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.

Collect:

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)

Preface:

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.

Blessing:

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

Hymns:

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)

‘If any want to become my
followers, let them take up
their cross and follow me’

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)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 25 February 2018,

The Second Sunday in Lent,


9.30 a.m., Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Kilcornan, 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.

Collect:

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)

Blessing:

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

Hymns:

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

‘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)

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 12:
Longford 10: Jesus is
stripped of his clothes

Station 10 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Jesus is stripped of his clothes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Second Sunday in Lent [25 February 2018]. Later this morning, I am leading Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick at 9.30, and presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Each morning in Lent, as part of my meditations and reflections for Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.

The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral earlier this month and continues throughout Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

For two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, sculpted by Ken Thompson in Bath stone with chisel and mallet, with lettering inspired by the work of Eric Gill and haloes picked out in gold leaf.

He uses blue to give a background dimension that works almost like a shadow in itself, providing the foreground figures with greater relief. The bright gold leaf haloes establish the central image of Christ as well as his mother and disciples or saints.

Rather than using the traditional title for each station, the text at the foot of each panel is allusive. He has chosen two lines of scripture for each panel, cut them in lettering inspired by Eric Gill, and highlighted them in terracotta.

Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his clothes

This station depicts a scene described in all four Gospels:

And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him (Matthew 27: 35-36).

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. (Mark 15: 24).

And they cast lots to divide his clothing (Luke 23: 34).

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots’ (John 19: 23-24).

Clothes are often used to indicate a person’s social position, their place in society. This public stripping says that Jesus is being stripped of social standing, his place in society. He has become an outcast, despised by all.

At the foot of the Cross, the soldiers draw lots to divide his few remaining possessions. All four Gospel accounts speak of Christ’s clothes being divided by casing lots, but Saint John alone refers this to a passage in Psalm 22: 18.

Saint John too is alone is saying Christ’s tunic was ‘seamless, woven in one piece from the top’ (John 19:23). This may also refer to the High Priest’s robe, which was ‘woven from a single thread,’ without stitching. The naked Christ is the true High Priest.

Being stripped naked is one more step in the process of ultimate humiliation. Imagine the embarrassment of being so exposed. But remember too how Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, naked and ashamed. Once again, Christ shows that he is just like us.

In this station by Ken Thompson in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, one solider is beating Christ with a sword, while the other is holding up his clothes, as if to check whether the tunic has any value, while turning his face away in disgust.

The two dice on either side indicate they are going to cast lots, but did you notice how they have been cast wrongly? The opposite faces of dice always add up to 7, (1/6, 2/5, 3/4); but this is impossible in both cases in this depiction. The die is cast, but everyone is a loser.

The daffodils that we have seen bursting out in previous stations as a sign of hope have now been replaced by thorns and a thistle. The artist here is drawing once again on the Prophet Hosea: ‘… the sin of Israel shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars’ (Hosea 10: 8).

The inscription in terracotta capital letters at the bottom of this Station reads: ‘He Empties Himself and Became as Men Are.’ This refers to a passage in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he says ‘Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2: 6-8)

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Meditation:

Despised. Rejected.
Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabachthani?
My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
From top to bottom the veil in the Temple is torn in two.

Prayers:

Lamb that was slain, as you cried out to your Father from the cross we learned how deep was your suffering, how complete was your sense of abandonment. Be present with us when others betray us or forsake us that we may find ourselves in your eyes and not theirs. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

The soldiers notice you have something of value. They remove your cloak and throw dice for it. Your wounds are torn open once again. Some of the people in the crowd make fun of you. They tease you and challenge you to perform a miracle for them to see. They are not aware that you will perform the greatest miracle of all!

The Collect of the Day (the Second Sunday in Lent):

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.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Yesterday’s reflection