Friday, 23 September 2011

Little children, love one another

The Chapel, Edgehill Theological College, Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The Holy Communion,

The Chapel,
Edgehill Theological College, Belfast,
3.15 p.m., 23 September 2011;

1 John 4: 7-16; John 1: 1-14

This is the point in the Methodist service of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion or the Eucharist, where it says there should be a sermon.

And I have prepared a sermon for this sermon.

It is the shortest sermon I may ever preach, but it gets to the kernel of what we have been talking about today.

‘Little children, love one another.’

That is enough.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This ‘sermon’ was delivered at the closing Holy Communion service at “I Make all Things New,” a quiet day for the beginning of the academic year, in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, on 23 September 2011.

New beginnings in … the Book of Revelation

‘Now the light falls ... I said to my soul, be still, and wait ...’ autumn sunsets turn to winter at Skerries Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-7, 22: 20-21.

The end of the New Testament, like the beginning of the corpus of Johannine writings, offers new beginnings with the promise of a new heaven and the new earth.

Thomas Russell, “The man from God knows where” was a Belfast revolutionary from the United Irishmen of 1798, who combined his revolutionary politics with a strong visionary brand of millenarianism and pious sacramentalism. His knowledge of the Bible was so exact that he could argue with professional theologians on interpretations from both Hebrew and Greek.

He was arrested before the 1798 Rising began, and his writings in Newgate Prison in Dublin exhibit a deep self-examination coupled with a strong personal faith:

O Lord God … it is not from thy justice
Before which I stand condemned
That I expect salvation,
But from thy mercy that I expect pardon and forgiveness,
My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Russell was deported to Scotland in 1799. When he was eventually executed in 1803, it was after he had spent his last hours translating from his Greek New Testament verses from the Book of Revelation that summarised his politically beatific and visionary millenarianism: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (Revelation 21: 1).

But that promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth are not only for the revolutionary or for millenarian visionaries.

The promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the promise of a new beginning, is offered to each one of us. It is our beginning and our end.

As we approach the season of Advent we are approaching not the end of the year but the beginning of the Christian New Year. And we prepare not so much for the cultural comforts that surround the Christ Child in the Christmas crib, but for the coming of Christ the King in triumph.

Those who use liturgical colours often think of the Purple of Advent and Lent is a penitential colour. But it is not. It is a royal colour.

In human colour psychology, purple is associated with royalty and nobility – an association that dates back to classical antiquity, when purple dye from Tyre could be afforded only by the ruling and social elites. Purple (πορφύρα, porphura), was a Tyrian purple dye manufactured in classical antiquity from a mucus secreted by the spiny dye-murex snail, a molusc found only on the shores of Tyre.

It was so rare and so expensive that the Syro-Phoenician woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon and Lydia the seller of purple may have been wealthy women of independent means.

In the Byzantine Empire, only a child born into the imperial family had the right to wear this unique colour, and was thus “born to the purple.” In the Byzantine Empire, empresses retreated to give birth in chambers lined in porphyry, so that their children were “born to the purple” This fact, too may have contributed to the origin of this expression.

For those interested in the particularities of colour, purple is a non-spectral colour, unlike violet and indigo, which are spectral colours. Purple is beyond our abilities to define, and because of the differences between individuals when it comes to retinal sensitivity and particularly sensitivity to red and blue light, most of us actually disagree about what is true purple.

What a beautiful conundrum for the colour that should invite us think beyond the limitations of time and space.

Advent and Lent, the seasons of purple, invite us to think of our beginnings and our ends. For Advent and Lent are the times we prepare for the coming of Christ as king, and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God.

In our beginning is our end, in our end is our beginning.

A terrace of almshouses in East Coker ... the village that inspired TS Eliot was his ancestral home and his ashes are buried at the parish church ... “In my beginning is my end”

TS Eliot’s East Coker, the second of his Four Quartets, is set in late November, as we move towards Advent, and ends: “In my end is my beginning.”

But it opens:

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation …

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane …

Wait for the early owl.

And once again, I call to mind TS Eliot in East Coker:

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God …

And yet, in this apocalyptic visionary, poem, Eliot is neither all doom nor all gloom. In East Coker he offers a solution, he offers hope:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

In The Dry Salvages, the third of the Four Quartets, Eliot strives to contain opposites:

... the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled.

Little Gidding is the last and the most anthologised of the Four Quartets. In Little Gidding, Eliot ends the Four Quartets with the well-known affirmation by Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

In Little Gidding, Eliot is exposes the expression of the Catholic faith as set out particularly by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who is commemorated in Anglican calendars on 25 September. He was one of the key translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible, whose 400th anniversary we have been marking this year, and was the first among the group of Anglican theologians we know as the Caroline Divines.

The Orthodox theologian and biographer of Lancelot Andrewes, Professor Nicholas Lossky has described Andrewes as “a Bridge betwwen Orthodoxy and the Wesley Brothers in the Realm of Prayer.” Incidentally, the last member of this group, William Ken (1637-1711), had a profound and deep influence on the spirituality of John Wesley.

‘To make an end is to make a beginning’ ... tangled bicycles abandoned in the snow in Temple Bar, Dublin, last winter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Little Gidding, Eliot echoes Lancelot Andrewes in paradoxical lines that crystallise the significance of the Incarnation:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

… A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

The community at Little Gidding, formed in the 17th century by Nicholas Ferrar, maintained 24 hours of prayer, including long hours of night vigils. Little Gidding was a place “where prayer has been valid” and where “prayer is more/than an order of words”:

… You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

The Four Quartets are best understood within the framework of Christian thinking, tradition, and history. Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics, such as Saint John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The “deeper communion” sought in East Coker, the “hints and whispers of children, the sickness that must grow worse in order to find healing,” and the exploration that inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim’s path along the road to sanctification.

You are here today for new beginnings, but they point to our end.

And yet the end is our beginning.

And so, in the words of the Advent Collect, let us pray:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast off the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
so that when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This address the third of three addresses at “I Make all Things New,” a quiet day for the beginning of the academic year, in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, on 23 September 2011.

New beginnings in … the Johannine Letters

Saint John the Divine on his deathbed ... from a window in Chartres Cathedral

Patrick Comerford

Reading: 1 John 4: 7-16

Like Saint John’s Gospel, the Johannine letters begin at the beginning too.

The first of these letters begins: “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life …” (I John 1: 1).

This prologue to I John resembles a primitive sketch of the prologue to the Fourth Gospel. It is a new beginning. And then, the Johannine epistles are punctuated with the advice, nay, the command, “Little children love one another,” or similar words.

There are seven such words of advice in 1 John:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous … (1 John 2: 1).

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name (1 John 2: 12).

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming (1 John 2: 28).

Little children … let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous (1 John 3: 7).

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action (1 John 3: 18).

Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4: 4).

Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5: 21).

Love is so central to opening and understanding Johannine theology and spirituality that the three Johannine letters, which are among the shortest books in the Bible, contain the word “love” in advice no less than 32 times.

Jerome, in his commentary on Chapter 6 of the Epistle to the Galatians 6 (Jerome, Comm. in ep. ad. Gal., 6, 10), tells the well-loved story that John the Evangelist continued preaching in Ephesus even when he was in his 90s.

The evangelist was so enfeebled with old age that the people had to carry him into the Church in Ephesus on a stretcher.

And when he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on every occasion and say simply: “Little children, love one another.” This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his death-bed.

Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out. Every week, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.” One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?” And John replied: “Because it is enough.” If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. “Little children, love one another.”

If you want to know the rules, there they are. And there’s only one. “Little children, love one another.”

As far as John is concerned, if you have put your trust in Jesus, then there is only one other thing you need to know. So week after week, he would remind them, over and over again: “Little children, love one another.” That is all he preached in Ephesus, week after week, and that is precisely the message he keeps on repeating in his first letter (I John), over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

Saint John’s, John Street, Lichfield

I often share the story of my first adult experience of God pouring out his light and love into my life when I was at the age of 19. It happened for me when I walked into the church attached to Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield. It was an experience of being filled with the Light and the Love of God, and so the Johannine writings have had a special meaning for me ever since: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all … if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another” (I John 1: 5, 7).

In recent years I have been privileged too to visit Patmos, where the Book of Revelation was written, to pay a number of visits to Ephesus, which appears to have been the centre of the Johannine Community addressed in the Johannine Letters, where John is said to have moved after his exile on Patmos ended, and where he is said to be buried, and to have visited many of the places associated with the Seven Churches of Revelation.

These are short Epistles, but it is surprising how familiar they are to so many. Within the traditions of the Church of Ireland, I think of how familiar they are with those words from I John 1: 8-9 used as sentences to introduce Morning Prayer I and Evening Prayer I:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 84).

Or these words from I John 2: 1, 2 after the absolution in Holy Communion 1:

“Hear also what Saint John saith, If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation of our sins” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 186).

The site of Saint John’s tomb in in Selçuk near Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But I’d like us to turn for a few moments to I John 2: 12-14. This poetic section in I John deals with our true relationship with God in Christ. The two main assurances the writer gives the readers are found in verses 12 and 14, and concern the principle difficulties with the false propagandists. These two assurances are: the forgiveness of sins, and true knowledge of the Father.

John is reassuring rather than rebuking his readers, and he does this by using a poetic structure that is built on patterns of three and that is presented in two parts, so that verse 14 is a poetic restating of verses 12-13, then followed by a contrasting pair of concluding lines.

Sadly, many English translations of the New Testament (including the Authorised Version, the Revised Standard Version and the Living Bible) miss the poetic presentation of these three verses by editing them as three prose verses rather than as three stanzas, the first two in three paired lines each, and the third in two single paired lines:

12 Γράφω ὑμῖν, τεκνία,
ὅτι ἀφέωνται ὑμῖν αἱ ἁμαρτίαι διὰ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ.

13 Γράφω ὑμῖν, πατέρες,
ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν ἀπ' ἀρχῆς.

Γράφω ὑμῖν, νεανίσκοι,
ὅτι νενικήκατε τὸν πονηρόν.

14 ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, παιδία,
ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν πατέρα.

ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, πατέρες,
ὅτι ἐγνώκατε τὸν ἀπ' ἀρχῆς.

ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, νεανίσκοι,
ὅτι ἰσχυροί ἐστε

καὶ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν μένει
καὶ νενικήκατε τὸν πονηρόν.

I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven on account of his name.

I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.

I am writing to you, young people,
because you have conquered the evil one.

I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.

I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young people,
because you are strong

and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

The poetic structure of these verses is emphasised in the significant switch in tenses in the verb Γράφω (grapho, “I am writing”) from the present to the aorist.

The present tense of Γράφω (grapho) is used three times in verses 12-13, while the aorist tense ἔγραψα (egrapsa, I write) is used three times in verse 14. The content of the three aorist clauses is virtually a repetition of the three present clauses.

At first, it appears the author is addressing three groups or categories of believers in these poetic verses. Firstly, we have τεκνία (teknia, “little children”), who are also addressed in the second part as παιδία (paidia, “children”). Secondly, we have πατέρες (pateres, “fathers”); and finally we have νεανίσκοι (neaniskoi, “young people”). They are dealt with in two sequences: in verses 12-13 and then again in verse 14.

All believers are τεκνία (teknia, “little children”), because we are born again and our sins are forgiven. All of us are πατέρες (pateres, “fathers”), because we believe in him who was from the beginning. And all are νεανίσκοι (neaniskoi, “young people”), because we are resisting the devil. This fits in with the poetic construction of these three verses.

Another interpretation suggests that two groups of people are being considered in I John 2: 12-14. They are first addressed as a whole – little children and children. Then they are addressed as two separate groups, fathers and young people. The author uses of τεκνία (teknia) elsewhere in I John to refer to the entire readership, rather than a select group within it (see 2: 1, 2: 28, 3: 7, 3: 18, 4: 4, and 5: 21). The same is true of παιδία (paidia), which is used of everyone in 2: 18, and which probably is a stylistic variation with τεκνία (teknia).

On the other hand, the use of πατέρες (pateres) and νεανίσκοι (neaniskoi) to refer to groups within the Christian community is appropriate, because nowhere in the New Testament does either term refer to the Church at large or to the entire community of Christians.

We could conclude that the first clause in each group of three, introduced by τεκνία (teknia) in 2: 12 and παιδία (paidia) in 2: 14, addresses the entire group of readers, while the next two terms address groups within the community. Whether these subgroups are distinguished by actual age or by spiritual maturity is not entirely clear; either could be the case and the evidence from the text is inconclusive.

The children or little children

The first group are the children or little children. These may be taken as general terms of address for the whole Christian group, which includes both the fathers and the young men (see I John 2: 1, 18, 28).

Having begun a direct exhortation to his readers in 2: 1 with the address τεκνία μου (teknia mou, “my little children”), the author now continues that exhortation.

In 2: 12, the author says: “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name.” He addresses his readers directly as little children, and assures them that their sins are forgiven. Elsewhere in I John, the term “little children” refers to the entire group of readers rather than a select group (I John 2: 1, 2: 28, 3: 7, 3; 18, 4; 4, 5: 21). Thus in 2: 12-14, it is not three distinct groups that are addressed, but the whole group, who are little children, followed by two sub-groups, addressed as fathers and young people. It is not clear whether these two sub-groups are distinguished by age or spiritual maturity.

The fathers

Those addressed as fathers are more likely to have been Christians for a lengthier period of time, rather than aged or elderly members of the community. They are appropriately connected with knowledge of the One who is from the beginning.

The young people

Those addressed as young people, are more likely to be recent Christians, than being youthful in years. They are appropriately connected with temptation and strength in overcoming Satan.

‘Because’ or ‘so that’

A poetic and dramatic impact is provided by the use of the word ὅτι (oti, because), which follows all six occurrences of the verb Γράφω (grapho) in 2: 12-14. By using the word ὅτι (oti) after each of the six occurrences of the present and aorist forms of the verb Γράφω (grapho), the author gives his reason for writing to his readers, underlining his assurance to them that runs throughout the letter. He is concerned that some of his readers could accept the claims of the opponents (see I John 1: 6, 8, and 10). The author’s counter-claims in 1: 7, 9, and 2: 1 are intended to strengthen the readers and to reassure them that their sins are forgiven.

The author is dealing with a community discouraged by the controversy that has arisen within it, a community in need of exhortation.

As you begin a new academic year, there are times during this coming academic year when you are going to feel discouraged. There are times in the coming year when, like all communities, you will wonder whether the problems you face are so grave that they are in danger of creating divisions.

But at all times in the coming year, it is important that all who are fathers (and mothers) in the faith, and those who are new to the call of ordained ministry – if, in Johannine terms, I may refer to the students among you as their children – that you love one another.

To paraphrase Jerome’s account of John’s abiding sermon, “Little children, love one another. Because it is enough.” If you want to know the basics of living together as Christians, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. “Little children, love one another.”

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This address the second of three addresses at “I Make all Things New,” a quiet day for the beginning of the academic year, in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, on 23 September 2011.

New beginnings in … Saint John’s Gospel

In the beginning was the Word (Laurie Thompson)

Patrick Comerford

Reading: John 1: 1-14

First of all, may I thank [the Revd] Dr Richard Clutterbuck and the staff for the opportunity to be here today and to share this quiet day with you at Edgehill Theological College.

By now, all the academic and teaching staff members have visited the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and I think I am the last staff member to visit Edgehill.

So this is a new beginning, and yet another expression not only of our co-operation as two centres of theological and ministerial learning, but a new stage for me in making the covenant between our two churches a lived reality.

For some here today, you are facing a new academic year, and you know what to expect here; for others, today is the beginning of a whole new exploration.

As you get into the work, the coursework, the assignments and essays, putting up with each other, where do you begin? Where do I begin?

It sounds like the opening words of a Frank Sinatra song: “Where do I begin?”

For many years, I worked as journalist, in provincial and national newspapers.

And one of the many problems I found among even the best of journalists and writers was: “How do I get started?”

It is a common difficulty that faces many journalists when it comes to writing their reports.

They know how to gather their material, how to burrow down and find the hidden details that no-one wants them to know. They have collected all the facts, and all the opinions. They know how to get to the kernel of the matter.

But when it comes to writing a tight 400 or 500 word report, they so often do not know where to begin.

The Red Queen advises Alice: ‘Start at the beginning, go through to the end and then stop’

Lewis Carroll, who was an Anglican clergyman, provides good advice in Alice in Wonderland for all who wonder where to start.

In Chapter 12, the White Rabbit put on his spectacles.

“Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

At another point in the book, the Red Queen advises Alice: “Start at the beginning, go through to the end and then stop.”

If you prefer musicals, then you may recall how Maria advises the children in The Sound of Music:

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi

“Begin at the beginning” was sound advice to give to those journalists. To begin at the beginning is always the important first step in any journey, in any story.

Saint John truly does manage to begin his Gospel story at the beginning.

By now, you have noticed how the Gospel writers offer their readers very different beginnings.

Saint Matthew begins with the human beginning, with a genealogy that could be taken straight out of a first century Burke’s Landed Gentry. he begins at the genealogical beginning – but what a genealogy. Jesus is the Son of God, the heir of Abraham and David, the prophets and the kings, the exiles in Egypt and the exiles in Babylon. But he is also the descendant of the marginalised and despised and despised: he is the son of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. The Son of God is the Son of Man, he is truly human and truly divine (see Matthew 1: 1-17).

Saint Mark begins with the baptism of Christ by John in the Jordan. Forget about his childhood, forget about his family background: Jesus has an important ministry and let’s begin with that. Mark is so human. And yet, there is a profound Trinitarian statement there – the Son of Man is sent by God the Father, who loves him, and is filled with, empowered by, sent out by the Holy Spirit (see Mark 1: 1-11).

Saint Luke begins with the events of the day; the context, the political climate, the news, and the hum-drum daily life that engages us all in ministry, are set out clearly. This is a Gospel writer who is also a good story teller, who is going to tell us stories that give us good examples of what it is to live a life of discipleship (see Luke 1). And the first of those disciples are two women, Elizabeth and Mary – strong feisty women, who confidently affirm each other and who challenge the injustices of the established order even before their children are born.

Saint John, on the other hand, begins at the beginning. There is no annunciation, no nativity, no crib in Bethlehem, no shepherds or wise men, no little stories to allow us to be sentimental and to muse.

He is sharp, direct and gets to the point:

“In the beginning …”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

You probably have already looked at Saint John’s Gospel in terms of the signs and the “I AM” sayings. In Saint John’s Gospel, we have seven signs and seven “I AM” sayings disclosing for us who Jesus truly is:

● I am the Bread of Life (John 6: 35, 41, 48-51);
● I am the Light of the World (John 8: 12, 9: 5);
● I am the Door of the Sheepfold (John 10: 7, 9);
● I am the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11, 14);
● I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11: 25);
● I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14: 6);
● I am the True Vine (John 15:1, 5).

The seven signs in Saint John’s Gospel are:

● Turning water into wine in Cana (John 2: 1-11);
● Healing with a word (John 4: 46-51);
● Healing a crippled man at Bethesda (John 5: 1-9);
● The feeding of 5,000 (John 6: 1-14);
● Walking on water (John 6: 16-21);
● The healing of the man born blind (John 9: 1-7); and
● The Raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 1-46).

But another approach to Saint John’s Gospel is to look at how it offers us new beginnings, and offers us them constantly:

The Baptism of Christ is a new creation, a new world order: out of the dark, new light comes to the world, the waters part, the Holy Spirit hovers above like a dove, we have a new humanity, and God pronounces that it is good (John 1: 29-36).

The Wedding at Cana … new beginnings and new families

At the wedding at Cana, not only is water changed into wine, a refreshing new beginning, but new families are created too (John 2: 1-12)

We often read this story, and the Lectionaries confirm us in this choice, from verses 1 to 11. But sometimes I really think the miracle at Cana is in verse 12:

When the wedding is over, Jesus heads back to Capernaum, which was on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. He goes there with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples. New relationships have been formed. Some of them go back as new brothers-in-law, perhaps one of the them is a new father-in-law. Someone has become related to Christ as a new member of his family.

You are and I are called to be one of that family. Christ calls us into new relationships, with him, with God the Father, through the power of the Spirit, and with one another.

And in those new relationships, there are new expectations.

The banquet is an image of the Kingdom of God, and we are invited.

But accepting the invitation means new beginnings, new relationships, including new beginnings and new relationships with one another.

Nicodemus visits Christ in the dark ... he is invited into the new light, he is offered the opportunity of a new beginning

Nicodemus comes in darkness, but is invited into the new light, is offered the opportunity of a new beginning, a new birth (John 3: 1-21)

In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well new understanding of the community of faith and of mission (John 4: 5-42) is given new water, a new mission in life, a new self-respect. But we too are given new ideas of who is counted in within the community of faith, who proclaims the Risen Lord, and how do we respond to that proclamation.

A traditional Greek Orthodox icon of Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well

The woman caught in adultery (John 8: 3-11) is literally given a new life. She was facing death and now, in Christ she has a new beginning in her life.

Lazarus too is given a new life (John 11: 1-44).

At the heart of the Covenant meal, for Saint John, is a new beginning: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35).

In The Book of Common Prayer (2004) of the Church of Ireland, we regularly use John 13: 34 at the Eucharist as the introduction to the peace (see p. 207). We are a new family, and that new beginning is best celebrated in the meal.

At the foot of the Cross, a new family is formed: “Woman, here is your son” (John 19: 26); “Here is your mother” (John 19: 27). This is a new beginning, specifically for Mary and John. But it is a new beginning for us too. We are not just Christians who communicate with one another. We have a new beginning at the foot of the Cross, we are all a new family, all of us who stand at the foot of the Cross, just as those who went home from Cana are a new family.

Mary at the tomb is the first to see the transformed, transfigured, Risen Christ (John 20: 1-19). If Christ had died and not risen, then things would have gone on as they always did. But she has seen the Lord. Things are never, ever going to be the same again.

And Thomas’s confession, although it echoes Mary’s confession of faith, is a new beginning for this doubting disciple (John 20: 26-29). And that new beginning is offered to us all, even though we have not seen.

The commission to Peter at the Lakeside in Galilee (John 21: 15-19) has a different emphasis than the commission at the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 28: 19-20). Matthew’s account of the commission is exciting, but John’s, at first appears to be more pedestrian: “Feed my lambs” … “Tend my sheep” … “Feed my sheep.”

Feeding and tending Christ’s lambs and sheep is the the very mundane, daily task of ordained ministry – pastoral care, ministry of word and ministry of sacrament.

And in each, if we exercise our commission in the way Christ calls us too, then they will find new beginnings and find too that they are invited to the banquet.

Let me leave you with some images … In the beginning was the Word, two icons of the Wedding at Cana, a stained glass image of Nicodemus coming to Christ in the dark, and an icon of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

You may like to use them as visual aids as you read one of those passages and reflect on it. But as you are reading and reflecting try to ask yourself two questions:

Where are your beginnings?

How do they define your beginnings?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This address the first of three addresses at “I Make all Things New,” a quiet day for the beginning of the academic year, in Edgehill Theological College, Belfast, on 23 September 2011.

Cathedral visitor from Gibraltar

The current edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [23 September 2011] publishes the following photograph and quarter-page report on page 6:

The Revd David Hoare (right) is pictured with Canon Patrick Comerford in the Chapter Room of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Cathedral visitor from Gibraltar

The Revd David A. S. Hoare from Gibraltar and his Irish-born wife, Valerie, who were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, recently visited Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Mr Hoare recently returned to in Gibraltar after seven years in ministry in the US.

Although retired, he serves as a support chaplain to the British forces command chaplain at the King’s Chapel in Gibraltar.

He is also an assistant priest in the Parish of St Barnabas, Torre del Mar, Malaga, in the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church, and is the Episcopal Legate of Bishop Carlos Lopez Lozano to Gibraltar.

A former television and radio broadcaster, Mr Hoare has served in Lisbon, Gibraltar, Virginia, Washington State and Washington DC.