Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Saint James, a pillar of
the Church who puts love
at the heart of Christian life

Saint James the Brother of the Lord … icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, for Saint James Episcopal Church, Parkton, Maryland dedicated 26 October 2008

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Church Calendar [23 October 2018] we commemorate one of the key figures in the New Testament, Saint James the Brother of the Lord, who is described in the New Testament as a ‘brother of the Lord’ and in the Liturgy of Saint James as ‘the brother of God’ (Iάκωβος ο Αδελφόθεος, Jácobos Adelphótheos).

The relationship of James and Jesus is difficult to unravel for those who believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions say he was the half-brother or step-brother of Jesus and that Joseph already had children – that James was already a boy when Jesus was born (see Matthew 13: 55). The Gospels name the brothers of Jesus as James, Jude, Simon and Joses or Joseph (Matthew 13: 55; Mark 6: 3; see also Galatians 1: 19). Even Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities (20.9.1) describes James as ‘the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.’

Some would say that James could have been a nephew of Joseph, that cousins could have been called ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in the Aramaic spoken by Jesus, and that the Greek words adelphos and adelphe were not restricted to their literal meaning of a full brother or sister.

Whichever opinion you accept, this James is the James who is called James the Less (Mark 15: 4) to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee, who we encountered with John in our Gospel reading on Sunday last; or from James the Great, and who is also called James the Just because of his great holiness and righteousness.

We identify today’s James with the author of the Epistle of James. The Apostle Paul names him as one of the witnesses to the Risen Christ (I Corinthians 15: 3–8), and describes James, alongside Peter and John, as a pillar of the early Church (Galatians 2: 9).

The Letter of James, which we read in the Lectionary throughout the month of September, can be compared with some of the wonderful Wisdom Literature in the Hebrew Scriptures, with for example, its words of wisdom on true worship (James 1: 19-20), on discrimination and respect for the poor (2: 1-13), on the false dichotomy of faith and works (2: 14-26), on truth and careful speech (3: 1-12), godliness and worldliness (4: 1 to 5:6), on putting love at the heart of all relationships in the Christian community … and so on.

They are words of wisdom that we can all take to heart in a community such as this. The speak of how we speak about one another, how we respect one another, how we hold up one another, how we love each other even in spite of our failings towards one another.

We are to value one another, but not because of wealth or status or intellect; we are to listen to one another, and to be slow to speak and equally slow to anger; we are to bridle our tongues and not to speak loosely about one another. We are not just called to be Christians, but we must do Christianity too.

When we have difficulties, are hurt or tugging against one another in any Christian community – whether it is here, in our families, in your future parishes or dioceses – then the words of James are a wise reminder of how we can how that our Christian faith is not just a matter of being but also doing.

James was so important in the Early Church in Jerusalem that Eusebius describes him as the first Bishop of Jerusalem (Eccl. Hist., Book II: 23).

But how important was James in the Early Church in Jerusalem?

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that when Peter escapes from prison and flees Jerusalem, he asks that James be informed (Acts 12: 17).

Later, the Christians of Antioch ask whether Gentile Christians should be circumcised and send Paul and Barnabas to confer with the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15: 12-22). James charts a middle course, supporting those who oppose demanding circumcision for Gentile converts but suggesting prohibitions against eating blood and against eating meat sacrificed to idols.

When Saint Paul arrives in Jerusalem with the money he has raised for the Church there, he speaks to James, and James insists Paul should ritually cleanse himself at the Temple to prove his faith and to counter rumours of teaching rebellion against the Torah (Acts 21: 18ff).

The Acts of the Apostles is silent about James after the year 60. However, according to Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities (20: 9), ‘the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James’ met his death in the year 62, when he was condemned ‘on the charge of breaking the law.’

He was thrown from the wall of the Temple on the day of the Passover and was stoned. As he prayed for his slayers, his head was crushed by a wooden club wielded by a scribe.

How many of us would like to die like this? How many of us would aspire to being pillars of the Church? How many of us would like to be so close to Christ that we could be called brothers or sisters of the Lord, still more ‘the brother of God’ (Iάκωβος ο Αδελφόθεος, Jákobos Adelphótheos).

But to be a real brother of Christ, to be a real brother of God, is to be brothers and sisters to one another in Christ.

Many years ago, when a colleague who was leaving The Irish Times ahead of his ordination, a senior editorial figure said he was moving from being ‘a column in the Times to being a pillar of the Church.’

This morning we give thanks for James who was an early disciple and apostle, a witness to the Resurrection, a reconciler and a mediator in the early Church, a pillar of the Church, a writer, the author of a New Testament epistle, an early martyr, and a wise counsellor.

Readings: Isaiah 49: 1-6; Psalm 1; Acts 15: 12-22; Mark 3: 31-35.

Collect:

Lord God of peace:
Grant that after the example of your servant,
James the brother of our Lord,
your Church may give itself continually to prayer
and to the reconciliation of all
who are caught up in hatred or enmity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
we thank you that after your Resurrection you appeared to James,
and endowed him with gifts of leadership for your Church.
May we, who have known you now in the breaking of the bread,
be people of prayer and reconciliation.
We ask it for your love’s sake. Amen.




Monday, 22 October 2018

Is there more to blind
Bartimaeus than
we see at first sight?

What can blind Bartimaeus see that 12 have passed by? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was working in recent days on resources for next Sunday’s lectionary reading, including the Gospel reading (Mark 10: 46-52), in which Bartimaeus the blind beggar is healed by Christ outside the gates of Jericho.

Saint Mark gives tells us – or seems to tell us – the name of this blind beggar, ‘Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar’ (verse 46).

But the name Bartimaeus literally means ‘Son of Timaeus,’ and so we are told only the name of this man’s father. Bartimaeus is an unusual Semitic-Greek hybrid, and Timaeus is an unusual Greek name for this place and at that time.

Indeed, Timaeus may not be his father’s name at all, no more than James in John in yesterday’s reading are not the sons of ‘Thunder,’ but the sons of Zebedee.

So, who was Timaeus, and what is the significance of this apparently Greek name at this point in the Gospel story?

The culturally significant occurrence of this name may lie in the name of Timaeus (Τίμαιος), one of Plato’s dialogues, mostly in the form of a long monologue by the title character, Timaeus of Locri. He delivers Plato’s most important cosmological and theological treatise, involving sight as the foundation of knowledge, and describing the nature of the physical world, the purpose of the universe, and the creation of the soul.

The blind son of Timaeus cries out to ‘Jesus, Son of David’ and asks for mercy. This cry is one of the Biblical foundations of the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’

Until now, the disciples have been blind to who Jesus truly is. It takes a blind man to see the truth. When he does, Bartimaeus makes a politically charged statement. Jesus is ‘Son of David,’ King of the Jews, and Messiah. In other places, Christ orders silence on the matter, but not here. His time is approaching.

The cloak Bartimaeus throws off (verse 50) is probably the cloth he uses to receive alms he is begging for. When he throws away his cloak away, he gives up all he has to follow Christ. In this Gospel, garments often indicate the old order, so Bartimaeus accepts the new order.

Socrates describes his ideal state the day before the dialogue involving Timaeus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Plato is depicted in Raphael’s The School of Athens carrying a bound copy of Timaeus. Plato’s Timaeus (Τίμαιος), written ca 360 BC, speculates on the nature of the physical world and human beings, and is followed by the dialogue Critias.

The participants in the dialogue include Socrates, Timaeus, Hermocrates, and Critias. Some scholars believe that it is not the Critias of the Thirty Tyrants who appeares in this dialogue, but his grandfather, who is also named Critias. It has been suggested that Timaeus was influenced by a book about Pythagoras, written by Philolaus.

The dialogue takes place the day after Socrates describes his ideal state. In Plato’s works such a discussion occurs in the Republic. Socrates feels that his description of the ideal state was not sufficient for the purposes of entertainment and that ‘I would be glad to hear some account of it engaging in transactions with other states.’

Hermocrates wishes to oblige Socrates and mentions that Critias knows just the account to do so. Critias proceeds to tell the story of Solon’s journey to Egypt where he hears the story of Atlantis, and how Athens used to be an ideal state that subsequently waged war against Atlantis. Critias believes that he is getting ahead of himself, and mentions that Timaeus will tell part of the account from the origin of the universe to humanity.

Timaeus begins with a distinction between the physical world, and the eternal world. The physical one is the world that changes and perishes: therefore, it is the object of opinion and unreasoned sensation. The eternal one never changes: therefore it is apprehended by reason: ‘As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief.’

Timaeus suggests that since nothing becomes or changes without cause, then the cause of the universe must be the father and maker of the universe.

Timaeus continues with an explanation of the creation of the universe, which he ascribes to the handiwork of a divine craftsman.

‘Wherefore, using the language of probability, we may say that the world became a living creature truly endowed with soul and intelligence by the providence of God.’

Timaeus explains how the soul of the world was created, with two bands in their middle, like in the letter Χ (chi).

The Timaeus conjectures on the composition of the four elements that some ancient Greeks thought constituted the physical universe: earth, water, air, and fire. The dodecahedron, with 12 faces, was taken to represent the shape of the Universe as a whole, and was the shape into which God had formed the Universe.

The Timaeus was the only Platonic dialogue, and one of the few works of classical natural philosophy, available to Latin readers in the early Middle Ages. It had a strong influence on mediaeval Neoplatonic cosmology and was commented on particularly by 12th century Christian philosophers of the Chartres School, such as Thierry of Chartres and William of Conches, who, interpreting it in the light of the Christian faith, and understood the dialogue to refer to a creatio ex nihilo.

Perhaps we pass over the name of Bartimaeus too quickly, and need to understand how significant a tole he plays. He is to be found outside the gates, he names who Christ is, and he has other insights into the significance of the Twelve and the Universe than the disciples can ever grasp on the final part of the journey along the road to Jerusalem.

Plato is depicted in Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ carrying a bound copy of ‘The Timaeus’

A peaceful image of
Shina Muslims on
the streets of Limerick

Shia Muslims marching peacefully through the streets of Limerick at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Walking through the city centre of Limerick at the weekend, there was large group of people flying red flags as they processed along O’Connell Street, waving red flags and with a garda car moving slowly in front of the march leaders.

Was this a protest march in sympathy with the massive anti-Brexit protest by 600,000 people in London at the same time?

Or could some people have started a little early in celebrating the centenary of the Limerick Soviet?

Was it a protest against the housing problems or hospital queues?

There were no rally cries, no chants and muted sounds. No chants of ‘No, No, No,’ ‘Out, Out, Out’ or even ‘When do we want it? Now!’

As I arrived at the head of the march, I realised how wrong my presumptions were. This was large group of Shia Muslims from the whoishussain organisation, marking Ashura or the martyrdom of Hussain at Kerbala a month later.

Meanwhile, further along O’Connell Street, the Mormons were canvassing on one corner, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses had their pitch diagonally opposite them – both groups probably as far removed from Christianity as the Shia Muslims on the street, but attracting far less attention.

They Shia marchers were dignified, they were modest, they were demure, and they were certainly lacking in any shows of aggression. They prayed quietly and beat their chests slowly and rhythmically as they moved along O’Connell Street.

Unlike the opposing Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses on the next street corner, they prayed as the moved slowly, and they made no efforts to proselytise, apart from handing out a few leaflets and bottles of water.

The banner heading their march quoted Hussein as saying: ‘If you do not believe in religion and do not fear the hereafter, then at least be free from tyranny and arrogance.’

They said they were taking a stand around the world against violence and injustice, and wanted to ‘transform the world into an oasis of peace.’

It was a sharp contrast with many prejudicial images of Muslims in the world today. And it was a welcome contrast to the projections forced onto Shia Muslims in Iran and Yemen by Trump and his allies in Saudi Arabia.

A few weeks ago, early one morning in the quiet still before the city came to life, I had noticed four Buddhist monks making their way along O’Connell Street in dignified silence, and commented that there are surprises waiting for us when we keep our heads up and our eyes open.

Limerick is a city of diversity, pluralism and tolerance. If only this city was a microcosm or cross-section of the world.

Shia Muslims marching peacefully through O’Connell Street in Limerick at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Two fonts, two children,
and Baptism in Askeaton

The Baptism font in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

Sunday 21 October 2018

2.30 p.m., Holy Baptism.

Readings:
Acts 9: 1-20; Matthew 28: 16-20.

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

Baptism is a family event, and how wonderful it is that two first cousins, Beatrice and Chloe, are being baptised together, in the same church, on the same day.

You may have noticed on your way in here this afternoon that we have two fonts here in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeston.

No, we are not planning to use one font for each baptism, one for each child. One font is an old, historical font, moved into the porch many years ago from the church in Shanagolden, close to the Langford family home. The other, the one we are using for this afternoon’s Baptism, is just inside the Church door.

The position of both these fonts is important. They are not there by accident, or for convenience, as though the back of the church is a good place to store them when they are not in use.

As we come into Church, they are reminders in that position that Baptism is our entry into the Church.

Baptism is not a naming ceremony. Beatrice and Chloe are already well-known by the names their parents have given them. Nor is it a ceremony of welcome into the family. Chloe and Beatrice are well-loved for many months now in a wider circle family and friends.

Baptism is our entrance into the Church, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. That is why the font is at the point where people enter the church, where people are welcomed into the Church.

There are eight sides to this font, reminding us of the family of Noah, all eight of them, who were saved from the waters of the flood in the ark. They were not a select group but represent the whole of humanity.

Sometimes, the inside of a church looks like an up-turned boat, the inside of an ark. That is why this part of the church is called the nave. In Baptism, we are all in the one boat together, we are all formed into one new extended family, we are all in this together, equals because we are one in Christ.

In the waters of Baptism, we are saved by being incorporated into the Body of Christ. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us.

Think of how the waters of creation are at the beginning of the Creation story; the slaves are brought from slavery to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea; Christ lets the Samaritan woman at the well know that he is the Living Water – as the lettering in the Sanctuary remind us, he is the Fountain of Life.

Water pours from his side at the Crucifixion, at the end of his Passion. And the Disciples know he is Risen when they met him in the morning by the waters of the lake.

With his baptism, Saul becomes Paul, in our very dramatic reading from the Acts of the Apostles. He moves from breathing threats and murder, to becoming a great Apostle himself.

He moves from his old ways of hatred and violence to proclaiming, not once, not twice, but on three occasions:

‘… for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law’ (Romans 13: 9); ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13: 10); and, ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Galatian 5: 14).

There is one water of Baptism. And, in time, when Beatrice and Chloe come to receive Holy Communion, they will be showing how they are part of this Body of Christ, this one family, and sharing in its mission into the wide, wonderful, beautiful world out there.

And so, as members of the Body of Christ, we share the water of the Baptism of Chloe and Beatrice, and we must keep them in our prayers constantly after this day.

To paraphrase the words of the Post-Communion Prayer today, we pray:

Father of light,
in whom is no change or shadow of turning,
you give us every good and perfect gift
and have brought us to birth by your word of truth.
May Beatrice and Chloe – and all of us – be a living sign of that kingdom,
where your whole creation will be made perfect
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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 Collect:

Merciful Lord,
Grant to your faithful people pardon and peace,
that we may be cleansed from all our sins
and serve you with a quiet mind;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

658, One more step along the world I go (CD 38).
25, All things bright and beautiful (CD 2).

Acts 9: 1-20:

1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Matthew 28:16-20:

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

‘With thee is the fountain of life’ … a panel in the sanctuary in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This reflection was shared at a Baptism in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Sunday 21 October 2018.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘Whoever wishes to become great
among you must be your servant’

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined its measurements – surely you know!’ (Job 38: 4-5) … a window in the parish church in Moyvane, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 21 October 2018,

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI), Proper 24.


11.30 a.m.: the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

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.

We all come to God with our own bundle of questions, our own requests, our own expectations. And the answers sometimes take us aback not only in content but also in form and experience.

Job has had deep and searching questions. But when the response comes Job’s experience is very unlike that of Elijah who finds the Lord is not in the wind, in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in the ‘still small voice’ (I Kings 19: 11-13).

Job answers God out of the whirlwind, and he puts very real questions to God. Where Job hears the voice of God has many resonances with the presence of God found in the Psalm.

In our Epistle reading, we are also reminded that the saving presence of God can be found too in suffering and sacrifice … God who responds gently to the ignorant and wayward through the suffering and sacrifice of Christ who is the great high priest.

Do we understand the place of suffering and challenge in being Christians, in being disciples? Certainly, James and John show little understanding about what lies before them as disciples as they come to Christ with their own questions and expectations. But once again, we find how God answers our questions in ways that we might never expect.

Earlier in Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9: 33-34), the disciples argued about which of them is the greatest. Now two members of the inner circle ask a favour of Jesus: they seek positions of special dignity at the heavenly banquet at the end of time (verse 37).

Now in this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 10: 35-45), unlike some other Gospel accounts, Saint Mark dismisses the idea that these ‘Sons of Thunder’ needed their mother’s help to ask for a special place for them. According to Saint Mark, these two go straight to Jesus themselves. They have a special request, a special demand, a special favour to ask for.

They want one to sit at his right hand, and the other at his left hand.

In my own way, I can identify with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Whenever I read this Gospel story, I think back to my childhood days. I remember all those preparations for football matches, or beach cricket, 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 us: 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, oh how we wanted the glory. Slow at passing the ball, in case I might not score the goal. Better to lose that ball in a tackle than to pass it to someone else and risk that someone else scoring the opening goal or, worse still, the winning goal.

And that is 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 this. But they were upset, not because they wanted to take on the servant model of priesthood and ministry. They were upset not because James and John had not yet grasped the point of it all. They were 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.

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

And what did James and John want, really, really want?

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 are seated, comfy and cosy, as if waiting to watch their favourite television sit-com.

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 Holy Spirit are seated to the right and left of the Son. Indeed, in that icon, Christ is wearing not the elaborate high-priestly stole of a bishop, but the simple stole of a deacon at the table.

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

But to be like God means to take on Christ’s humility, as we are reminded in this morning’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5: 1-10).

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.

Wanting to be first, wanting to be noticed by those who have power and privilege, is not a model for discipleship or for ministry.

The word liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgía) means the work for and of the people. But in its truest sense this is not the work of nice people, good people, people like us, but in its crudest use in Greek the work of the many, the service of riff-raff, even the beggars.

I was reminded in Crete a few years ago that The Beggars’ Opera translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα (laikí ópera), the work of the laity. The true laity are the needy with outstretched arms.

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 broken.

People who stretch out their hands in begging stretch out their hands just as we do when we beg to receive Christ in the Holy Communion, the Eucharist.

And the Eucharist, the Liturgy, become true sacrament when it becomes, when we make it, a taste, a sign, a token of the promise of, a thirsting for the Kingdom of God.

To do this great task, as the ambitious pair in this Gospel reading, James and John, are reminded, we must first be deacons, servants, waiters at the table to meet the needs of the needy outside the doors of the church, in the streets and the laneways.

To be a great Church, 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).

All of us in the Church as disciples are called first and foremost to serve. And when we serve the people, when in obedience we meet them in their suffering, then we can hear their cries and their prayers and truly serve them in the services of the Church and in the Divine Liturgy (see Hebrews 5: 1-10).

Christ asks us that in this Gospel reading. Are we willing to drink the cup that he drinks, or to be baptised with his baptism (see verses 38 and 40)?

Of course, James and John were willing to drink that cup. See how 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.

Saint James – not Saint James the Brother of the Lord, whom we remember on Tuesday (23 October 2018), but Saint James the Great – was executed by the sword and became one of the first Christian martyrs (see Acts 12: 1-12).

Saint John too lived a life of service to the Church: he was exiled on Patmos, and although he died in old age in Ephesus, there were numerous attempts to make him a martyr. And, of course, he gave his name to in the Johannine writings in the New Testament: the Fourth Gospel, three epistles and the Book of Revelation.

Martyrdom comes in many forms. In essence, the word martyr means witness. But the first step in martyrdom is dying to self, to self-ambition, to self-seeking, to self-serving. Our lives must be lives that are testimony or witness to your most cherished beliefs, testimony to Christ himself.

‘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, Amen.

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

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.’

In Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity, the Christ-figure is wearing a simple deacon’s stole, and is seated with the Father and the Holy Spirit to his left and to his right

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
Grant to your faithful people pardon and peace,
that we may be cleansed from all our sins
and serve you with a quiet mind;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Father of light,
in whom is no change or shadow of turning,
you give us every good and perfect gift
and have brought us to birth by your word of truth.
May we be a living sign of that kingdom,
where your whole creation will be made perfect
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

34, O worship the King (CD 2)
226, It is a thing most wonderful (CD 14)
366, Praise my soul, the king of heaven (CD 22)

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 baptised with?’ (Mark 10: 38) … an icon of Christ in an antique shop in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘For the Son of Man came not
to be served but to serve’

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 baptised with?’ (Mark 10: 38) … an icon of Christ in an antique shop in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 21 October 2018,

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI), Proper 24.


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

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.

We all come to God with our own bundle of questions, our own requests, our own expectations. And the answers sometimes take us aback not only in content but also in form and experience.

Job has had deep and searching questions. But when the response comes Job’s experience is very unlike that of Elijah who finds the Lord is not in the wind, in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in the ‘still small voice’ (I Kings 19: 11-13).

Job answers God out of the whirlwind, and he puts very real questions to God. Where Job hears the voice of God has many resonances with the presence of God found in the Psalm.

In our Epistle reading, we are also reminded that the saving presence of God can be found too in suffering and sacrifice … God who responds gently to the ignorant and wayward through the suffering and sacrifice of Christ who is the great high priest.

Do we understand the place of suffering and challenge in being Christians, in being disciples? Certainly, James and John show little understanding about what lies before them as disciples as they come to Christ with their own questions and expectations. But once again, we find how God answers our questions in ways that we might never expect.

Earlier in Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9: 33-34), the disciples argued about which of them is the greatest. Now two members of the inner circle ask a favour of Jesus: they seek positions of special dignity at the heavenly banquet at the end of time (verse 37).

Now in this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 10: 35-45), unlike some other Gospel accounts, Saint Mark dismisses the idea that these ‘Sons of Thunder’ needed their mother’s help to ask for a special place for them. According to Saint Mark, these two go straight to Jesus themselves. They have a special request, a special demand, a special favour to ask for.

They want one to sit at his right hand, and the other at his left hand.

In my own way, I can identify with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Whenever I read this Gospel story, I think back to my childhood days. I remember all those preparations for football matches, or beach cricket, 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 us: 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, oh how we wanted the glory. Slow at passing the ball, in case I might not score the goal. Better to lose that ball in a tackle than to pass it to someone else and risk that someone else scoring the opening goal or, worse still, the winning goal.

And that is 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 this. But they were upset, not because they wanted to take on the servant model of priesthood and ministry. They were upset not because James and John had not yet grasped the point of it all. They were 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.

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

And what did James and John want, really, really want?

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 are seated, comfy and cosy, as if waiting to watch their favourite television sit-com.

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 Holy Spirit are seated to the right and left of the Son. Indeed, in that icon, Christ is wearing not the elaborate high-priestly stole of a bishop, but the simple stole of a deacon at the table.

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

But to be like God means to take on Christ’s humility, as we are reminded in this morning’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 5: 1-10).

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.

Wanting to be first, wanting to be noticed by those who have power and privilege, is not a model for discipleship or for ministry.

The word liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgía) means the work for and of the people. But in its truest sense this is not the work of nice people, good people, people like us, but in its crudest use in Greek the work of the many, the service of riff-raff, even the beggars.

I was reminded in Crete a few years ago that The Beggars’ Opera translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα (laikí ópera), the work of the laity. The true laity are the needy with outstretched arms.

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 broken.

People who stretch out their hands in begging stretch out their hands just as we do when we beg to receive Christ in the Holy Communion, the Eucharist.

And the Eucharist, the Liturgy, become true sacrament when it becomes, when we make it, a taste, a sign, a token of the promise of, a thirsting for the Kingdom of God.

To do this great task, as the ambitious pair in this Gospel reading, James and John, are reminded, we must first be deacons, servants, waiters at the table to meet the needs of the needy outside the doors of the church, in the streets and the laneways.

To be a great Church, 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).

All of us in the Church as disciples are called first and foremost to serve. And when we serve the people, when in obedience we meet them in their suffering, then we can hear their cries and their prayers and truly serve them in the services of the Church and in the Divine Liturgy (see Hebrews 5: 1-10).

Christ asks us that in this Gospel reading. Are we willing to drink the cup that he drinks, or to be baptised with his baptism (see verses 38 and 40)?

Of course, James and John were willing to drink that cup. See how 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.

Saint James – not Saint James the Brother of the Lord, whom we remember on Tuesday (23 October 2018), but Saint James the Great – was executed by the sword and became one of the first Christian martyrs (see Acts 12: 1-12).

Saint John too lived a life of service to the Church: he was exiled on Patmos, and although he died in old age in Ephesus, there were numerous attempts to make him a martyr. And, of course, he gave his name to in the Johannine writings in the New Testament: the Fourth Gospel, three epistles and the Book of Revelation.

Martyrdom comes in many forms. In essence, the word martyr means witness. But the first step in martyrdom is dying to self, to self-ambition, to self-seeking, to self-serving. Our lives must be lives that are testimony or witness to your most cherished beliefs, testimony to Christ himself.

‘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, Amen.

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

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.’

In Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity, the Christ-figure is wearing a simple deacon’s stole, and is seated with the Father and the Holy Spirit to his left and to his right

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
Grant to your faithful people pardon and peace,
that we may be cleansed from all our sins
and serve you with a quiet mind;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

34, O worship the King (CD 2)
226, It is a thing most wonderful (CD 14)
366, Praise my soul, the king of heaven (CD 22)

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who determined its measurements – surely you know!’ (Job 38: 4-5) … a window in the parish church in Moyvane, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saturday, 20 October 2018

A photograph … and a letter
to my ten-year-old self

I recently came across a photograph of myself as a ten-year-old

Patrick Comerford

I have few photographs of myself as a child, and because of a dysfunctional upbringing and many moves, my memories of my childhood are jumbled and mixed up, difficult to access at times, perhaps because I fear what may lay beneath.

It was not always an unhappy childhood, indeed there were times of great happiness and certainty of love. There were times of knowing I was at home and knowing I was loved, and I still think I was the favourite grandchild in the house in Moonwee, outside Cappoquin.

But I recently came across a photograph of me as a child that was sent to me some months ago. Looking at the photograph, I cannot say I was very happy at the time. I think I am a ten-year-old, my foster parents had moved to Rathfarnham Road, but this photograph is taken at the house in Harold’s Cross my parents were then living in.

I remember the pain of wanting to live instead on Rathfarnham Road or even back in Cappoquin. I missed the stimulus in that house in Cappoquin of being surrounded by books on the classics, history and the arts – I had made my first tentative efforts to learn classical Greece and had read histories of Japan and China.

I had moved around in schools and was slipping back, I think to everyone’s surprise. I was now in a house with no music – no piano, not even a record player – and there was no-one who understood my passion for sport at the time. It took two pitying uncles to recognise my interest in sport of all sorts and to bring me to rugby, soccer and hurling matches.

By 10, my cultural stimulus was being provided by the Beano, the Eagle, the BBC, and whatever I found in the library in Rathmines. I had become an avid reader of daily newspapers.

As I look at my complexion in this photograph, I recall people asking whether I was Jewish or Mediterranean, and I recall how by then, because of many moves, I had learned to speak BBC English so I could be understood wherever I found myself living.

Coming across this photograph jolted me, and it reminded me of some of the angst I must have experienced at the time, although in those days no-one knew how to identify it or respond to it. Some time later I ran away, and my absence went unnoticed for many hours. Walking brought me to explore places my parents never wsanted me to know about but that enriched my appreciation of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

Later, I would run away from the paths I was being steered towards. I read in The Irish Times earlier this week how someone who was my contemporary at Jones Lang Wootton when I was training as a chartered surveyor is now on a salary of €300,000, with a bonus of 50 to 70 per cent of his salary. But this was never going to be the fame and fortune I would seek.

Looking at this photograph also brought to mind all those ‘letters to my younger self,’ and I wondered what I would now write to my 10-year-old self, and would I ever listen to thoughts I shared.

Dear Patrick,

Do not worry about giving and receiving love, or not being able to give or receive love. In just a few years, you will come to know you are worth loving just because you are. You will know the love of God in a way that will stay with you for ever, and allow you to understand who you are and why you are in the world.

Do not worry about not knowing where you fit in the families you know. You will know great love, and eventually come to know the true meaning of family.

You are never going to be a great footballer, despite it being an obsession at the moment. But you are going to enjoy sports as a spectator, and that will be more than good enough.

You have two ambitions now – to be an architect or to be a journalist. You will never become an architect, and the alternative path of training as a chartered surveyor will never lead you onto a career path. But you will learn to enjoy architecture as an art form, and it will bring you great pleasure and fun.

You may hate school and schools at the moment. But hold on to the joys that education is going to bring you. School days will get better at Gormanston, and you will find the confidence and fun that comes with returning to education in your 20s and 30s.

Little do you know now the academic promise that is ahead of you. But let that take its own course over time. Try to enjoy the present as a present.

Time is not a commodity. You cannot buy and sell it. But this time is not wasted, and there is no such thing as wasted experiences … there are only experiences that people fail to learn from.

You may not have the pleasure or stimulus of music at the moment, but just like being a spectator is a fully satisfying way of enjoying sport, you will find that listening is a fully satisfying way of enjoying music.

All that reading in the classics and in history that you miss now will enrich your life later, and prepare you for travels and experiences that show you how beautiful this world is, that will allow you to revel in its diversity, and that will give you a voice to speak up against injustice, violence, racism and war.

Do not be distressed about moving around. You will find places you belong in, places you feel rooted in, and you will enjoy being able to call many places home, returning to them again and again.

Don’t be concerned about complexion, accent or identity. You will be comfortable with who you are and who you become. Enjoy the diversity you find in the world, and live with your own labels instead of those others try to stick on you.

You don’t know me now, but I am happy to know you then.

You may feel alone as a child in the world today. Remember this in the future, and treat every child – and every adult – as a child created in the image of God.

You will never be rich or famous. But there are other riches waiting as promises for you. And they are founded on Faith, Hope and Love … and the greatest of these is love.

Patrick


Friday, 19 October 2018

Drawing inspiration for
Remembrance Sunday
from Lichfield Cathedral

Dying poppies seen on Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Much of my attention this week has been focussed on preparations for the commemorations of the centenary of the end of World War I.

These preparations have included two workshops for clergy and readers on appropriate Remembrance Sunday resources, and preparing a sermon and service for this group of parishes.

This year marks 100 years since the guns fell silent at the end of World War I. Those who survived hoped it would be ‘the war to end all wars,’ but the last century has seen millions more suffer in conflict all around the world. We must never forget the sacrifices made in war – we must also always continue to strive for peace.

In my preparations I have drawn inspiration from the way this centenary is being marked at Lichfield Cathedral, where there has been a seasonal programme of services and events throughout the year.

On the eve of Remembrance Day, the Requiem for Humankind on Saturday 10 November is presented by the Lichfield Cathedral Choral Foundation and Chamber Choir with the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra.

Brahms conceived his Ein deutsches Requiem (‘A German Requiem’) as a balm for humankind focusing on those left grieving. This sense of comfort in the face of death is echoed in Idyll by David Bednall, a world premiere of a new choral setting of a poem by the war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Eleanor Sterland is the Soprano, Francis Ambrose is the Baritone, and Benjamin Lamb the Director.

Requiem for Humankind is presented by the Lichfield Cathedral Choral Foundation and Chamber Choir with the Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra on the eve of Remembrance Sunday

Throughout this year, Lichfield Cathedral has been working in partnership with Lichfield Historic Parks to create a new Peace Woodland in Beacon Park. The Peace Woodland will be a permanent living artwork created by Lichfield Cathedral’s artist-in-residence Peter Walker.

During the year, the Parks team has been saving 1,918 local trees that would otherwise have been felled. Volunteers will pot them ready to start planting on Armistice Day, 11 November 2018. The Peace Woodland will open at Easter 2019, a time to rejoice in new life, hope and the promise of peace on earth.

£25,000 is needed to make the Peace Woodland happen. At the heart of the Peace Woodland will be a bronze plaque as a dedication to peace. For £25, donors can add a name – their own name or the name of a friend or a family member – to be permanently inscribed in the Name of Peace.

The trees potted by volunteers are being moved to start planting at the new Peace Woodland in Beacon Park on Armistice Day, 11 November 2018 (Photograph: Lichfield Cathedral)

The oratorio Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams provides the focus for an all-day ‘Come and Sing’ programme in Lichfield Cathedral from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday 17 November.

People are being invited to spend the day in Lichfield Cathedral singing with Elise Fairley (soprano) and Alistair Donaghue (baritone), soloists from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, accompanied by Martyn Rawles and conducted by Paul Spicer.

Dona Nobis Pacem was written by Vaughan Williams in 1936 to mark the centenary of the Huddersfield Choral Society. His passionate, heartfelt plea for peace came as a result of his experiences of World War I, the second Boer War and the looming threat of yet another World War.

He chose words by the American poet Walt Whitman, sections of the Bible, a speech by the politician and anti-war campaigner John Bright during the Crimean War, and parts of the Mass for this oratorio.

The work takes its name from the concluding phrase in the invocation to the Lamb of God sung or recited during the fraction at the Eucharist:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.


It is an intensely powerful work that moves everyone who sings or hears it.

Paul Spicer is one of Britain’s most widely respected choral conductors. He teaches at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire where he conducts the Chamber Choir, well-known for its many recordings, and at Oxford and Durham Universities.

His ‘English Choral Experience’ courses are models of their kind in Britain and Europe.

Martyn Rawles is Organist and Assistant Director of Music at Lichfield Cathedral, where he directs the girl choristers and plays for the majority of services.

After the workshop, participants are invited to stay for Evensong at 5.30 p.m.

The exhibition, ‘Not about Heroes …’ opened in the cathedral last month [18 September 2018] and continues until the end of this month [31 October 2018].

This exhibition displays 28 dramatic lino-cuts by contemporary artist Denis May interpreting poems by the World War I poet Wilfred Owen, who was killed seven days before the war ended.

Wilfrid Owen said his poetry was not about heroes, adding: ‘My subject is War, and the pity of War.’ Denis May’s prints juxtapose religious and artistic subjects alongside scenes of war, giving a unique and universal commentary on the poems, and his pictures are on sale at the exhibition.

The Band of the Mercian Regiment is presenting a spectacular evening of music and poetry in the Cathedral on Saturday 3 November. The programme includes music from the traditional through to film, contemporary and a few surprises.

The evening is set in the cathedral nave, and the concert will raise funds for Lichfield Cathedral and the Mercian Regiment Chapel.

The Poppy Fields, produced by Luxmuralis, is a stunning Poppies projection first shown during 'Before Action' in 2016. The event attracted national acclaim and has been on tour before returning to Lichfield Cathedral for three not-to-be-missed evenings next month: 8, 9 and 11 November.

The cathedral will be bathed in light as visitors walk through the Poppy Fields of World War I. This emotional and poignant interior Son et Lumiere includes bespoke readings by the Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne.

On Remembrance Day, 11 November, a lone piper will play ‘Battle's Over – A Nation's Tribute’ at 6 a.m. at Lichfield Cathedral, followed by prayers. The services later in the day include the Eucharist at 8 a.m., a Remembrance Service at 10, the Act of Remembrance at the Memorial Garden at 11, and ‘Imagine Peace – a service of pledging to peace’ at 11.15.

Later in the day, there is Evensong at 3 p.m., the Requiem Eucharist is celebrated at 5.30, and the ‘Battle’s Over – Ringing out for Peace’ at 7 p.m.

The centenary programme continues in Lichfield Cathedral in December with the return of the multi-award-winning ‘Cathedral Illuminated’ from 17 to 22 December.

Each year, the team at Luxmuralis creates a bespoke stunning set of illuminations around the cathedral, both outside and inside. In keeping with the cathedral’s year-long theme of ‘Imagine Peace,’ this Christmas Luxmuralis presents ‘Peace on Earth.’

‘Pax 1919’ … The Memorial Garden in Lichfield, with the spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A reminder of 613 laws in
613 knots while praying

A tallit or prayer shawl in the Jewish Museum in the Old Synagogue, Kraków … the number of knots and fringes represent the 613 commandments in Jewish law; but which is the most important? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

One of the Gospel passages I have been working on this week is the Gospel reading Sunday 4 November 2018, the Fourth Sunday before Advent (Mark 12: 28-34). Working on this reading brought new insights into the significance of the tallit or traditional prayer shawl worn by pious Jews at prayer.

The setting for this reading is the Temple in Jerusalem, where Christ is teaching in the Temple in Holy Week, where the Chief Priests, the scribes and the elders have challenged his authority to teach (Mark 11: 27-33), where he has been challenged by some Pharisees and Herodians (Mark 12: 13-17), and where some Sadducees question him also (Mark 12: 18-27).

Now it is the turn of Scribes. A scribe who has overheard all these questions, answers and arguments. He is impressed by Jesus’s answers and the way in which he has avoided falling into the traps. This scribe has a question of his own, but he is asking genuinely without seeking to set another trap for Jesus.

The scribes pay attention to the law and have intimate knowledge of its content. They are responsible for making copies of the law and teaching it to others (see Ezra 7: 6; Ezra 7: 10-12; Nehemiah 8: 1, 4, 9, 13. For example, Ezra ‘was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses’ (Ezra 7: 6).

In New Testament times, the scribes are usually Pharisees, although not all are Pharisees (see Matthew 5: 20, Matthew 12: 38). They support but sometimes also supplement the written law with their traditions (see Matthew 23: 2). In the Gospels, the titles ‘scribes’ and ‘lawyers’ are often interchangeable (see Matthew 22: 35; Mark 12: 28; Luke 20: 39). They are the public teachers of the people, and frequently come into collision with Christ. Later, many scribes are hostile to the apostles (see Acts 4: 5; Acts 6: 12).

As the teachers of the people (Mark 1: 22) and interpreters of the Law, they are widely respected by the community because of their knowledge, dedication, and law-keeping. The scribes act responsibly and seriously in their task of preserving Scripture, and are faithful in the study of Scripture, particularly the Law and how it should be followed. They copy and recopy the Bible meticulously, even counting letters and spaces to ensure each copy is correct.

They are professional at spelling out the letter of the Law, but in the Gospels are often charged with ignoring the spirit behind the law, so that the regulations and traditions added to the Law become more important than the Law itself. They know the Law and they teach it to others, but do not always honour the spirit of the Law.

There is a contrast in the passages immediately before this reading: while Jesus teaches with personal authority (see Mark 11: 27-33), no Scribe ever gave an independent judgment or a decision on his own, but would begin, ‘There is a teaching that …’

The scribe in this reading asks Jesus in the Temple, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ (Mark 12: 28).

There are 613 commandments, precepts or mitzvot in Jewish law. They include positive commandments, to perform an act (mitzvot aseh), and negative commandments, to abstain from certain acts (mitzvot lo taaseh). The negative commandments number 365, which coincides with the number of days in the solar year, and the positive commandments number 248, said to be the number of bones and main organs in the human body (Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 23b–24a).

The number of tzitzit or knotted fringes of the tallit or prayer shawl worn by pious Jews at prayer is connected to the 613 commandments: the Hebrew numerical value of the word tzitzit is 600; each tassel has eight threads (when doubled over) and five sets of knots, totalling 13; the sum of these numbers is 613. This reflects the idea that donning a tallit or prayer shawl with tzitzit reminds its wearer of all 613 Torah commandments.

Later in this chapter, in the reading provided for the following Sunday (Mark 12: 38-44), Christ refers to the fashion of the Scribes walking around in long robes (Mark 12: 38), perhaps a reference to an ostentatious display of prayer shawls that indicate a claim to observing each and every one of the 613 commandments.

In some Jewish communities, a tallit is given as a gift by a father to a son, a father-in-law to a son-in-law, or a teacher to a student. It might be a present to mark a special occasion, such as a wedding or a bar mitzvah. Many parents buy a tallit for their sons when they reach the age of 13.

In the Reform and Conservative movements, some women also wear a tallit.

While many people bring their own tallit to a synagogue, there is usually a rack of them for visitors and guests to use.

At Jewish wedding ceremonies, a tallit is often used as a chuppah or wedding canopy. Similarly, a tallit is traditionally spread out as a canopy over the children during the Torah-reading ceremony during the holiday of Simchat Torah, or in any procession with Torah scrolls, such as when parading a newly completed scroll through the streets.

The tallit is traditionally draped over the shoulders, but during prayer, some cover their head with it, notably during specific parts of the service such as the Amidah, the central prayer or the Jewish liturgy, and when called to the Torah for an aliyah or reading in the synagogue.

The tallit is typically either all white, white with black stripes, or white with blue stripes. The all-white and black-and-white varieties have traditionally been the most common, with the blue-and-white variety, in the past said to be in remembrance of the blue thread or tekhelet, becoming increasingly prevalent in recent years among non-Orthodox Jews because the colours blue and white are associated with the State of Israel.

The all-white variety is customary among Sephardic communities, but in Ashkenazic communities white tallitot with black stripes are more traditional. One tradition says the black stripes symbolise the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews from the land of Israel.

In the Gospel passage I have been working on, the Scribe in the Temple is probably wearing a full-length tallit, and now he wants to know which of one of the 613 commandments symbolised in his tallit is the most important.

In his reply, Christ offers not one but two commandments or laws. But it is interesting to notice how neither is quoted from the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20: 1-17 and Deuteronomy 5: 4-21). Instead, Christ steps outside the Ten Commandments and quotes from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5, and Leviticus 19: 18.

The first command Christ quotes is the shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, ...’ (verse 29), recited twice daily by pious Jews. The shema became a prayer composed from Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 and 11: 13-21, and to this day it is recited twice a day in Jewish practice.

Christ links this first commandment to a second, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (verse 31). Once again, he is not quoting from the Ten Commandments; instead, here he is quoting Leviticus 19: 18.

Christ combines these two precepts into a moral principle, linked by love. But he is not the first, nor is he the last, to do this, and the combination is not unique for the scribes or the Pharisees.

Hillel the Elder (ca 110 BC to 10 AD), who was asked a similar question, cited this verse as a most important message of the Torah for his teachings. Once, Hillel was challenged by a gentile who asked to be converted on condition that the Torah was explained to him while he stood on one foot. Hillel accepted him as a candidate for conversion to Judaism but, drawing on Leviticus 19:18, told the man: ‘Do not do to anyone else what is hateful to you: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn’ (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 31a).

The scribe agrees with Jesus and elaborates. Both precepts are much more important than all the burnt-offerings and sacrifices in the Temple (verses 32-33).

For responding in this way, Christ tells this scribe that he has answered wisely and is near the kingdom of God (verse).

And that silenced everyone who was listening, and it put an end to the debates … for the moment.

A choice of tallitot or prayer shawls in the synagogue in Chania in Crete … the number of knots and fringes represent the 613 commandments in Jewish law; but which is the most important? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thursday, 18 October 2018

‘Where you go, I will go … your
people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die’

‘Shylock and Jessica’ by Maurycy Gottlieb … a copy in the Jewish Museum in the Old Synagogue in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have been working all day on sermon notes and liturgical resources for the first two Sundays in November, which include two successive readings that summarise the story of Ruth.

Because the first of these Sundays may be celebrated in many parishes as ‘All Saints’ Sunday’ (4 November 2018) and the second marked as Remembrance Sunday (11 November 2018), many people in parishes may not hear the story of Ruth.

Ruth is the story of three widows who are powerless and destitute in a male-dominated society, and the first reading includes Ruth’s memorable song or poetic passage addressed to Naomi:

Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!
(Ruth 1: 16-17)

Ruth abandons her home and her traditional religion, marries Boaz and becomes a Jew by choice. Ruth and Boaz are the parents of Obed, who is the father of Jesse, and Jesse is the father of David, Israel’s greatest king. She is one of only five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, along with Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Mary (see Matthew 1:1-16).

Ruth’s story is an important illustration of interfaith marriage and challenges the tradition that Jewish identity is conveyed only through matrilineal descent.

Ian my search for images to illustrate the story of Ruth, I came across a copy of the painting Shylock and Jessica, by Maurycy Gottlieb, which I photographed in the Jewish Museum in the Old Synagogue in Kraków almost two years ago.

Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879) was a Polish Jewish realist painter of the Romantic period who was, perhaps, the most famous Jewish painter of his age. He was born in Drohobych to a wealthy, Yiddish and Polish-speaking orthodox Jewish family. Drohobych in Galicia was then part of the Austrian sector of partitioned Poland, but is now in western Ukraine.

Maurycy (Moses) Gottlieb was one of the 11 children of Isaac Gottlieb and his wife Fanya (née Tigerman). At age of 15, he enrolled in the Vienna Fine Arts Academy, and in 1873 he went to Kraków to study under Jan Matejko. There he became a close friend of Jacek Malczewski.

However, an anti-semitic incident at the School of Fine Arts prompted Gottlieb to leave Kraków after less than a year, in spite of Malczewski’s protests. He visited Norway and Vienna, and then moved to Munich in 1875 to study.

In 1876, he won the Gold Medal at the Munich Academy for this painting, Shylock and Jessica, a painting inspired by a scene in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. This too is a story of heartbreak and conversion, and some ways is a reversion of the story of Ruth.

Jessica is Shylock’s only daughter, she and breaks her father’s heart by running away with her father’s savings to marry Lorenzo, a Christian. After eloping with Lorenzo, she trades her dead mother’s turquoise ring for a monkey. Her thoughtlessness devastates her father:

Out upon her! Thou torturest me, Tubal. It
was my turquoise! I had it of Leah when I was a
bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness
of monkeys
. (3.1.119-122)

Jessica converts to Christianity in act of abandonment that brings to end the line of Jewish descent in Shylock’s family. When Lancelot the clown says Jessica is ‘damned’ because she is the ‘Jew's daughter,’ Jessica declares ‘I shall be saved by my husband. He hath made me a Christian’ (3.5.18-19).

Jessica sees her marriage to Lorenzo as a way to escape being her father's daughter:

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me
To be ashamed to be my father's child?
But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo,
If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife,
Become a Christian and thy loving wife.
(2.3.16-21)

Gottlieb based Jessica’s face on Laura Rosenfeld (1857-1944), to whom he had proposed marriage. When the painting was exhibited in Lviv (1877) and Warsaw (1878), it received wide acclaim.

Laura was also one of 11 children, the daughter of Joseph Rosenfeld and his wife Rosa (née Kolisch) of Brno. Laura was sent to convent schools in Lienz and Geneva, but continued to adhere to the Jewish faith instilled in her by her mother. When her father died, her widowed mother moved with her to Vienna, where she first met Maurycy, in 1875 or 1876.

Maurycy was smitten by Laura, and he soon proposed to her. They became engaged and she became the subject of many of his paintings, including Portrait of Laura, Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, Shylock and Jessica, Uriel Acosta and Judith.

Meanwhile, in those two years while he was living in Vienna, he worked on paintings with biblical themes and produced book illustrations.

After visiting Rome in 1878, Gottlieb returned to Kraków, where he worked on a new project, a series of monumental paintings including scenes from the history of the Jews in Poland. As he continued to travel, Laura began to lose interest in him. He sensed her distance in their letters and became more and more anxious, until Laura finally confessed she had fallen in love with someone else.

Gottlieb died on 17 July 1879, according to some, of a broken heart, intentionally letting his health fail, due to his despair over this failed romance and Laura’s new-found love. He expressed his heartbroken feelings of despair in his letters to Laura and in his painting Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, where he has placed his own name on the memorial inscription on the Torah mantle.

Laura believed she was the cause of this death, later writing that she only consented to marry the Berlin banker Leo Henschel, because he threatened to shoot himself if she did not. ‘I said yes because I could not forget the suicide of the young painter Gottlieb, two years before.’

Despite his premature death at the age of 23, more than 300 of his works survive although not all are finished.

But what happed to Laura Rosenfeld?

Laura married Leo Henschel (1850-1909) and they had four daughters.

While Laura ran a busy family home in Berlin household, she continued to read and study. After her husband died in 1909 and her children had left home, Laura dedicated her life to education and social work. She worked in an orphanage for children of criminals, as a social worker, and set up a communal home near Berlin that stressed harmony and equality among the residents. She was also active in feminist and human rights movements.

With the rise of the Nazis, she fled to the Netherlands in 1933, and there she lived in The Hague. For a time, she was hidden by a friend in the east Netherlands until she was betrayed. She was 86, paralysed and almost blind, when she was sent to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, and from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The last known record of her is on 4 April 1944. Her family genealogical accounts say she was murdered in Auschwitz on 8 April 1944.

Her eldest daughter, the sculptor Margarete Steiner-Henschel, was murdered in Auschwitz on 31 August 1944. Laura and her daughter Margarete are commemorated on a memorial monument in Zeist in the east Netherlands.

‘Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur’ … Maurycy Gottlieb placed his own name on the memorial inscription on the Torah mantle

Saint Luke, physician,
icon writer, evangelist
and intrepid traveller

Saint Luke in a spandrel beneath the dome in Analipsi Church (Εκκλησία Ανάληψη) or the Church of the Ascension in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

In the Church Calendar, today [18 October] is the Feast of Saint Luke (Λουκάς) the Evangelist, traditionally remembered as the author of the Third Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles.

I have never quite worked out why Saint Luke among the four evangelists is traditionally represented in Church art and architecture as a winged ox. But I find he is an interesting Biblical figure, not just as an evangelist, but as a writer who provided fascinating accounts of his travels – in all, he names 32 countries, 54 cities and nine islands – and as a key figure in the tradition of icons and iconography.

Although Saint Luke is not one of the Twelve, he figures throughout the New Testament. Apart from the Gospel he gives his name to and the Acts of the Apostles, he is also mentioned in the Epistle to Philemon (verse 24), Colossians (4: 14) and II Timothy (4: 11), which is part of the Epistle reading in the Lectionary readings for today.

Later traditions claim Saint Luke is one of the Seventy at the heart of the Gospel reading today, that he is one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or even that he is closely related to the Apostle Paul. But Saint Luke, in his own statement at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us he was not an eyewitness to the events of the Gospel. On the other hand, he repeatedly uses the word ‘we’ as he describes Saint Paul’s missionary journeys in the Acts of the Apostles, indicating he was personally there so many times.

Yet, both the Gospel according to Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are detailed in history, expression, and narrative that are held in regard by Biblical historians and archaeologists for their historical accuracy and trustworthiness.

Saint Luke is also known as the ‘glorious physician,’ and – especially in the Eastern Church – as an icon writer.

It is said that Saint Luke was born in Antioch in Syria (now in Turkey) to Greek-speaking parents. As a physician, he was said to have had a skill for healing, but that he left all this behind around the year 50 AD and joined Saint Paul after they met in Antioch.

He may have accompanied Saint Paul on his missionary journeys before staying on in Troas (Troy) after Saint Paul’s departure, although it is also possible that he was with Saint Paul in Rome until Saint Paul was martyred (see II Timothy 4: 11; Acts 28: 16). Tradition says Saint Luke died in Thebes, in central Greece, at the age of 84.

Saint Luke gives us the great poetry of the canticles Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79) and Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2: 29-32). Saint Luke alone gives us the Annunciation, the Visitation, the birth of Saint John the Baptist, and the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple. Saint Luke introduces us to Elizabeth and Zechariah, the angels and the shepherds at the first Christmas, Simeon and Anna, the Christ Child lost in the Temple, the Good Samaritan, the unjust steward, the Prodigal Son, the healed Samaritan, Zacchaeus the tax-collector in Jericho, and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus.

Saint Luke devotes significantly more attention to women. He presents Christ as the constant friend of the poor, the down-trodden, the marginalised, the side-lined, healing the sick, comforting even the despairing thief on the cross beside him.

As I arm challenged by the ways of the world, I sometimes wonder how – like Saint Luke the Gospel writer and Saint Luke the Iconographer – I can present the world with meaningful and accessible accounts and images of who Christ is.

As I remain committed to mission in the work of the Anglican mission agency USPG, I find inspiration in the commitment of Saint Luke the early missionary, with his accounts of the missionary work of the early Church.

Without Saint Luke, it wonder how we would have come to know about the earliest missionary endeavours of Saint Paul and the Apostolic Church.

Saint Luke remains an attractive and interesting Biblical figure ... as an evangelist, as someone who presents Christ in ways that can be understood in the language of the people, whether word or image, as someone who gives healing a proper place in ministry, as a friend of the poor and the sick, the marginalised and the stereotyped, as someone who, in all his travels and travails, remains faithful unto death to the ministry he is called to and is charged with.

‘Study for the Calf of Saint Luke’ by Graham Sutherland in the ‘Consequence of War’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Readings: Isaiah 35: 3-6 or Acts 16: 6-12a; Psalm 147: 1-7; II Timothy 4: 5-17; Luke 10: 1-9.

Collect:

Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
By the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Living God,
may we who have shared these holy mysteries
enjoy health of body and mind
and witness faithfully to your gospel,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint John the Divine and Saint Luke the Evangelist in a window in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield, that may also be the work of Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), the Victorian stained glass designer and manufacturer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)