Saturday, 3 April 2010

The grave of Joseph

A new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock ... Matthew 27: 57-60 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

3, The grave of Joseph

Patrick Comerford

Reading 3:
John 19: 38-42

When Jesus died, and his body was taken down from the cross – the body that had been anointed only a week earlier in Bethany either by Mary or by the penitent woman – he was wrapped in a clean cloth by Joseph of Arimathea, who then laid it what three of the Gospel writers tells us was his own “new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock” (Matthew 27: 57-60; Mark 15: 42-46; Luke 23: 50-53; see John 19: 38-42).

A few years ago, I spent a few weeks in Fethiye on the south-west coast of Turkey. I was there for that blissful combination of a sun holiday and visiting the classical sites, for ancient Fethiye was known in the classical world as Telmessos.

This city had been established in 5th century BC at the frontiers of Lycian civilization. Even the remains surviving to this day provide visual evidence of a city that had a high, rich culture.

This is the region where in classical civilisation King Mausolus, who controlled the area around modern Bodrum, gave us the word mausoleum because of his monumental grave. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and you can see the reconstruction of this splendid tomb in the British Museum in London.

But, better still, I think, are the smaller graves of the rulers and the ruling class from the Lycian civilisation that can be seen in the streets of Fethiye.

As you walk through Fethiye, where Telmessos once stood, even the streets appear to be dotted with Lycian graves, tombs, sepulchres and sarcophagi. From the edges of the harbour, as you look up towards the hills that surround and protect the bay, the subdued majesty of the sculpted, tombs hewn from the rocks, carved in the rocks cannot fail to catch your eye.

The Amyntas Grave has long been the symbol of Fethiye (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is worth climbing high above the city and the bay to see these tombs, hewn into the edges of the rock face. The best known of these hewn rock tombs is the Amyntas Grave, which has long been the symbol of Fethiye.

This splendid tomb stands out within the cluster of rock graves, hewn out of the hillside and often hanging at the edges of the precipices. This grave has a façade like an Ionic temple, and an inscription on the left ante-wall tells us this is the tomb provided for King Amyntas who ruled the city of Telmessos during the 4th century BC, in the Hellenistic period, around the same time as the sculpted graves and monuments were being erected in Kermameikos in Athens.

So often we want to leave something behind as a memorial, something that people will remember us by.

I suppose this is why genealogists are often found in churchyards and graveyards, searching for primary evidence for dead ancestors.

The ‘saddleback’ grave in Saint Michael’s Churchyard, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Last month I was visiting Saint Michael’s Church, overlooking the cathedral city of Lichfield. In the churchyard are some amazing graves, including one known as the “saddle-back grave”, and another that is almost in the shape of a funerary urn. These graves were erected by people who wanted to be remembered for as long as possible.

I suppose Joseph of Arimathea wanted to be remembered as long as possible. He was a fearful, secret disciple of Jesus, a friend of Nicodemus, and wealthy enough to have his own tomb hewn in the rocks. But he gives up all those hopes, and loses all his fears, when he decides to take Christ down from the cross and bury him in his own tomb.

Joseph takes the Body of Christ.

Joseph says Amen to the Body of Christ.

And the tomb he had left empty for himself, is briefly filled with the body of Christ, but is then left empty forever, for Christ is raised from the dead when this Saturday ends.

When we say Amen to the Body of Christ at the Paschal Eucharist, or Easter Communion, tomorrow, we shall be saying Amen to the presence of the Risen Christ among us.

And as we prepare to say Amen to the Paschal Lamb, the Risen Christ, the Body of Christ, we find that we too are members of that Body to which we say Amen. The Risen Christ is mystically and truly present among us.

To prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, to prepare to celebrate the feast, our third piece of music to reflect on is: Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, in music composed by Mozart in the last year of his life, and sung by the Lichfield Cathedral Choir.

Music 3: Ave verum corpus, W.A. Mozart, Lichfield Cathedral Choir (2’59”).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This is the third of three addresses in Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, at a special service to mark Easter Eve on Saturday, 3 April 2010.

The grave of Judas

A grave in Kerameikós, Athens, where the cemetery was named after the Potter’s Field ... but what sort of grave did Judas have in Kerameikós, the Potter’s Field, in Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

2, The grave of Judas

Patrick Comerford

Reading 2:
Matthew 27: 3-10

There are two deaths, and two burials on Good Friday, there are two graves on this Saturday, Easter Eve. The death and burial of Christ, and the tomb in which he is buried; and the death and burial of Judas, and his grave plot

Saint Matthew’s Gospel tells us that when Judas realised the enormity of his betrayal, he repented, returned, threw the 30 pieces of silver back into the Temple, left, and went away. The chief priests did not want this blood money, and so they bought the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners, and it was in that very field that Judas hanged himself. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that Judas bought the field and that he died there (Acts 1: 18-20).

We do not know where Judas was buried. Was he buried in the Potter’s Field?

Potter’s Field or Κεραμεικός (Kerameikós) is the same name as a famous classical cemetery in Athens, close to the Acropolis. It lies in what was once the potters’ quarter in Athens – the root for its name, κέραμος (keramos, “pottery clay”) also gives us the English word “ceramic.”

Here in this cemetery, Pericles delivered his funeral oration in 431 BC, praising the great heroes, whose true burial place is in the hearts of the people. Here, in this other Potter’s Field is the most wonderful collection of graves, monuments, sculptures and sepulchres. The Street of the Tombs in Kerameikos is lined with imposing monuments from the families of rich Athenians, dating to before the late fourth century BC.

But if they left these wonderful, sculpted graves – unique pieces of classical legacy that are as beautiful, imposing and life-like as those in any great Victorian cemetery – did they really believe that they would survive in the hearts and memories of good Athenians?

A sculpted grave stone in Kerameikós, the best place to be buried in classical Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

The Potter’s Field was the best place to be buried in classical Athens. For it was here too that the Ιερά Οδός (Hierá Odós, the Sacred Way), the road to Ἐλευσίς (Eleusis), the Eleusinian Fields, began its procession. But if those who could afford to be buried here believed in the afterlife offered in the Eleusian Mysteries why did they need to leave behind such splendid memorials in this life?

Did Judas leave behind any memorial or sculpted sepulchre in his Potter’s Field?

The first and second graves of Lazarus, even though they hold no bodies, are places of pilgrimage to this day.

Who would want to visit the grave of Judas?

What did he expect in the afterlife?

All we know is that Judas repented, and that even in the end, his thirty pieces of silver were used for a good cause. It is important in Jewish ritual law to bury the dead. But it appears there was no place in Jerusalem to bury foreigners (see verse 7).

Jesus was crucified outside the city gates, on Golgotha, the place of the skulls (Matthew 27: 33) … a place just like that where the corpses of the foreigners, the aliens may have been dumped.

The aliens, the foreigners, were outsiders, both in life and in death.

By his act of betrayal, Judas moved from being an insider, one of the 12, to being an outsider. But in death he took care of those foreigners who had been rejected both in life and in death.

What happened to his grave afterwards is probably of little concern. What is more important is that after his death, Jesus descended to the very depths of hell, and brought good news to all who were, who are, and who will be dead.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus breaks down all barriers, between the insider and the outsider, between the resident and the foreigner, between the rich and the poor, between those who are forgotten and those who are remembered.

There is no depth to which his love and his mercy cannot reach. In his death and in his resurrection, he has broken, he is breaking, he continues to break, all barriers.

Our second piece of music to reflect on is: Hail thee, festival day, by Vaughan Williams, sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. The good news of the consequences of the Death and Resurrection was first brought to those who were dead.

Music 2: Hail thee, festival day, Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge (4’ 46”).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This is the second of three addresses in Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, at a special service to mark Easter Eve on Saturday, 3 April 2010.

The grave of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus, Juan de Flandes, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Patrick Comerford

1, The grave of Lazarus

Reading 1:
Luke 16: 19-31.

We have been travelling on a journey wih Christ through Holy Week. That journey to Calvary and Gethsemane begins in Bethany (Matthew 26: 6), where he was probably staying with his friends, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus (John 12: 1). While he was staying in Bethany, he dined with Simon the Leper (Matthew 26: 6). During dinner, a woman with an alabaster jar anointed his head at the table (Matthew 26: 7), in a ritual of anointing that prefigures the anointing of the body of Jesus in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26: 12).

The anointing of Jesus during that dinner in the home of Simon triggered the excuse for Judas to betray Jesus to the authorities (Matthew 26: 14) … an excuse that he may have been looking for a long time.

In a variation on this story, Saint John tells us that on the evening before Palm Sunday, Jesus had dinner with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and Mary anointed Christ’s feet with fragrant perfume (John 12: 1-8), but once again this anointing is seen as prefiguring the anointing of his body on the day of his burial (John 12: 8).

The decision of Jesus to stay with his friends in Bethany attracts the crowds, who come not just to see Christ, but to see Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, and this too is linked with the plot to bring about the death of Jesus.

Jesus loved Lazarus, who had died in Bethany (John 11). When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he finds Lazarus has been dead four days. Jesus comes to his tomb, and despite the objections of Martha, he has the stone rolled away, prays, and calls on Lazarus to come out. This Lazarus does, wrapped in his grave clothes.

In the Orthodox tradition, last Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, is also known as Lazarus Saturday. The readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the resurrection of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ and the General Resurrection.

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: his humanity in weeping at the death of his friend (John 11: 35); his divinity in commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead (John 11: 43).

There is no further mention of Lazarus in the Bible. So what happened to the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany? What happened to Lazarus himself?

Rembrandt, The raising of Lazarus, ca 1630, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The first tomb of Lazarus at Bethany (al-Eizarariya) continues to be place of pilgrimage. But of course Lazarus had to die a second (and last) time. Orthodox tradition says Lazarus went to Cyprus, where he became the first Bishop of Kittim (Larnaka). When he –finally – died, it is said Lazarus was buried in Larnaka. His body was later moved to Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI in 898, but it was stolen by the Crusaders in 1204 and pirated away to France as one of the spoils of war.

In the poem, “The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock,” TS Eliot refers to Lazarus in these lines:

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”


But Eliot is referring to the other Lazarus in the Gospel stories: Lazarus who each day sat begging outside the gate of a rich man, his sores being licked by the dogs, while inside Dives, dressed in fine clothing, is dining sumptuously each day (Luke 16: 19-31).

Both men die, but Dives would like Lazarus to come back to life. But despite what Eliot says and Dives hopes, Lazarus does not come back from the dead once he has been received into Abraham’s Bosom at the heavenly banquet. For his part, the rich man craves merely a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger to cool his tongue, for he is tormented by fire, and wants Lazarus to return and warn his wayward brothers.

Lazarus is the only character in a New Testament parable with a name. The rich man has been named Dives by tradition, but in the telling of the story he has no name: in effect, he has lost his name, and with it his human identity.

Death comes to us all. We all end in the grave. No miracles, no wishing, no praying, can take away that inevitability. Dives learns – when it is too late – what it is to be human, and that we do not come back from the grave.

This Lazarus was rewarded, not because he was poor, but for his virtuous acceptance of poverty. The rich man was punished, not because he was rich, but for his persistent neglect of the opportunities his wealth gave him.

Christ in his life points us to what it is to be truly human. In the grave, he proves he is truly human. He has died. He is dead. Unlike Lazarus the beggar, he can bridge the gap between earth and heaven, even between hell and heaven. That is what was happening this Saturday. That is what we are remembering here today. And like Lazarus of Bethany, he too is raised from death not by human power but by the power of God.

Our first piece of music to help us reflect at the grave is by Paul Spicer. Come out, Lazar is the title track on a recording last year of the shorter choral works of this English choral conductor by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge.

I first came across Paul Spicer’s work in Lichfield where he has lived in The Close since 1990.

This anthem is a dramatic, almost apocalyptic setting for mediaeval poetry, in this case an anonymous text. This 14th century English mediaeval poem concludes:

Say me now thou serpent sly,
Is not ‘Come out!’ an asper cry?
‘Come out’ is a word of battle,
For it gan helle soon [at once] t’assail.
Why stoppest thou not, fiend, thine ear?
That this word enter not there?
He that said that word of might,
Shop him felly to the fight. [Advanced valiantly to battle.]
For with that word he won the field
Withouten spear, withouten shield,
And brought them out of prison strong,
That were enholden there with wrong.
Tell now, tyrant, where is thy might?
‘Come out!’ hath felled it all with fight.


The final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

Music 1: Come out, Lazar (Paul Spicer, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, 7’24”)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This is the first of three addresses in Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, at a special service to mark Easter Eve on Saturday, 3 April 2010.

Saturday in Holy Week, Easter Eve

The Tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

Patrick Comerford

The day following Good Friday is often known as Holy Saturday or in the Anglican tradition as Easter Eve, and in the Orthodox Church as Great and Holy Saturday or the Great Sabbath.

This is traditionally a day of silence and prayer, a time for thinking about the dead Christ lying in the tomb. No Mass is celebrated, no Holy Communion is distributed.

In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is a provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ.

In Roman Catholic churches, the tabernacle is left empty and open, the lamp or candle usually lit next to the tabernacle to mark the Real presence has been extinguished, and the remaining Eucharistic hosts, consecrated on Maundy Thursday, have been removed, perhaps to the sacristy, where a lamp or candle burns before them so that, in cases of the danger of death, they may be given as viaticum.

The Entombment of Christ

In the Orthodox tradition, Holy and Great Saturday or the Great Sabbath is the day on which Christ “rested” physically in the tomb, but it is also the day on which he performed the Harrowing of Hell, raising up those who had been held captive there.

Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros) of Holy and Great Saturday was served in most places last night [Friday], takes the form of a funeral service for Christ.

This morning [Saturday], a vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is served. This is the longest Divine Liturgy of the entire Orthodox year and, traditionally, the latest.

After the Little Entrance there are 15 Old Testament readings recalling the history of salvation. Just before the Gospel reading (Matthew 28: 1-20), the hangings, the altar cloths, and the vestments are changed from black to white, and the deacon censes the church.

In the Greek tradition the clergy scatter laurel leaves and flower petals throughout the church, symbolising the shattered gates and broken chains of hell after Christ’s victory over death. While the liturgical atmosphere changes from sorrow to joy at this service, the Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!” (Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!) is not exchanged until after the Paschal Vigil later this evening, and the people continue to fast.

The Harrowing of Hell

The Divine Liturgy on Holy and Great Saturday represents the Harrowing of Hell, the proclamation of Christ’s victory over death to those in Hades, but the Resurrection has not yet been announced to those on earth – the takes place during the Paschal Vigil tonight.

Great Lent was originally the period of catechesis for new converts Christianity. During this period, they were prepared for Baptism and Chrismation on Pascha (Easter). Before the current Paschal Vigil of Saint John of Damascus was written, the vespers served this morning was the main Easter celebration. The traditional time to receive converts is still after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy.

The Easter Vigil

In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the Easter Vigil begins at 9 p.m. tonight. The setting is C.V. Stanford’s The Office of Holy Communion in C and F, with Let all the world in every corner sing by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the celebration of Easter may begin after sundown with the Easter Vigil or Midnight Mass on what is liturgically Easter Sunday, although it is still Saturday evening in calendar.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil consists of four parts:

● The Service of Light

● The Liturgy of the Word

● The Liturgy of Baptism, which may include the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the renewal of Baptismal Promises by the rest of the congregation

● Holy Eucharist

The Liturgy begins after sundown as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church, in the darkness, often in a side chapel of the church building, but preferably outside the church. A new fire, kindled and blessed by the priest, symbolises the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through the Resurrection of Christ, dispelling the darkness of sin and death.

The Paschal Candle, symbolising the Light of Christ, is lit from this fire. This tall candle is placed on the altar, and on its side five grains of incense are embedded, representing the five wounds of Christ and the burial spices with which his body was anointed. When these are fixed in it and the candle is lit, it is placed on the Gospel side of the altar and remains there until Ascension Day.

This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern. Throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, it reminds all that that Christ is “light and life.”

All baptised people present – those who have received the Light of Christ – are given candles that are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic Light of Christ spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness diminishes and dies out.

A deacon or a priest carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation “Light of Christ” or “Christ our Light,” to which the people respond: “Thanks be to God.”

When the procession ends, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet, or Easter Proclamation, said to have been written by Saint Ambrose of Milan. The church is now lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, and the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention in the as it is the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation.

Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ.

After these readings, the Gloria is sung, and during an outburst of musical jubilation the people’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and the bells rung. The altar frontals, the reredos, the lectern hangings, the processional banners, the statues and the paintings, which were stripped or covered during Holy Week, are now ceremonially replaced and unveiled, and flowers are placed on altar.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed, and the Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

After the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is blessed, and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated. After these celebrations, those present renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

The Easter Vigil then concludes with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the first Mass of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptised receive Holy Communion for the first time, and, according to the rubrics, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

The Light coming into the world

In the Orthodox Church, the Paschal Vigil begins late this evening, often at 11 p.m., with the serving of the Midnight Office, which is the last service of the Lenten Triodion. This is timed to end a little before midnight. Once the Midnight Office ends, all lights in the church are put out and everyone waits in silence and darkness until the stroke of midnight.

At the stroke of midnight, the Paschal celebration begins, consisting of Paschal Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros), Paschal Hours, and the Paschal Divine Liturgy. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning and ensures its place as the pre-eminent Feast of Feasts in the liturgical calendar of the Church.

Now, a single, new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from the eternal flame kept burning there. He then lights the candles held by then deacons or his assistants, and they go quickly to light candles held by the congregation. The light spreads speedily from one person to the next until everyone holds a lighted candle, and the church bursts into light.

This tradition has its origin in the reception of the Holy Fire at the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The priest and the congregation then go in a procession with the cross circling the church, holding lit their candles and chanting:

By your Resurrection
O Christ our saviour,
the angels in Heaven sing,
and enable us here are on Earth
to glorify you with purity of heart
.

This procession re-enacts the journey of the Myrrh-bearers as they made their way to the Tomb of Christ “at early dawn” on the first Easter morning (Luke 24: 1). After circling around the church once or three times, the procession halts in front of the closed doors.

In Greek Orthodox churches, the priest then reads Mark 16: 1-8. Then, in all Orthodox traditions, the priest makes the sign of the cross with the censer before the closed doors of the icon screen, which at this point represent the sealed tomb. The priest and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells and semantra are sounded. Then all re-enter the church and Paschal Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros) begins immediately, followed by the Paschal Hours, and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy.

The high point of this liturgy is the delivery of the Paschal Homily of Saint John Chrysostom, during which the congregation stands.

After the dismissal, the priest often blesses Paschal eggs and baskets filled with the foods which have been abstained from during the Great Fast, such as eggs, meat, butter and cheese. Immediately after the Liturgy, many people share a meal, sometimes at 2 a.m. or even later.

A meal often follows, sometimes lasting till dawn. In Greece, the traditional meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, which are hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolise the Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of Christ’s Tomb.

Χριστός ἀνέστη!
Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!

Christ is Risen!
He is truly risen, indeed!


Collect of the Day:

Grant, Lord,
that we who are baptized into the death
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires
and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits, who died and was buried
and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


No Post-Communion prayer is provided for Easter Eve.

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