15 November 2015

‘Not one stone will be left here upon
another; all will be thrown down’

Us has produced prayer cards providing guided reflections for each Sunday during Advent, inviting people to pray for refugees around the world as we light our Advent candles.

Patrick Comerford,

Zion Church, Rathgar, Dublin,

Sunday 15 November 2015,

The Second Sunday before Advent

9 a.m.,
Holy Communion 1.

Readings: Daniel 12: 1-3; Psalm 16; (Hebrews 10: 11-14, 15-18, 19-25;) Mark 13: 1-8.

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

I know it is not traditional to have a sermon at this early morning Eucharist. But this morning’s Gospel can appear so gloomy, with its talk of wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines, that I thought I should light a light in the darkness and share some of the thoughts that are shaping my sermon at Morning Prayer later this morning.

Winter has arrived, the evenings are closing in, the nights are getting longer, and the year is coming to an end.

The church seasons are changing too. Advent, which marks a New Year in the Church, begins the Sunday after next [29 November 2015]. Carol services are being planned, Christmas gifts are being wrapped, Christmas cards are being written, and for many places next Friday [4 December 2015] is the last posting date for Christmas.

In the midst of darkness, there is always hope.

But in the darkness it is also natural that we should think of our greatest fears.

All of us have been shocked by the violence in Paris in the past 36 hours. The attacks in Paris and a few days earlier in Beirut were designed to shake the very foundations of all our societies. They are an assault on our shared humanity, and our tolerance, liberty and respect – the values that ought to underpin the world we share.

In the past week, many of us have been remembering the wars in the last 100 years that threatened not once but twice to destroy Europe. We are still in the middle of the centenary marking World War I, and this year has marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. And we remembered those who fought in both wars and who were promised that these were “wars to end all wars.”

Yet the Anglican suffragan Bishop in Europe, Bishop David Hamid, has said in the past week that the refugee crisis in Europe is the “largest crisis that Europe has had to face since World War II.” He warns that churches, governments and aid and mission agencies need to prepare for a “medium- to long-term situation” to a crisis that is “not going to go away quickly.”

I spent three days in the past week [11-13 November 2015] at a meeting of the trustees of Us, the Anglican mission agency previously known as USPG or the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

It was a residential meeting in Westcott House, the Anglican theological college in Cambridge. And during those days I heard again and again of the work Us or USPG is doing with refugees throughout Europe.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that so far this year over three quarters of a million refugees and migrants have arrived by boat in Europe. Most of them – around 620,000 – have arrived in Greece; while Italy has received over 140,000 people, Spain almost 3,000 people and Malta over 100.

The UNHCR also says almost 3,500 people have died or gone missing on the journey. Over half the migrants trying to reach Europe come from the Syria, and another one-in-five is from Afghanistan.

“The numbers of people on the move have not been seen for over 70 years,” Bishop David says. This problem is not going to go away soon, he says. “The end won’t be in sight, really, until we resolve the wars and people are able to live in security.”

Even if the wars stop tomorrow, four million Syrian people are living outside Syria and half the remaining people are displaced too, having left their homes, their villages and their towns. Rebuilding the region is a long-term task, and even if the wars ended tomorrow they cannot go home on Tuesday.

Bishop David says the challenge to Churches, governments and agencies in Europe is to work together on short-term responses, and medium to long-term situation.

The UNHCR is warning that harsh winter conditions across Europe could lead to “a tragedy at any moment.”

Kate O’Sullivan, who works in Greece with Save the Children, says the winter months could be devastating. “The waves will continue to get higher, the water will get rougher,” she says. “Every time a boat goes down, it always seems to be the children who have drowned. Frankly, I am terrified for what the weather’s going to be like this winter.”

Freezing temperatures, heavy rains, and strong storms have not slowed down the surge of refugees (Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

But freezing temperatures, heavy rains, and strong storms across Europe have not slowed down the surge of refugees. These people were desperate before they ever left. They are desperate now. And they face a winter with little protection from the cold, with no weather-proofing kits, with damaged tents, without winter clothes. They need fuel, unconditional cash, kits, clothes, coal, stoves and blankets.

An example of the way the Church is responding to this crisis is the decision by the Anglican Diocese in Europe and the Anglican mission agency Us (formerly USPG) to fund an emergency centre for refugees at the remote Pharos Lighthouse on the Greek island of Lesvos.

The refugees arrive cold and wet having crossed 15 km from Turkey, typically making the journey in small rubber boats crowded with up to 50 people each.

Often these dangerous crossings are at night to avoid the Turkish coastguard patrols by day. Attracted by the beam of the lighthouse, they land on the rocky shore, soaked through, tired and hungry. Yet they are still 6 km from the nearest village, Klio, a six-hour walk across rugged, rock-strewn terrain. They need dry clothes, food, medical care and shelter before they can continue their journey to safety.

Local volunteers have been doing what they can to help them. I heard over these past few days how their work is getting a further boost with funding from Us and support from the Anglican chaplaincy in Greece.

Two abandoned buildings next to the lighthouse are being turned into a changing area and a field kitchen. Tents are being provided as shelter and volunteers are working there around the clock, seven days a week, providing food, clothing and medicines. These volunteers have also asked for ropes to help refugees climb up the rocky shores, safety helmets and headgear for the children and babies, wetsuits, night vision binoculars, heaters, lighting and walky-talkies.

I listened to those stories in Cambridge over the past few days, those stories of Us and how the Diocese in Europe are trying to be lights of hope in this dismal, dark winter.

Throughout Advent this year, Us is appealing for donations to fund the Diocese in Europe as it reaches out to refugees arriving throughout Europe, and the Diocese in Europe has asked Us to be the official agency for Anglican churches on these islands to channel donations for its work.

There is a real danger that because of the violence this weekend, the very people who are fleeing the violence of ISIS in Syria and their allies in the Middle East, will become their victims yet again, being blamed for violence perpetrated by people who are their very oppressors.

But despite all that is happening, there is hope. And we can be beacons of hope. We can show in how we live our life this coming Advent that we believe, that we want, good to triumph over evil, and to show that the Light of Christ shines in our hearts.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford lectures in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist in Zion Parish Church, Rathgar, on 15 November 2015.

Where can the refugees find the lights of hop of hope across Europe this winter? (Photograph: Picasa/Kate O'Sullivan/Save the Children)


Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope.
Bring us at the last to that pure life for which we long,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Mark 13: 1-8

1 Καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ λέγει αὐτῷ εἷς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, Διδάσκαλε, ἴδε ποταποὶ λίθοι καὶ ποταπαὶ οἰκοδομαί. 2 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Βλέπεις ταύτας τὰς μεγάλας οἰκοδομάς; οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ μὴ καταλυθῇ.

3 Καὶ καθημένου αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν κατέναντι τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν κατ' ἰδίαν Πέτρος καὶ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης καὶ Ἀνδρέας, 4 Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα συντελεῖσθαι πάντα. 5 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἤρξατο λέγειν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ: 6 πολλοὶ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες ὅτι Ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ πολλοὺς πλανήσουσιν. 7 ὅταν δὲ ἀκούσητε πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων, μὴ θροεῖσθε: δεῖ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ' οὔπω τὸ τέλος. 8 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπ' ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, ἔσονται σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους, ἔσονται λιμοί: ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων ταῦτα.

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2 Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

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