27 July 2014

Finding little snatches of heaven,
meeting Bikers on a Mission,
inviting others into the kingdom

Evening lights at Stowe Pool and Lichfield Cathedral ... “a little snatch of heaven” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Bartholomew’s Church,
Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin

30 July 2014

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity

11 a.m.:
The Solemn Eucharist

Readings: Genesis 29: 15-28; Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b or Psalm 128; Romans 8: 26-39; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52.

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

Have you ever found yourself lost for words when it comes to describing a beautiful place you have visited?

If you have ever been to the Bay of Naples or Sorrento, how would you describe what you have seen to someone who has never travelled outside a 30 km radius from Dublin?

You might try comparing the first glimpse of Vesuvius with looking at the Great Sugarloaf … but that hardly describes the experience of climbing the rocky path, looking into the caldera, or the experience of the sulphuric smell.

You might want to compare the Bay of Naples with the vista in Dalkey or Killiney … but that hardly catches the majestic scope of the view.

You might want to compare the church domes with the great copper dome in Rathmines … but that goes nowhere near describing the intricate artwork on those Italian domes.

You might compare the inside of the duomo in Amalfi with the inside of your favourite parish church … but you know you are getting nowhere near what you want to say.

And as for Capri … you are hardly going to write a romantic song about Dalkey Island, Ireland’s Eye or Lambay.

Comparisons never match the beauty of any place that offers us a snatch or glimpse of heaven.

And yet, we know that the photographs on our phones, no matter how good they seem to be when we are taking them, never do justice to the places we have been when we get home.

We risk becoming bores either by trying to use inadequate words or inadequate images to describe experiences that we can never truly share with people unless they go there, unless they have been there too.

I suppose that helps to a degree to understand why Jesus keeps on trying to grasp at images that might help the Disciples and help us to understand what the Kingdom of God is like.

He tries to offer us a taste of the kingdom with a number of parables in this morning’s Gospel reading:

● The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … (verse 31).

● The kingdom of heaven is like yeast … (verse 33).

● The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field … (verse 44).

● The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls … (verse 45).

● The kingdom of heaven is like a net in the sea … (verse 47).

Do they understand?’ They answer, ‘Yes.’ But how can they really understand, fully understand?

After leaving here last Sunday, I had a late lunch in Mount Usher and posted some photographs of the gardens on my site. An American reader I have never met commented: “A little piece of heaven.”

We have a romantic imagination that confuses gardens with Paradise, and Paradise with the Kingdom of Heaven. But perhaps that is a good starting point, because I have a number of places where I find myself saying constantly: “This is a little snatch of heaven.” They include:

● The road from Cappoquin out to my grandmother’s farm in West Waterford.

● The train journey from outside Ferns to Wexford, along the banks of the River Slaney.

● The view from the east end of Stowe Pool across to Lichfield Cathedral at sunset on a Spring evening.

● The Backs in Cambridge.

Sunset at the Fortezza in Rethymnon on the Greek island of Crete.

● The sights and sounds on some of the many beaches I like to walk on regularly … Bettystown, Skerries, Loughshinny, Portrane, Donabate, Malahide, Bray, Greystones, Wexford, Achill, Crete … I could go on.

The Kingdom of Heaven must be so like so many of these places where I find myself constantly praising God and thanking God for creation.

But … but it’s not just that. And I start thinking that Christ does more than just paint a scene when he describes the kingdom of heaven. Looking at the Gospel reading again, I realise he is doing more than offering holiday snapshots or painting the scenery.

He tries to describe the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of doing, and not just in terms of being:

● Sowing a seed (verse 31);

● Giving a nest to the birds of the air (verse 32);

● Mixing yeast (verse 33);

● Turning small amounts of flour into generous portions of bread (verse 34);

● Finding hidden treasure (verse 44);

● Rushing out in joy (verse 44);

● Selling all that I have because something I have found is worth more – much, much more, again and again (verse 44, 46);

● Searching for pearls (verse 45);

● Finding just one pearl (verse 46);

● Casting a net into the sea (verse 47);

● Catching an abundance of fish (verse 47);

● Drawing the abundance of fish ashore, and realising there is too much there for personal needs (verse 48);

● Writing about it so that others can enjoy the benefit and rewards of treasures new and old (verse 52).

So there are, perhaps, four or five times as many active images of the kingdom than there are passive images.

The kingdom is more about doing than being.

Father Andrew (McCroskery) and Father Nigel (Kirkpatrick) are “Bikers on a Mission.” During their 10-day tour of Ireland, starting later this week and visiting every one of the 30 cathedrals in the Church of Ireland, they are going to see many beautiful places that I have no doubt are little snatches of heaven.

But there is a greater image of heaven in what they are pointing to rather than what they are going to be looking at.

The purposes of their trip from Friday next [1 August 2014] to 10 August are:

● To celebrate 300 years of the work of the United Society (Us, the new name for USPG);

● To highlight the work of the United Society among the people of Swaziland, one of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa, where life expectancy is just 50 because of the high rate of HIV and TB infection;

● To raise much-needed funds for this work.

Through the Luyengo Farm Project, the Usuthu Mission Primary School, the Mpandesane feeding station and similar work, Us is supporting health, education, training, leadership and farming projects in Swaziland – not because it hopes to transform the economy of Swaziland with a few quick-fix solutions, but because these projects are sacramental signs of the Kingdom.

Christ’s life on earth is marked by teaching, healing, caring for children and the marginalised, feeding the hungry, proclaiming the Kingdom.

In supporting these Us projects in Swaziland, Andrew and Nigel are offering signs of the ministry of Christ as he invites us to the banquet, as he invites us into the Kingdom – works that are little glimpses of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

There is a viral project on social media, particularly on Facebook, challenging people over five days to list three positive experiences they have had each day.

This afternoon, when you go home, I challenge you to think of three places, three gifts in God’s creation, that offer you glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to think of three actions that for you symbolise Christ’s invitation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Give thanks for these pearls beyond price, and share them with someone you love and cherish.

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

Supporting the work of Us in Usuthu Mission Primary School ... offering signs of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Kingdom of Swaziland (Photograph Us Ireland)


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at the Solemn Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, on Sunday 30 July 2014.

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