Sunday, 18 October 2015

Straffan: a private family church with
roots in an earlier parish history

Straffan Church was built in the 1830s by Hugh and Anna Barton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

This afternoon [18 October 2015], I was invited by the Revd Stephen Neill to preach at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Straffan, Co Kildare.

In the past, I have stayed at Barberstown Castle in Straffan, when I have been at weddings, but this was my first time in the parish church in Straffan.

Straffan is part of the parish of Celbridge and Straffan with Newcastle Lyons, one of three churches on the borders of Co Dublin and Co Kildare, west and south-west of Dublin, and about 20 km from Dublin city centre.

Although suburban Dublin has almost reached them, each of these churches retains a mainly rural setting. These churches have individual and rich histories, stretching back to at least 1400, or even earlier. Saint Finian’s church in Newcastle Lyons, where I was invited to baptise a child about 15 years ago, was built ca 1400 on the site of older churches dating back to early Christian settlement. In contrast, both Christ Church, Celbridge, and Straffan Church, Straffan were originally private chapels on the Castletown and Straffan demesnes.

Straffan House, now better known as the K Club, was built in 1832. Because of Hugh Barton’s connections with the wine business in France with his friend Daniel Guestier, Straffan House was designed closely along the lines of Chateau Louveciennes by Frederick Darley of Dublin.

A monument to Hugh Barton in the nave of Straffan Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Straffan Church was founded by Hugh and Anna Barton in 1830, and was consecrated on 18 June 1838. The church was originally built by Hugh Barton as a private chapel for himself, his family and their large staff working at both Straffan House and on the land on the Straffan estate. Neighbours from the surrounding big houses also worshipped there.

The original church consisted of a porch with vestry and utility room surmounted by a spire. The porch opened into the nave with a simple sanctuary at the east end. The north and south transepts, followed by a raised sanctuary were added later giving the church its present cruciform shape.

The church remained a private chapel until 1933, when it was transferred to the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body (RCB).

The reredos and oak panelling in the sanctuary display particularly fine Victorian craftsmanship (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There are many memorials to members of the Barton family on the church walls. At the top of the nave is a fine carved font dated Christmas 1875. The carved pulpit, reredos and oak panelling around the sanctuary are of particularly fine workmanship.

The windows in the transepts were made in the 1870s by Heaton, Butler & Bayne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The oldest windows are in the transepts and were made in the 1870s by Heaton, Butler & Bayne. In the nave, there is a rich variety of later windows depicting Christ’s life and dedicated to the memory of Bertram Francis Barton, a former owner of Straffan House (1899-1904). The three windows on the south nave (Christ blessing the children; the Crucifixion; and the Resurrection) are by Alfred Ernest Child (1875–1939) of Dublin, part-time manager of Sarah Purser’s workshop at An Tur Gloine in Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin. The three windows in the north nave are by HW Bryans of London.

The East Window is by Catherine O’Brien of An Tuar Gloine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The East Window by Catherine O’Brien of An Tuar Gloine is dedicated to Canon Lionel Fletcher, who was the Rector of Straffan for 50 years. All the other windows are dedicated to members of the Barton family.

The two manual organ was built by Peter Conagher & Co of Huddersfield and Dublin and installed in 1897. This fine organ is still in perfect weekly use.

Encaustic tiles in the church are fine examples of this Victorian craft that is part of the Gothic revival (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The aisle has fine example of Victorian encaustic and mosaic tiles, perhaps by Minton or Craven Dunnill.

The graves in the churchyard are only of members of the Barton family and their descendants, but the churchyard also has a war memorial remembering parishioners who died in World War I.

The ruins of Saint Patrick’s Church, Straffan, which dates back to the mid-13th century or earlier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

However, despite the relatively recent history of this church, the church presence in Straffan predates this church by many centuries. It probably dates back to the early 13th century, for around 1250 Saint Patrick’s, Straffan, and its vicarage, were incorporated in the Hospital of Saint John outside Newgate, Dublin.

The vicarage was suppressed in 1397 and was united with Saint John’s Hospital. But in 1531 Archbishop Allen restored the vicarage.

Few of the names of the Vicars of Straffan survive from this time, and from the end of the 17th century the parish was united with Kildrought (Celbridge), although this union was not made official until an Order in Council in 1829.

Barton’s church was built in Straffan in the following decade, and for 30 years the Revd Samuel Greer (1800-1886) was the perpetual curate or Vicar of Straffan (1834-1864) and at the same time curate of Celbridge (1828-1864).

In 1933, Straffan was joined with Celbridge and Canon Lionel Fletcher (1865-1946) of Straffan was instituted as Rector of Celbridge that year. In all, he spent almost half a century at Straffan, from 1894 to 1943.

A Gothic window in the ruins of Saint Patrick’s, Straffan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Bringing the fruits of the harvest to
those who are signs of the kingdom

Blackberries coming to full fruit in Greystones, Co Wicklow, last week … a sign of a late harvest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Harvest Thanksgiving Eucharist,

Straffan, Co Kildare,

3.30 p.m., Sunday 18 October 2015.

Readings:
Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Matthew 6: 25-33.

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

I want to thank your rector, the Revd Stephen Neill, for inviting me to your Harvest Thanksgiving celebrations this afternoon.

Stephen has been a good friend for many years, and I was delighted to attend his institution earlier this year as your rector: I know you are blessed to have him here, and I am sure he is equally blessed to be with you here.

Although I live in south Dublin, I have actually stayed in Straffan, and in Barberstown Castle earlier this summer when I was taking part in a wedding.

Living in Dublin, and living close to where I work in the south Dublin suburbs, I need to get out into the countryside on a regular basis, and to be in touch with the cycle of life and growth, sowing and harvest.

Last week, I was in Greystones, and was surprised how late autumn actually is this year. Like many people who grew up in the countryside, I grew up knowing the old country belief that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas, Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September. But three weeks later, the blackberries are still ripening on the brambles. Summer was too wet and too cold to allow them to come to full fruit until recent weeks.

I know that for many farmers, this has been a poor summer, but the interesting version of an “Indian Summer” we had in recent weeks provided many farmers with some compensation at harvest time.

The weather these past few weeks has compensated for the summer rains. Two weeks ago, while I was in Co Wexford, it was to see how farmers were gathering in a late harvest. The fields are still green and gold in many of these parts of Co Kildare this weekend.

Harvest fields of green and gold between Kilmuckridge and Kilnamanagh, Co Wexford, two weeks ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I was in Wexford two weeks ago because I regularly need to get in touch with my roots. Despite living in Dublin for so many years, I still yearn for those fields of green and gold that give that sense of belonging that many of us get when we move out of the city and return to provincial and rural life.

Going back to places that shape us and give us identity helps to integrate ourselves, spiritually as well as every other way, and helps us to prepare ourselves for the next steps forward in life.

It is as though, psychologically and spiritually, we need to take stock of what is in the barn, be aware of the riches and blessings we have from God in the past and in the present, so that in faith we can move forward.

Autumn seems a good time to take stock in all those ways. The summer holidays are over, the children are back at school, colleges and universities have reopened. Before the clocks go back and the winter evenings close in, now is the time to take a few steps back and just see where we are going.

It is time to take stock of the riches we have been blessed with, to realise what we have and what we no longer need, what we have been blessed with and what we can bless others with, what is there and what is missing.

Sometimes it is good to count our blessings. As the Prophet Joel says in our Old Testament reading this afternoon: “Be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things” (Joel 2: 21).

I see that in this parish, the ‘Harvest Appeal’ is going to the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund. I was interested, during the Diocesan Synod last week [13 October 2015], to see how generous you have been in previous years in your giving to the Bishops’ Appeal.

But it might be good and appropriate stewardship to report back to you on some of the ways that money is used and spent.

The Bishops’ Appeal is one of the generous supporters of the work of Us, or the United Society, previously known as the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Us, the old USPG, is more than 130 years older than Straffan Church building – it was founded back in 1703, making it one of the oldest Anglican mission agencies, and I am a member of the boards and trustees in Ireland and in .

And I spent the best part of a week this summer at a residential conference at the High Leigh Conference Centre in England, where I heard about exciting and fresh new things that are being done by this old mission agency.

Sheba Sultan, a writer and member of the Church of Pakistan, spoke about the challenges facing women in Pakistan.

Canon Delene Mark from South Africa spoke of people trafficking, especially the trafficking of young women, and the abuse of young women, yet could still tell us how the Church can ensure the Gospel is good news for women. He said: “The Gospel is good news for women. How? Only through us.”

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, author of The Essential History of Christianity, discussed gender justice with Dr Paulo Ueti, a theologian and New Testament scholar from Brazil.

The Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, of the Delhi Brotherhood Society, drew on the Old Testament story of the rape of Tamar (see II Samuel 13) as he spoke of the way the Delhi Brotherhood works with women who suffer domestic and sexual violence, especially women who suffer doubly because of their gender and their caste.

Anjum Anwar is a Muslim woman on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral. She challenged us about how we live as good neighbours with people of different religious beliefs and values given the tensions we live with in the world today.

Since that conference in High Leigh at the end of July, I have also been receiving regular briefings about how Us has taken on as its Advent this year the role of co-ordinating fundraising on behalf of the Anglican Diocese in Europe as it reaches out to refugees arriving throughout Europe.

The Diocese in Europe is working on the frontline with refugees, and has asked Us to be the official agency for Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland to channel donations for its work, providing emergency medical support, food, shelter and pastoral care for refugees.

The initial focus, of course, is on the situation in Greece, working with people who are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The need for healthcare is particularly acute. Many refugees, including the elderly and children, are arriving in need of urgent medical care, but Greece’s overstretched public resources, and the lack of medicines in the country, mean many refugees are going untreated.

At the moment, the diocese has committed to the following initiatives in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Church:

● On the Island of Leros, a church centre is housing refugees and providing food, clothing, toiletries and medicine.

● On the Island of Samos, a church hostel is caring for 600 refugees, many of whom have medical needs. The hostel is mostly supporting Iraqi and Afghan refugees.

● In Athens, the church is working with the Salvation Army to provide food, water and medicine to refugees who congregate in local parks.

This work goes hand-in-hand with local initiatives throughout Greece. Last month I was privileged to visit twice the voluntary work of doctors, pharmacists and other volunteers who have set up a clinic and advice centre working with people without papers or without insurance from a shop front in a back street of Rethymnon in Crete.

All this work shows how relevant mission is in the world today. A mission agency that is over 300 years old is meeting the most contemporary and the most pressing needs in our world today.

These people are like the birds of the air, unable to sow or reap or gather for themselves. But by caring for them, by responding to their needs, the Church is showing that God still cares for them, that we know they are loved by God and so are worth caring for ourselves.

Taking stock of what we have in our barns, and giving thanks for the harvest are important ways of celebrating and of praising God. But in giving thanks and in giving to the Bishops’ Appeal you are also showing that the Kingdom of God spreads beyond the boundaries of borders of our own parish and diocese.

May you continue to rejoice in the harvest and be generous in your giving – the two go together – so that others may know of the love of God, and so that we may express this in our love for others.

As Christ tells us in our Gospel reading this afternoon: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33).

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

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns (Matthew 6: 26) … a barn on a farm at Cross in Hand Lane, outside Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Eternal God,
you crown the year with your goodness
and give us the fruits of the earth in their season:
Grant that we may use them to your glory,
for the relief of those in need
and for our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) 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 sermon was preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service in Straffan Church, Co Kildare, on 14 October 2015.

‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?’
… a challenge to the Church today

‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ (Mark 10: 38) … Saint John with the poisoned chalice, a statue on the Great Gate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 October 2015, the 20th Sunday after Trinity,

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin,

11 a.m., The Solemn Eucharist.

Readings:
Job 38: 1-7; Psalm 104: 1-10, 26, 37c; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45.

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

Whenever I hear this morning’s Gospel story (Mark 10: 35-45), I think back to my childhood days. I remember all those preparations for football matches, as we lined up to pick sides. And how we all wanted to be among the first to be picked for a team.

Everyone wanted to be picked first, everyone wanted to line up there beside one of the two captains. No-one wanted to be picked last, even when there were enough places for everyone to get a game.

I can still see them: 9- or 10-year-old boys, jumping up and down on the grass, waving our hands or pointing at our chests, and pleading: “Me, me, please pick me, I’m your friend.”

“Me, me, please pick me.”

And then when we were picked, how we wanted the glory. Slow at passing the ball, in case I might not get to score the goal. Thinking it better to lose the ball in a tackle than to pass it and risk to someone else scoring the goal and gaining the glory.

And that’s who James and John remind me of: wanting to be picked first, wanting to be the first to line up beside the team captain, being glory seekers rather than team players.

No wonder the other ten were upset when they heard about this. But they are upset, not because they wanted to take on the servant model of discipleship and ministry. They are upset not because James and John had not yet grasped the point of it all. They are upset because they might have been counted out, because they might have missed out being on the first team, on the first XI.

And their upset actually turns to anger. Not the sort of young men you might expect to be role models as mature apostles.

Did James and John think that opting to follow Jesus, becoming disciples, was a good career move?

And what did James and John want in reality?

They wanted that one would sit on Christ’s right hand and the other on his left.

Now, even that might not have been too bad an ambition. The man who stood at the right hand of the Emperor in the Byzantine court was the Emperor’s voice. What he said was the emperor’s word. And so, in the creed, when we declare our belief that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, we mean not that there is some heavenly couch on which all three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are seated, comfy and cosy, as if waiting to watch their favourite television sit-com or this evening’s rugby match.

A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

When we say that Christ “is seated at the right hand of the Father,” we mean that Christ is the Word of God. In some way, I suppose, this is what Andrei Rublev was trying to convey in his icon of the Visitation of Abraham, his icon of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament.

In that icon, the Father and the Spirit are seated on each side of the Son. In that icon, Christ is depicted wearing not the elaborate high-priestly stole of a bishop, but the simple stole of a deacon at the table.

When James and John say they want to be seated at the right and left of Christ in his glory – not when they were sitting down to a snack, or watching a match together, or even at the Last Supper, but in his glory (see verse 37) – they are expressing an ambition to take the place of, to replace God.

Little do they realise, it seems, that to be like God is to take on Christ’s humility, as we are reminded in this morning’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (see Hebrews 5: 8-10).

We are made in the image and likeness of God, and then God asks us, invites us to return to that image and likeness when Christ comes in our image and likeness – not as a Byzantine Emperor or a Roman tyrant, but just as one of us.

Just as one of us: he did not seek glory, or honour or power. He came to us as an exile, he came in tears and crying, he came in suffering and in death.

Those who serve Christ today are those who attend to the crying, suffering and dying.

If we would seek to stand alongside Christ today in all his glory, then we should seek to stand alongside those with ‘loud cried and tears’ (Hebrews 5: 7), those who weep, those who suffer, those who are powerless, those whose lives are worth little and those who are ransomed.

In a sermon almost 400 years ago on Whit Sunday 1622, the Caroline Divine Lancelot Andrewes talks about a “ministry or service; and that on foot, and through the dust; for so is the nature of the word.”

Saint Paul uses regularly talks about ministry as διακονία, as if the foundation of is seeing that the hungry are served at the table, meeting the needs of those who are neglected and needy, collecting and distributing charity and making sure they are fed.

I was reminded in Crete recently that ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In its crudest meaning, the word liturgy (Λειτουργία) comes from the word λαός, meaning the people, not nice people, good people, people like us, but in its crudest use in Greek it refers to the many. The liturgy is for the benefit of the many, the riff-raff, even the beggars: “this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many …”

A theatre poster in Crete recently reminded me that The Beggars’ Opera translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα.

In other words, the liturgy of the Church only becomes a true service when we also serve the oppressed, when we become God’s ears that hear the cry of the poor, and act on that, when through the Church Christ hears that cry of the bruised and the broken.

And to do this great task, as our ambitious pair, James and John, are reminded in our Gospel reading this morning, we must first be servants and slaves (Mark 10: 43-44).

To be a great Church, to be the Church in its fullness, we must be a Servant Church, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for [the] many” (Mark 10: 45).

If we would follow Christ, as Christians and as the Church, then we are called first and foremost to serve the suffering, those who call out in loud cries and who are in tears.

For you, who are the suffering, who are those whose cries are unheard unless they cry out loud, who are those whose prayers cry out for response (see Hebrews 5: 1-10)?

In responding to their needs, to their cries, to their prayers, we shall find ourselves drinking the cup that he drinks, or to be baptised with his baptism (see verses 38 and 40), that we shall find ourselves at Christ’s right hand and at his left in his glory (Mark 10: 37)

Of course James and John found their request was granted, but not in the way they expected. This hot-headed pair, the sons of Zebedee, went on to serve the community of the baptised and the community that shared in the one bread and the one cup, the community that is the Church, the community that in baptism and in the shared meal is the Body of Christ.

James – not James the Brother of the Lord, whom we remember next Friday (23 October 2015), but James the Great – was executed by the sword and became one of the first Christian martyrs (see Acts 12: 1-12).

John too lived a life of service and suffering: he was exiled on Patmos, and although he died in old age in Ephesus, there were numerous attempts to make him a martyr.

Saint John the Evangelist with the poisoned chalice ... a window in Saint John’s Church, Monkstown, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to tradition, during the reign of the Emperor Domitian Saint John was once given a cup of poisoned wine, but he blessed the cup and the poison rose out of the cup in the form of a serpent. Saint John then drank the wine with no ill effect.

It may be pious myth, but it seeks to tell us that Saint John too takes up the challenge to drink the cup that Christ drinks (Mark 10: 38-39).

For there is another poison that can damage the Church today – we can fail to love.

It is in sharing and serving with those who are most like Christ in his suffering that the world becomes united with the Christ we meet in Word and Sacrament here this morning.

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45).

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

Mark 10: 35-45

35 Καὶ προσπορεύονται αὐτῷ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης οἱ υἱοὶ Ζεβεδαίου λέγοντες αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, θέλομεν ἵνα ὃ ἐὰν αἰτήσωμέν σε ποιήσῃς ἡμῖν. 36 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τί θέλετέ [με] ποιήσω ὑμῖν; 37 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Δὸς ἡμῖν ἵνα εἷς σου ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξ ἀριστερῶν καθίσωμεν ἐν τῇ δόξῃ σου. 38 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε. δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω, ἢ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθῆναι; 39 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Δυνάμεθα. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω πίεσθε καὶ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθήσεσθε, 40 τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἢ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν δοῦναι, ἀλλ' οἷς ἡτοίμασται.

41 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ δέκα ἤρξαντο ἀγανακτεῖν περὶ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωάννου. 42 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ δοκοῦντες ἄρχειν τῶν ἐθνῶν κατακυριεύουσιν αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ μεγάλοι αὐτῶν κατεξουσιάζουσιν αὐτῶν. 43 οὐχ οὕτως δέ ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν: ἀλλ' ὃς ἂν θέλῃ μέγας γενέσθαι ἐν ὑμῖν, ἔσται ὑμῶν διάκονος, 44 καὶ ὃς ἂν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι πρῶτος, ἔσται πάντων δοῦλος: 45 καὶ γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν.

Mark 10: 35-45 (NRSV)

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 36 And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37 And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38 But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39 They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Holy Spirit equips your Church with a rich variety of gifts:
Grant us so to use them that, living the gospel of Christ
and eager to do your will,
we may share with the whole creation in the joys of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son, the light unfailing,
has come from heaven to deliver the world
from the darkness of ignorance:
Let these holy mysteries open the eyes of our understanding
that we may know the way of life, and walk in it without stumbling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Solemn Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin, on 18 October 2015.

The story of Saint John the Evangelist
and drinking from the poisoned chalice

‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ (Mark 10: 38) … Saint John with the poisoned chalice, a statue on the Great Gate of Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 October 2015, the 20th Sunday after Trinity,

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin,

9 a.m., The Said Eucharist.

Readings:
Job 38: 1-7; Psalm 104: 1-10, 26, 37c; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45.

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

I know it is not traditional to have a sermon at this quiet, reflective celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday mornings here in Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

But I thought I would share one short story that has been going around my mind while I was reflecting on this morning’s Gospel story (Mark 10: 35-45) and working on my sermon for the Solemn Eucharist later this morning at 11 a.m.

For many years now I have taken a study break each year, staying in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. It is only three or four minutes’ walking distance from Saint John’s College and its Great Gate, which was completed almost 500 years ago in 1516.

The tower was built by William Swayne, the master mason who was also employed at King's College Chapel.

High above the heavy wooden gates and the carving of the coat of arms of the Foundress, Lady Margaret Beaufort, is a statue of Saint John the Evangelist, who gives his name to the college.

At Saint John’s feet is an eagle, the traditional symbol of Saint John. In his hands, he holds a poisoned chalice, with a snake emerging from it.

Tradition says that during the reign of the Emperor Domitian Saint John was once given a cup of poisoned wine. But he blessed the cup and the poison rose out of the cup in the form of a serpent. Saint John then drank the wine with no ill effect.

In our Gospel reading this morning (Mark 10: 35-45), the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask to be seated at Christ’s right hand and his left hand.

But in reply, Christ challenges them: ‘Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ (Mark 10: 38-39).

What is that cup? What is that baptism?

We get a clear glimpse of the answer in our New Testament reading (Hebrews 5: 10).

Christ seeks not to be identified with the mighty and powerful, but with the powerless and the suffering. He cries with those who cry out loud with tears, and suffers with those who are suffering.

Saint James and Saint John are reminded this morning of the commitment that discipleship demands … to weep with those who weep, to serve those on the margins, to suffer with the suffering.

Who are these for you today, this day, this morning?

The story of Saint John and the poisoned chalice, illustrated on that Great Gate in Cambridge, may be pious myth, but it seeks to tell us that Saint John takes up the challenge to drink the cup that Christ drinks.

For there is another poison that can damage the Church today – we can fail to cry those who are suffering, we can fail to serve those who need to be served … and we can fail to love.

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

Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Holy Spirit equips your Church with a rich variety of gifts:
Grant us so to use them that, living the gospel of Christ
and eager to do your will,
we may share with the whole creation in the joys of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer

God our Father,
whose Son, the light unfailing,
has come from heaven to deliver the world
from the darkness of ignorance:
Let these holy mysteries open the eyes of our understanding
that we may know the way of life, and walk in it without stumbling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was preached at the Said Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin, on 18 October 2015.