Wednesday, 8 February 2017

A choice of hymns for celebrating
the Eucharist a few weeks before Lent

‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in the Church of Ireland Theological in Dublin for a few days teaching, and this evening I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the chapel of CITI. The visiting preacher this evening is my friend and colleague, the Revd Canon Professor Adrian Empey, former Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College and a former of Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

This evening, our celebration includes the Readings, Collect, Proper and Post-Communion Prayer for last Sunday [5 February 2017], the Fourth Sunday before Lent.

This photograph and this note on this evening’s hymns are included in the brochure for this evening’s Eucharist:

A note on this evening’s hymns:

Processional Hymn: ‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah’ (Church Hymnal, 647) is a popular Welsh hymn that has been translated into 75 languages. The original Welsh version was written in 1745 by the Revd William Williams (1717-1791), and was translated into English by Peter Williams in 1771. The tune is more recent and was written by John Hughes for a Welsh Baptist singing festival in 1909, but was not printed in a hymnal until it appeared in the Methodist Hymn Book in 1933.

Gloria: ‘Glory in the highest to the God of heaven’ (Church Hymnal, 693) was written in 1976 by the Revd Christopher Idle, who has written over 300 hymns. He is now retired and is an Honorary Assistant Minister at Holy Trinity, Bromley Common. This hymn is a reminder of the Communion of Saints gathered around the Lamb on the throne. The tune ‘Camberwell’ was written in 1960 by the Revd John Michael Brierley while he was an ordinand at Lichfield Theological College and to honour the Revd Geoffrey Beaumont, then Vicar of Camberwell and remembered for composing the Twentieth Century Folk Mass while he was the chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Gradual: ‘There is no moment of my life’ (Church Hymnal, 19) was written by the late Father William Brian Foley (1919-2000), and is set to the tune ‘Newbury’ in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 19). This tune is one of the folk melodies arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). He found the tune in a collection published by Miss MG Arkwright in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society. There it was used for a Christmas carol, ‘There’s six good days set in a week,’ also known as the ‘Hampshire Mummers’ Carol.’ Vaughan Williams harmonised the melody for the English Hymnal in 1906, and set it to ‘The Maker of the sun and moon’ by Laurence Housman (1865-1959).

Offertory: Vaughan Williams also wrote the tune for this evening’s offertory hymn, ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ (Church Hymnal, 610). The words are from ‘The Call,’ a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633), published in a posthumous collection of poetry, The Temple, in Cambridge in 1633. ‘The Call’ is essentially a meditation on Christ’s words to the Apostle Thomas: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14: 6). Herbert adds a number of additional allusions and offers real food for thought in the way he develops his theme. Because of the structure of each of the three stanzas, this poem is often described as ‘a trinity of trinities.’

Communion Hymn: As we receive Holy Communion, we sing ‘Jesus, remember me’ (Church Hymnal, 617), by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) and the Taizé Community. Berthier, in collaboration with Father Robert Giscard and Father Joseph Gelineau, developed the ‘songs of Taizé’ genre. He composed 284 songs and accompaniments for Taizé.

Post Communion Hymn: ‘Judge eternal, throned in splendour’ (Church Hymnal, 535) is the only known hymn by Canon Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), and embodies his two chief interests in life – social reform and the missionary work of the Church.

Matthew 6: 24-34, ‘So do not worry
about tomorrow, for tomorrow
will bring worries of its own

‘Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’ … a recent sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Each week in our Bible studies in a tutorial group we are looking at the Gospel readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday week. This morning [8 February 2017] we are looking at the readings for the Sunday after next, 19 February 2017, which is the Second Sunday before Lent.

The readings in ‘Option A’ for that Sunday, which take the theme of Creation, are: Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 3; Psalm 136 or Psalm 136: 1-9 (23-26); Romans 8: 18- 18-25; Matthew 6: 25-34.

The second Option, ‘Option B’, for Proper 3, includes these readings: Isaiah 49: 8-16a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34.

Matthew 6: (24) 25-34:

[24 Οὐδεὶς δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν: ἢ γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει, ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦἑτέρου καταφρονήσει: οὐ δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.]

25 Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν, μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν τί φάγητε [ἢ τί πίητε,] μηδὲ τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν τί ἐνδύσησθε: οὐχὶ ἡ ψυχὴ πλεῖόν ἐστιν τῆς τροφῆς καὶ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ ἐνδύματος; 26 ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν οὐδὲ συνάγουσιν εἰς ἀποθήκας, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τρέφει αὐτά: οὐχ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον διαφέρετε αὐτῶν; 27 τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν μεριμνῶν δύναται προσθεῖναι ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ πῆχυν ἕνα; 28 καὶ περὶ ἐνδύματος τί μεριμνᾶτε; καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν: οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν: 29 λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων. 30 εἰ δὲ τὸν χόρτον τοῦ ἀγροῦ σήμερον ὄντα καὶ αὔριον εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον ὁ θεὸς οὕτως ἀμφιέννυσιν, οὐ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς, ὀλιγόπιστοι; 31 μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε λέγοντες, Τί φάγωμεν; ἤ, Τί πίωμεν; ἤ, Τί περιβαλώμεθα; 32 πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα τὰ ἔθνη ἐπιζητοῦσιν: οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος ὅτι χρῄζετε τούτων ἁπάντων. 33 ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ] καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν.

34 μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε εἰς τὴν αὔριον, ἡ γὰρ αὔριον μεριμνήσει ἑαυτῆς: ἀρκετὸν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἡ κακία αὐτῆς.

Translation (NRSV):

[24 [Jesus said:] ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.]

25 [Jesus said:] ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Do not worry about tomorrow?

Do not worry about tomorrow?

Imagine two different ways of reading this Gospel passage.

The first is if you have a respectable and well-paying job, a good house in suburbia, a decent car, adult children who have good prospects too, you have regular holidays, and can change your car every two or three years.

The second way to read it is to imagine yourself living in a deprived urban area, a single parent with a mortgaged house in negative equity, unemployed, and facing severe cuts in your welfare payments, an adult child with special needs, and an ageing parent who needs residential care that you cannot afford.

How then do you then receive the message, do not worry about what you will eat or drink or wear (verse 25), because God will take care of you? Today’s trouble is certainly more than enough for today.

For the first group, this is irrelevant, meaningless. You may be worried about higher taxes, winding down and preparing for retirement, that children marry the right sort of people. If you have worries, they are hidden from the neighbours, perhaps even hidden from yourself. Would you want them exposed and discussed in the pulpit?

For the second group, it verges on the absurd. If you have spent the last few years worrying about the roof your head, unable to afford and prepare adequate meals, worried about the friends and dangers your children meet, the future they face, then this is no easy message to hear. What does Christ mean, ‘do not worry’? Life is full of worries, every single waking day.

But is Christ really saying that the basic necessities of life do not matter? Is he really saying that the basic necessities of life will appear miraculously if only we believe in him correctly?

Let us first put this reading in context – Christ is talking to people who have enough, it seems. Otherwise, his encouragement not to worry would simply be cruel.

But, what about those who truly do not have enough?

How are they going to hear good news in this Gospel reading?

Though the message is going to be heard differently by those who have enough and those who do not, the message is really the same: do not fret.

If you have enough, be thankful, but beware of making an idol of having what you want, rather than merely what you need.

If you do not have enough, it is not because God does not love you. Christ is working to break the connection that was commonly made in his day: those who please God are rewarded with plenty, while those suffer have earned God’s displeasure.

We still make that connection. How often we have an inner feeling of glee when we think people get what they deserve. How often we think people have brought about their own downfall. How often we think people could improve their lot if only they were not indolent, if only they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.

Are we not warned about this in an Epistle reading (James 2: 1-13) for Evening Prayer one day in the previous week (14 February) evening?:

‘My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

‘You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.’

We often describe ourselves as a nation of begrudgers, too often, and too often we want grace for ourselves but law for others.

Christ encourages us to look beyond the narrow perspectives that attach virtue to success and vice to failure.

That challenge is expressed by Frederick Faber in the words of his hymn, ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ (Irish Church Hymnal # 9):

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.

If our love were but more simple,
we should take him at his word,
and our lives would be gladness
in the presence of the Lord.

God’s desire for us is that we all have enough, rather than calculating the degree to which each of us should be blessed or cursed.

That does not change the circumstances today for the single mother in Ballyogan or the unemployed father in Tallaght. But neither do present circumstances justify making political, economic and social decisions based on self-interest and selfishness.

In the Anglicanism module, in Year II, over the past few weeks I hope we have gained an appreciation of Thomas Cranmer’s role in compiling the Book of Common Prayer and the collects. Perhaps it is relevant this morning to recall the Collect for Peace, which is the Second Collect at Morning Prayer. This collect originated in the Sacramentary of Gelasius and was incorporated in the Sarum Breviary, from which Cranmer translated it in 1549:

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Kingdom of God has different values from life in the empire, or life in a profit-based society. The kingdom of God includes the poor, the merciful, those who mourn. The kingdom of God calls us to bring light to the darkest parts of the world, to be salt in the world, to be signs and sacraments of mercy and justice.

God is not promising to meet all our needs, like some shopping list brought to the Kingdom-value-supermarket, if we pay up with the right kind of prayers. Tomorrow is going to bring its worries: ‘for tomorrow will bring worries of its own’ (verse 34). But God does not bargain with us. God expects us to serve him through living out the kingdom values, and in that we find perfect freedom.

As we seek first the Kingdom of God we come to accept with joy the things God adds to us. Our trials and troubles remain real, but that reality can be transformed and made glorious as we serve God and seek to do God’s will.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 8 February 2017.