14 January 2015

Epiphany readings and hymns
on Baptism and Mission

The Baptism of Christ (ca 1596-1600) … by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541-1614), Museo del Prado, Madrid, on the front cover of this evening’s brochure

Patrick Comerford

I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this evening [14 January 2015], with the Collect, Readings and Post-Communion Prayer for the First Sunday after the Epiphany. The Revd Robert Robinson is preaching.

The Readings are: Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19: 1-7; Mark 1: 4-11.

This week, the tutorial group has taken the Five Marks of Mission in the Anglican Communion as a theme for worship in the chapel, and the hymns this evening reflect both the readings and the Five Marks of Mission:

• To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
• To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
• To respond to human need by loving service
• To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

The Processional Hymn, ‘God whose almighty word’ (Irish Church Hymnal No 324), was written by John Marriott (1780-1825), and is set to the tune ‘Moscow’ by Felice Giardini. This hymn was first sung at a missionary conference in London shortly after Marriott’s death. The first mark of mission is: ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.’

We sing Gloria as ‘Glory in the highest to the God of heaven!’ (Hymn 693). This hymn was written by the Revd Christopher Idle in 1976 for this earlier tune, ‘Cuddesdon,’ written in 1919 by the Revd William H Ferguson, who had been an ordinand at Cuddesdon Theological College, near Oxford.

Our Gradual is ‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’ (Hymn 136). This hymn was translated by the Revd John Chandler (1806-1876) from a French hymn by Charles Coffin (1676-1749), and is one of the few hymns to focus on the Baptism of Christ. The second mark of mission is ‘to teach, baptise and nurture new believers.’

The Offertory hymn, ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’ (296), is a translation of Veni Creator by Bishop John Cosin (1594-1672). We sang this hymn on Monday as we considered the spirituality of the Ordinal. It is sung, often kneeling, at the ordination of bishops and priests, and is a reminder of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that enable and empower ministry. The third mark of mission is ‘to respond to human need by loving service.’

As we receive Holy Communion, we sing ‘Jesus, remember me’ (617), by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) and the Taizé Community.

Our Post-Communion Hymn is ‘Before the ending of the day’ (66). The words of this hymn are well-known from the office of Compline, and the hymn is mainly the work of the Revd John Mason Neale. The Epiphany doxology (verse 3d) prays for God’s blessing on all people; the fourth Mark of Mission is to ‘seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.’

The Baptism of Christ is one of the three Epiphany themes, but as the Old Testament reading reminds us, is also a promise of new creation in Christ. The fifth mark of mission is ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’

The cover illustration on this evening’s brochure is ‘The Baptism of Christ,’ painted by Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (1541-1614). The fourth centenary of his death was marked last year with special exhibitions in Spain and in Crete where he was born.

This work was painted in oil on canvas ca 1596-1600 for the main altarpiece in the church in the Augustine College of María de Aragón in Madrid, and measures 350 cm by 144 cm. now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

This painting is divided into two overlapping horizontal zones joined by the dove, symbolising the Holy Spriti. On the earthly plane, Christ, naked but for his loincloth, while above him like a canopy that frames him is a red cloak, the liturgical colour of both martyrdom and the Holy Spirit.

Saint John the Baptist is on the right, wearing a camel skin and. An axe in a tree trunk beside him alludes to his words: “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). This is part of a broadly used iconography depicting an axe standing among vegetation.

On the celestial plane, God the Father is rendered like a Byzantine Pantocrator alongside the entire angelical hierarchy. El Greco uses his customary language, with stylised forms and loose brushstrokes, obtaining an intensely spiritual expression.


Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
Grant to us, who are born of water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Refreshed by these holy gifts, Lord God,
we seek your mercy:
that by listening faithfully to your only Son,
and being obedient to the prompting of the Spirit,
we may be your children in name and in truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Baptism of Christ … a modern icon, on the back cover of this evening’s booklet

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