09 July 2017

An invitation to move from being at
the Liturgy to being in the Liturgy

Imagine going to a wedding but not getting onto the floor and dancing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 9 July 2017,

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity,

9.30 a.m.:
Castletown Church, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer.

11.30 a.m.: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer.

Readings: Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 10-17; Romans 7: 15-25a; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30.

A reflection on today’s readings prepared by Patrick Comerford

Have you ever stayed up late, far too late, too late into the night, watching your favourite sport late at night on the television?

The World Cup qualifiers, the Lions tour of Zealand, late-night golf and tennis – they all offer gripping entertainment.

And even when the team we support or the player we identify with do not qualify, we keep on watching, waiting and hoping.

If this is you, then if you sit on the edge of your chair rather than resting back on a comfortable cushion, then you know the difference between being a spectator and being a participant.

You don’t have to fly any flags from your window, or have your face painted to still enter into the spirit of great sporting events.

And if Ireland qualifies later this year for the 2018 World Cup, then it’s all going to come around again next year.

Entering into the spirit of a game moves us from being mere spectators to feeling we truly are participants … that every shout and every roar is a passionate response, is true encouragement, is wish fulfilment … the more passion the more we not only hope but believe that our team is going to win.

When we go to baptisms, weddings and funerals, the attitude we go with makes a world of difference: do I go as a spectator or as a participant?

Imagine going to a funeral and failing to offer sympathy to those who are grieving and mourning.

Imagine going to a wedding reception, but not taking your place at the table, not cheering the bride and groom, not getting onto the floor and dancing.

Sometimes we can get a little too precious, a little too worried about sending out the wrong signals. If we stand back, then like John the Baptist in this morning’s Gospel reading are we in danger of being reproached for being aloof from others (see Matthew 11: 18)? If we enjoy ourselves, then, like Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading, are we going to be seen as too interested in eating and drinking (verse 19; cf Romans 7: 15-16)?

When we go to church on Sundays, we have to ask ourselves whether we are here as spectators or as participants.

When we join in waves and chants at a football match, when join in the dance at weddings, when we sing the hymns and enter into the prayers in church on a Sunday, we are moving from being observers and spectators to being participants.

The great opportunity for this transformation is provided Sunday after Sunday, in the invitation to move from being at the Liturgy to being in the Liturgy.

There is very little detail about the actual wedding of Rebekah in our Old Testament reading this morning. But if you have been to the Middle East, or you have seen Fiddler on the Roof, you know that dancing at Jewish weddings is traditionally a male celebration.

At funerals in many Mediterranean countries, open mourning and weeping is sign not just of individual grief, but of public grief, and of the esteem the community holds for the person who has died.

These traditions were passed on through the generations – by children learning from adults, and by children teaching each other.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we see how Christ has noticed this in the streets and the back alleys as he moves through the towns and cities.

He sees the children playing, the boys playing wedding dances, and the girls playing funeral wailing and mourning.

He notices the ways in which children can reproach each other for not joining in their playfulness:

We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.
(verse 17)

Even as he speaks there is playfulness in the way Jesus phrases his observation, there is humour in the way he uses words that rhyme for dance and mourn at the end of each line of the children’s taunts.

Perhaps he is repeating an everyday rebuke at the time for people who stand back from what others are doing.

The boys playing tin whistles and tin drums are learning to become adult men. The girls wailing and beating their breasts in mock weeping are learning to become adult women. Each group is growing into the roles and rituals that will be expected of them when they mature.

Like all good children’s games, the point is the game, not who wins.

When we refuse to take part in the game, in the ritual, we refuse to take part in the shaping of society, we are in danger of denying our shared culture, denying our shared humanity.

If I stand back detached, and remain a mere observer of the joys and sorrow in the lives of others, I am not sharing in their humanity.

And in not sharing in your humanity, I am failing to acknowledge that you too are made in the image and likeness of God.

But when we rejoice with people in their joys, and when we mourn with people in their sorrows, we are putting into practice what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about us being not only made in the image and likeness of God individually but communally and collectively too as humanity. Amen.

This reflection was prepared for Morning Prayer on Sunday 9 July 2017. (Revd Canon) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.

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