Sunday, 25 February 2018

‘Let them deny themselves and
take up their cross and follow me’

‘Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8: 34) … the Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 25 February 2018,

The Second Sunday in Lent,

11.30 a.m., The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16; Psalm 22: 23-31; Romans 4: 13-25; Mark 8: 31-38.

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

Lent in Ireland has traditionally been a time for making resolutions – resolutions that are often like New Year’s resolutions. We start out well, giving up drinks, or sweets, or smoking or chocolate – at least for the first week or two.

But now that we are into the second week of Lent, I imagine Lenten resolutions are much forgotten already, just like New Year’s resolutions.

How many of us can remember what your New Year’s resolution was this year?

And if we can remember it, have we stuck to it?

How many of us are continuing on the Lenten journey?

We are into the second week of Lent … are our Lenten resolutions forgotten already? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In our Lent journey in this parish, a small group is meeting now and again to look at the Lenten study course produced by the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This study course, ‘All Things Are Possible,’ explores how faith in God can change the world.

On Wednesday night, the course asked us to consider the question, ‘What does it mean to fulfil our potential?’

And to help discuss that question, we were given three Gospel stories about Saint Peter, and how he wavered and faltered, fell and got back up again, and how it took him a long time to reach his potential.

The first story on Wednesday was Saint Matthew’s version (Matthew 16: 13-19) of the run-in to our Gospel reading this morning (Mark 8: 31-38). On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Peter tells Jesus that he believes he is the Messiah (Mark 8: 29-30). Peter has that rock-like faith on which the Church is going to be built (see Matthew 16: 18-19).

But Jesus then tells his disciples that it is not all going to be a bed of roses, indeed it is going to be more like a crown of thorns. He tells them that on the journey he is going to suffer, be derided, and face his own execution.

Saint Peter is upset. This is not what he expected. This is not what anyone of the day expected of the Messiah.

He takes Jesus aside, and he rebukes him.

But he has got it wrong. Christ in turn rebukes Peter and reminds those present that if they want to be his followers they must take up their cross and follow him.

Our second story that evening, and one that was so appropriate as we make our way through Lent to stories of Holy Week and Good Friday, was the story (John 18: 25-27) during the trial of Jesus, where Peter denies he is a follower of Christ, not just once, or even twice, but denies Christ three times before the cock crows.

This is the same Simon Peter who has a faith that is going to be so rock solid that the church could stand on it. This is the same Peter who drew his sword in the garden in a futile attempt to stop the arrest of Christ in the garden (John 18: 10-11). Yet, when push comes to shove, Peter denies Christ, and denies him three times in the course of just one night.

Our third story the other night, and one that shows how Saint Peter find his potential, or rather Christ sees his potential, is an Easter story, a story of hope (John 21: 15-17).

The Risen Christ meets the disciples on the shore early in the morning. After breakfast, Christ asks Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ Peter answers, ‘Yes Lord; you know that I love you.’ Christ tells him: ‘Feed my lambs’ (verse 15).

A second time, Christ asks him, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter answers, ‘Yes Lord; you know that I love you.’ Christ tells him: ‘Tend my sheep’ (verse 16).

A third time, Christ asks him, ‘Do you love me?’ Peter feels hurt, and he sounds exasperated and exhausted as he answers a third time, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ This time Christ tells him: ‘Feed my sheep’ (verse 17).

Christ’s three questions to Peter serve as a way of reversing the three denials the previous week (see John 18: 15-17; 25-27). Now he is given a triple charge: to feed the lambs of the Good Shepherd; to tend his sheep; and to tend feed his sheep.

‘Ibrahim/Abraham/Avraham’ by Stephen Raw in the ‘Holy Writ’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral in 2014, bringing together the traditions of the Abrahamic faiths (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Despite this, Saint Peter still does not manage to get it quite right all the time. He argues with Saint Paul at Antioch, and Paul rebukes Peter for seemingly trying to insist that Gentiles must become Jews if they are to convert to Christianity (Galatian 2: 11-13). This portrayal of Peter in the Letter to the Galatians is in sharp contrast to Saint Paul’s positive image of Abraham in this morning’s Epistle reading (Romans 4: 13-25), when Saint Paul describes Abraham to the Church in Rome as an archetype of faithfulness.

But even when he gets it wrong in Antioch, Peter goes on to get it right at the first Council of the Church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15: 7-20).

Peter goes on to refer to Paul as ‘our beloved brother’ and his letters as ‘scripture’ even when they may be difficult to understand (see II Peter 3: 16-17). A later Church tradition says Peter and Paul taught together in Rome, founded Christianity in the city, and suffered martyrdom at the same time, so that an icon of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, standing side-by-side, is a popular icon of Church unity and ecumenism in the Orthodox Church.

In our journey in Lent, we may falter when it comes to Lenten resolutions and Lenten resolve.

And when I fail, when I go back to my old habits, how often I am in danger of judging myself, feeling that I am not quite as close to perfection as I thought I might be at this time of the year.

We are constantly reminded in advertising and through the media of the need to be perfect. If only I drove this car, cooked in that well-stocked kitchen, or drank that tempting new wine or beer, then I would be closer to others seeing me like a perfect Greek god.

Yet the lectionary readings this morning are a call to put aside the struggle to conform to outside demands and pressures, and instead to journey in faith with God, like Abraham and Sarah in our Old Testament reading and in our Epistle reading, like Saint Peter not just in our Gospel reading, but in the full, robust portrait of Peter presented in the New Testament.

Like the people who are listening to Christ in this morning’s reading, we are called to take up our cross and follow Christ. Along the way, we may fall and stumble, we may wonder where we are going and why. But the Easter message is always a reminder that the journey in faith leads to is one of hope and love.

If Saint Peter knew what was ahead of him, he might have been even stronger in rebuking Christ in this Gospel reading. But the triumph comes not in getting what we want, not in engineering things so that God gives us what we desire and wish for, so that we get a Jesus who does the things we want him to do. The triumph comes in a few weeks’ time, at Easter, in the Resurrection.

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

This sermon was prepared for the Second Sunday in Lent, 25 February 2018

The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul holding the church in unity … an early 18th century icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgical colour: Violet.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
Grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things
as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Creator of heaven and earth,
we thank you for these holy mysteries
given us by our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which we receive your grace
and are assured of your love,
which is through him now and for ever.


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:


418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
599, ‘Take up thy cross’, the Saviour said
666, Be still my soul.

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome … ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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