to look at the ruins of the old mediaeval Templeogue church and burial ground.

The church ruins stand on the site of an early monastery that gave its name to Templeogue. A list of saints in the Book of Lecan includes Molcae tigi Molocal and in 13th century documents the name of the area is given as Tachmelog – Saint Melog’s house or church.

However, no part of the church can be dated to the time of the original monastery, although may predate the Anglo-Norman Invasion of the late 12th century.

Externally, the building measures 17.68 by 5.72 metres. In recent years, it was cleared of overgrowing ivy and repaired. As I walked around the site of the church, it was like a rustic retreat in the middle of suburbia

The east gable of the ruined church is complete, with a late splayed window. The north wall is about 50 cm high, uniform, and with no indication of a door opening. The south wall has a distinct kink about halfway along with a buttress outside. The western end of this wall is about three metres high. The west wall has a doorway about midway with steps leading up to it. This wall is about one metre high, but has a buttress built against it nearly five metres high which must have been erected before the wall fell.

It is not at all certain that this doorway is the original one, but a doorway in this position would indicate an early date for this part of the church.

There are three early cross-inscribed slabs in the burial ground, one of which is deeply sunk within the church.

From the Late Middle Ages, the Parish of Templeogue was joined to Tallaght Parish, and in 1615, the church in Templeogue was said to be utterly in ruin.

Templeogue remained a small, isolated village for centuries, and it was only with the building of Templeogue Bridge in 1800 and Templeogue Road – originally a toll road – in 1801 that Templeogue became more accessible. Today, Templeogue Village still has only one pub – the Templeogue Inn, better known to generations of Dubliners as ‘The Morgue.’

Behind the old mediaeval monastic site and the church ruins, stands Templeogue House, built on the site of Templeogue Castle, which was at the heart of the mediaeval Templeogue estate.

Templeogue belonged in the 14th century to the Harold family. By the 16th century, it had passed to the Talbot family, who held them for about two centuries.

The landowners of Templeogue had the duty of maintaining the City Watercourse which flowed through Templeogue. For this, they he received a tribute of corn from mills using the water.

Although the church had fallen into ruins by the early 17th century, in 1655 it was reported that Templeogue Castle was in repair. Henry Talbot was ordered to transplant to Connaught, but was later restored to his ancestral home at Templeogue.

In 1686 the lands were mortgaged for £3,000 to Sir Thomas Domville. Sir James Talbot supported the cause of James II in 1688 and lost his estates, and Templeogue then passed to Sir Thomas Domville.

The Domville family erected a brick mansion on the site of Templeogue Castle, and incorporated the vaulted undercroft and two circular towers of the castle into the new Templeogue House.

Sir Compton Domville laid out the grounds, using the City Watercourse which flowed through the garden as one of the main features. The course was in a direct line with the front door of the house and the water was made to flow over a series of steps, on each of which stood a statue. The Domvilles claimed the same rights over the Watercourse as those once held by the Talbots, and in addition to the tribute of corn from the mills they received rents from the Chapter of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and from the Earl of Meath who held the former lands of Saint Thomas’s Abbey.

In 1738, Compton Domville’s nephew, Lord Santry, was tried by the House of Lords for the murder of a servant at an inn during the Fair of Palmerston. He was found guilty, but Compton Domville threatened to cut off the city’s water supply if his nephew was executed. There was no surprise when Lord Santry was granted a reprieve and subsequently a full pardon.

By 1780, Templeogue House was in a bad state of repair. In the 1820s, a tenant named Gogarty demolished the Domville family’s house and built a new house into which he incorporated the original mediaeval vaulted undercroft and the two circular towers of Templeogue Castle. From 1842 to 1845, the novelist Charles Lever lived in Templeogue House.

Today, Templeogue Village is mainly a centre of new houses and shops, and the old village has almost disappeared.

The blackberries are coming to full fruit at Firhouse Weir (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

From the old mediaeval monastic site, I walked on along Spawell Road and under the M50 bridges to the weir at Firhouse, which is said to have been built originally by the Augustinian canons of Saint Thomas’s Abbey to divert the waters of the River Dodder into the City Watercourse. Obviously, the Augustinian canons had a more benign attitude to the people of Dublin than that of Sir Compton Domville.

I had no walk on a beach last weekend, and had been to my GP this afternoon for the monthly injection I need for my B12 deficiency and to discuss my continuing sarcoidosis. But the walk from Templeogue through Spawell and Firhouse to Knocklyon boosted my feelings of wellbeing. The blackberries are coming to full fruit along the footpaths and at the footbridge at Firhouse Weir, and in the warmth of the afternoon sunshine it was difficult to realise that autumn has already arrived.

Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin