15 January 2017

Confronting the world and
comforting the many in Christ

The ‘Homeless Christ’ by the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz in the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

Sunday 15 January 2017, The Second Sunday after the Epiphany,

11 a.m., The Cathedral Eucharist

Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 40: 1-12 (recte Psalm 40: 1-11); I Corinthians 1: 1-9; John 1: 29-42.

In the name of + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

How long does the Season of Christmas last for?

In your house, have you taken down the decorations, the cards, the tree?

Is the crib long gone?

Or are the three wise men still there … and for how long?

How long does Epiphany last for?

We are still in the season of Epiphany, and there are three Gospel stories that tell the Epiphany story:

● the Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12);
● the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (Matthew 3: 13-17; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 3: 21-22); and
● Changing water into wine at the Wedding in Cana (John 2: 1-12).

Saint John’s Gospel has no story of the first Christmas, no child in the crib, and no Visit of the Magi.

Instead, in the Fourth Gospel Jesus first walks onto the stage, like the principal character in a Greek drama, as Saint John the Baptist is baptising in the River Jordan and talking about what is to be.

And, in good dramatic style, letting us know what to expect as the drama unfolds on this stage, John the Baptist uses three ways to describe Christ this morning.

He is:

● ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (verse 29 and 36);
● ‘A man … who was before me’ (verse 30);
● ‘The Son of God’ (verse 34).

There is a Gnostic tendency in a particular strain of Christianity that limits Christ to personal knowledge, personal sin and personal salvation. But this Gospel has none of these limitations or inhibitions.

The Lamb of God is taking away not just my sins, not just our sins, not just the sins of Christians, not just the sins of many, or the sins of those we judge as transgressors – not even the sin of the world, but the sin of the κόσμος (cosmos), the whole created order. The word used here is not sins but the singular sin of the cosmos: ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου.

We are living in very tense and precarious times in the world, a world that is seeing the triumph of fear over trust, hate over love, racism over tolerance, xenophobia over diversity, misogyny and sexism over equality, and lies over truth.

This is the cosmos, and in the midst of our fears, uncertainty and insecurity, Christ walks onto this stage this morning, to confront and to take away the sin of, the denial of, the threat to, the destruction of, God’s good created order, the cosmos.

Today’s Gospel reading is a reminder in the middle of the Epiphany season that Christ has come, not just as a cuddly baby in the Christmas crib, not just to give me personal comfort, not just to give me a personal revelation, but to confront the whole created order, and to reconcile the whole created order to God’s plan.

This morning’s Gospel story also links the arrival of Christ on the stage, in the cosmos, with the call of the Disciples, links seeing and believing, being and doing, baptism and discipleship.

So who do the disciples say Christ is?

They have three very different descriptions for him. They say he is:

● A Rabbi or Teacher (verse 38);
● the one to see and follow (verse 39);
● the Messiah or the anointed one (verse 41).

Who is Christ for you?

Who is Christ for visitors to this Cathedral?

1, Firstly, I notice, time and again, that the first meeting with Christ, the first confrontation with Christ for many visitors to this cathedral, is the statue of the ‘Homeless Christ’ by the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, just inside the main gates.

There are probably as many views here this morning about the stand-off at Apollo House as there are people here.

But whatever you think about the occupiers, the activists, the courts or the Government, the shame is not in any of the actions or decisions by these different groups, but in the very fact that there is a housing crisis in this city today, that anybody should be homeless in the capital city of one of the most thriving economies in Europe.

And when Apollo House fades from our memories, the problem of homeless people living in our doorways on our streets is going to continue.

That statue of the ‘Homeless Christ’ is the first image of Christ that visitors meet here this morning. It is a reminder

● that the Christ Child, after the visit of the Magi, becomes a homeless refugee;

● that the Christ of the Gospels is ‘the Son of Man [who] has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8: 20; Luke 9: 58);

● that even in death Christ is buried in the tomb of someone else (Matthew 27: 57-60; Mark 15: 42-46; Luke 23: 50-55; John 19: 40-42).

This statue is a fresh challenge, a new challenge, for the Homeless Jesus is also the Risen Christ, still bearing the marks of his Crucifixion. He is a living challenge to us today.

2, The second meeting with Christ for visitors to this Cathedral should be the welcome given and received here.

Saint Paul tells us to ‘welcome one another … as Christ has welcomed you’ (Romans 15: 7). And the Rule of Saint Benedict advises: ‘All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for he is going to say, I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Rule of Saint Benedict 53: 1).

When we share the peace in a few moments’ time, share that peace with someone you do not know, enjoy the moment of giving and receiving hospitality, of meeting Christ in one another.

3, The third meeting with Christ is Christ present in the Word. This morning, the Word of God should challenge me and challenge you. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus asks Andrew and Simon Peter: ‘What are you looking for?’ (verse 38). And in that meeting, they are invited on a journey, on a pilgrimage, on a quest to make the Kingdom of God challenge the ways of the kingdoms of the world.

We are challenged not just to meet Christ, but to walk with him, to journey with him, to be disciples.

4, The fourth meeting with Christ is Christ present in the Sacrament. ‘This is my Body … this is my blood.’ We are the Body of Christ. As we are going to affirm here later this morning, ‘We being many are one body, for we all share in the one bread’ (Book of Common Prayer, p. 218) – we are the Body of Christ sharing the Body of Christ.

This sacrament is not for the few, for the holy or for the pious. This is ‘for you and for many …’ (Book of Common Prayer, pp 210, 215, 217).

The many, hoi polloi (οἱ πολλοί), are the many, the masses, those ‘out there.’ The phrase is first used around 431 BC by Pericles is his ‘Funeral Oration,’ according to Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War (2.34-2.46). Pericles contrasts the few, οἱ ὀλίγοι (hoi oligoi), ‘the few’ in Athens who want to be the oligarchy, with ‘the many’ they would exclude but who are ‘the many’ who are supposed to benefit from democracy and the positive structures of society.

Christ forms no exclusive club, no elite no oligarchy. He is here on the margins, in the welcome, in Word and in Sacrament, for us and for the many. Indeed, in Christ there is no us and them, there is only us.

5, The fifth meeting with Christ morning in this cathedral is when we go out into the world, out among the many, among the homeless, among those who become and are made the victims of oligarchies.

To see Christ, to meet Christ, is to follow Christ and to be sent out into the world by him.

Bishop Frank Weston, who was Bishop of Zanzibar, held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social values. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. The one thing we need to learn, he said, ‘is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.’

In his keynote address at the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923, he concluded: ‘But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.’

In Christ there is no wall or barrier, there is no place for racism and hatred, no time for misogyny and discrimination, no brief for power-lust and war-mongering.

Behold the Lamb of God. He takes away, from us and from the many, the sin of the cosmos. He transforms the poverty of our nature, and with the riches of his grace he nourishes us with the bread of heaven and fills us with the Spirit so that the light of his glory may shine in all the world … not for me in my small corner and you in yours, but in the whole cosmos.

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

The Triptych of the Baptism of Christ in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with bread from heaven.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 1: 29-42

29 Τῇ ἐπαύριον βλέπει τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐρχόμενον πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ λέγει, Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου. 30 οὗτός ἐστιν ὑπὲρ οὗ ἐγὼ εἶπον, Ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεται ἀνὴρ ὃς ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν. 31 κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ' ἵνα φανερωθῇ τῷ Ἰσραὴλ διὰ τοῦτο ἦλθον ἐγὼ ἐν ὕδατι βαπτίζων. 32 Καὶ ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων ὅτι Τεθέαμαι τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον ὡς περιστερὰν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, καὶ ἔμεινεν ἐπ' αὐτόν. 33 κἀγὼ οὐκ ᾔδειν αὐτόν, ἀλλ' ὁ πέμψας με βαπτίζειν ἐν ὕδατι ἐκεῖνός μοι εἶπεν, Ἐφ' ὃν ἂν ἴδῃς τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον καὶ μένον ἐπ' αὐτόν, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ βαπτίζων ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. 34 κἀγὼ ἑώρακα, καὶ μεμαρτύρηκα ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ.

35 Τῇ ἐπαύριον πάλιν εἱστήκει ὁ Ἰωάννης καὶ ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ δύο, 36 καὶ ἐμβλέψας τῷ Ἰησοῦ περιπατοῦντι λέγει, Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. 37 καὶ ἤκουσαν οἱ δύο μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος καὶ ἠκολούθησαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ. 38 στραφεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ θεασάμενος αὐτοὺς ἀκολουθοῦντας λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί ζητεῖτε; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Ῥαββί (ὃ λέγεται μεθερμηνευόμενον Διδάσκαλε), ποῦ μένεις; 39 λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἔρχεσθε καὶ ὄψεσθε. ἦλθαν οὖν καὶ εἶδαν ποῦ μένει, καὶ παρ' αὐτῷ ἔμειναν τὴν ἡμέραν ἐκείνην: ὥρα ἦν ὡς δεκάτη. 40 Ην Ἀνδρέας ὁ ἀδελφὸς Σίμωνος Πέτρου εἷς ἐκ τῶν δύο τῶν ἀκουσάντων παρὰ Ἰωάννου καὶ ἀκολουθησάντων αὐτῷ: 41 εὑρίσκει οὗτος πρῶτον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τὸν ἴδιον Σίμωνα καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Εὑρήκαμεν τὸν Μεσσίαν (ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Χριστός): 42 ἤγαγεν αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν. ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Σὺ εἶ Σίμων ὁ υἱὸς Ἰωάννου: σὺ κληθήσῃ Κηφᾶς (ὃ ἑρμηνεύεται Πέτρος).

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptising with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32 And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at the Cathedral Eucharist on 15 January 2017.

‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1: 29) … the Lamb seated on the Throne – a fresco on a ceiling in a monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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