Friday, 28 October 2011

‘Abide with me; fast falls the eventide’

Hints of pink and dusk on the silvery beach at Laytown, Co Meath, late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Today has been the Feastday of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. At the Eucharist in the chapel this morning I remembered in particular Justin Welby, the former Dean of Liverpool, who was being consecrated Bishop of Durham in York Cathedral this morning.

For Greeks, this is Ochi Day (Επέτειος του «'Οχι», Epeteios tou “'Ochi”), the day that recalls the «'Οχι» (‘No’) delivered by the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, in response to the ultimatum presented by Mussolini on 28 October 1940. So many Greeks today must have been wondering about their own responses to ultimatums issued by neighbouring European powers and wondering where to draw on as their sources for resilience in the face of adversity and what must look like the closing of evening.

And this has been a momentous day in Irish politics, with the result in the Presidential election now a foregone conclusion. Although the first count came in late this evening, the count is likely to last well beyond tonight and into the morning.

There were streaks of pink and gold in the morning skies on my way into work. With rains and stormy weather threatening to return at the weekend, it was a good idea to head north to Laytown and Bettystown in Co Meath this afternoon for a walk on the lengthy expanse of beach that stretches east of the two villages as far as Mornington.

Although the tide was out, the sand was damp from recent rains and storms. Even the steps down to the beach betrayed signs of the high water mark earlier this week and underfoot, and so instead I walked along the footpath above the beach and the sea.

Late-ripening rosehips in the hedgerows above the beach at Laytown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Children were leaving school dressed in their Halloween outfits, their parents delighting in the innocence of their little witches and vampires. In the hedgerows, there was still a rich store of late ripening rosehips, a sign surely that autumn has not yet fully vanished, even though the clocks return to winter time this weekend.

Thatch more typical of the Cape Coast than the Gold Coast of Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The regular gaps in houses provided inviting and tempting invitations back down onto the damp, sandy beach. Here and there was a thatched cottage – some looked as if they might be more at home on the Cape Coast than the “Gold Coast” of Co Meath.

A table by the window in Relish, looking down at the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Two of us stopped for late lunch at Relish in Bettystown, and were given a window seat, with unrivalled views of the beach and the sea.

We decided to walk back to Laytown along the beach. By now there were hints of a hesitant dusk, delayed by the pink streaks in the southern skies. The houses we had passed earlier in the afternoon were now reflected in the waters that had refused to go out with the tide and that were caught in the ripples and the hollows.

As we drove along the banks of the River Nanny, east of Laytown, two swans stood patiently at the very point I had seen two, and then three, herons last Friday. At the bridge at Julianstown, as we climbed up the road south of the Nanny Valley, I recalled how I had once been captivated by the beauty of this landscape as a 16-year-old schoolboy walking back to Gormanston.

The evening was closing in and I found I was singing to myself Henry Lyte’s hymn that we sang at Evensong yesterday:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

A meeting of the Dearmer Society

The Church of Ireland Gazette carries the following photograph and caption on page 15 in today’s edition [28 October 2011]:


Dr Margaret Daly-Denton (2nd left) is pictured after delivering a lecture titled ‘An Ecological Reading of the Fourth Gospel’ to a recent meeting of the Dearmer Society held in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, with Canon Patrick Comerford (2nd right) and convenors of the Society, David White (left) and Edna Wakeley. The Dearmer Society is for ordinands currently in training with the Anglican Communion who aspire to membership of the Society of Catholic Priests. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is the group’s president.

‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’

Saint Simon and Saint Jude ... 28 October 2011

Patrick Comerford

Saint Simon and Saint Jude: 28 October 2011:

Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.


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

‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’

If you have been the parent of small children you can understand when I say this morning’s saints, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles, appear almost like two children in the back seat of the car

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Most people probably don’t even know who they are.

In Dublin today, if you asked who Simon is, you might be told he runs a shelter for the homeless. If you asked who Jude is, you might be told he is the Patron of Lost Causes.

Thomas Hardy’s last novel was Jude the Obscure (1895). For most of us both Simon and Jude are obscure and without a home in the Gospel stories. They are little known as apostles, without fame, and often squeezed into lists or forgotten, never quite making it.

Jude’s epistle is the last epistle, squeezed in at the end of the New Testament, between the three Letters of Saint John and the Book of Revelation. Simon, for his part, has left no letter at all.

And neither saint has a day all to himself. They have to share one day, squeezed in at the end of the Church year, just after James and just before All Saints’ Day on Tuesday next [1 November]. Simon in the morning and Jude in the afternoon?

To the rest of the world, Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and certainly are not celebrity apostles.

The two of them are way down the list of the Twelve, their names often confused or forgotten. In those lists (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come near the end, in tenth and eleventh places, wondering perhaps were they there yet. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the first eleven.

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James we might have remembered on Sunday last but who seems to have been bumped off the list in most churches.

So, who are Simon and Jude?

Sorry to say, they never quite get there. Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on those lists of the Twelve. He pales into insignificance beside the other Simon, Simon Peter.

Jude is so close to Judas – their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he is linked with lost causes? Trying to distinguish Jude and Judas may have been a lost cause.

But does it matter whether we are at the bottom of the list or abandoned to obscurity?

After the Last Supper, Jude asks Christ why he reveals himself only to the disciples. And Christ tells him: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14: 22-23).

And he goes on to say those word at the opening of our Gospel reading this morning: “Love one another.”

These words are echoed in his brief epistle when Jude says: “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (verse 21).

We know little about the later ministry of Jude or of Simon. Some say Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, others that one went to Egypt and the other to Persia. Did they get there? Were they missionaries? Were they martyrs? Does it matter, if they kept themselves in the love of God?

We know little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of lists, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being like those servants referred to in our Gospel reading who want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Church and sharing the love of God.

But then we are not being ordained to be celebrities. The Church does not celebrate celebrities. On saints’ days we recall saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In our Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

We may suffer in our ministry and mission. Others may forget us. We may live the rest of our lives in obscurity. People may forget our names. We may feel at times that our labouring in the Gospel is a lost cause as far as others are concerned.

But we can be assured, as the Church in Ephesus is assured in our Epistle reading: we are no longer strangers and aliens; we are citizens with the saints, we are building up the household of God upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone, and we are being built together spiritually into the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2: 19-22).

Are we there yet? We are.

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

Collect:

Almighty God, who built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone: So join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the source of truth and love: Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of the bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist on the Feast Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 28 October 2011.