14 June 2020

When God visits us in
extraordinary times and
ordinary circumstances

The Visitation of Abraham or the ‘Old Testament Trinity’ … a fresco in the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, interprets a Trinitarian and Eucharistic theme (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 14 June 2020,

The First Sunday after Trinity

The Readings: Genesis 18: 1-15; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; Romans 5: 1-8; Matthew 9: 35 to 10: 8.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee’ … the great East Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth. depicting the Twelve Apostles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions we are all living with means the extraordinary has become almost ordinary in our everyday lives.

In the Calendar of the Church, we have moved into Ordinary Time, the time between Trinity Sunday and the beginning of Advent.

The Gospel story this morning begins with an image of Christ in ordinary, everyday situations, going ‘about all the cities and villages’ (Matthew 9: 35), mixing with ordinary people. These are people who need hope, people who are sick, sore and sorry, people who are distressed, marginalised and suffering, and Christ has compassion for them, because they are harassed and helpless, ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ [Matthew 9: 36].

They are ordinary people, indeed, in ordinary places, in ordinary time, but suffering and often isolated and marginalised in their everyday lives.

And to answer their plight, to carry out his mission, he chooses 12 disciples, 12 ordinary people, with ordinary backgrounds and careers: Peter, who denies him three times; Andrew his brother, a fisherman; James and John, ‘Mammy’s boys’ who jockey for position, unsure of what the Kingdom of God is about; Philip, who could easily turn away Greek-speaking Gentiles; Matthew, despised as a tax collector; Thomas who doubts him; Judas who betrays him … (see Matthew 10: 2-4).

In our ordinary everyday lives, Christ calls us to follow him, not for our own self-satisfying feeling of being good, but to proclaim the Good News; not for our own advantage and enrichment, but because that is what the suffering world needs.

We are called as ordinary people to do that; our Baptism is our commission to do that; our Confirmation is our ‘Amen’ to that.

In our reading from the Book of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah, in the extraordinary circumstances of the time, being childless and now going to old age, must still have thought they were living through a very ordinary day when they were visited that day at the oaks of Mamre.

God visits us in very extraordinary circumstances in the midst of our very ordinary, everyday lives.

At first, Abraham sees ‘three men’ standing near him, and they seem to be human in appearance. But he addresses them as ‘my lord’ and offers them courtesy and hospitality, washing their feet, providing shelter from the mid-day heat, bringing ‘a little bread’ and then preparing a full meal.

As they accept this hospitality, it becomes clearer who they are. One of them speaks, promises to return and promises that Sarah will have a son.

In the second part of this reading, which provides an optional ending to this story next Sunday, we hear how God keeps his promise.

This reading has often been read as an early understanding in the Bible of the Trinity, and so is an appropriate reading on the First Sunday after Trinity.

In the Gospel reading, Christ sends the 12 out in mission to the marginalised and the outcast. They are to proclaim the ‘good news,’ as Saint John the Baptist announced, that the kingdom of heaven has come near’ is at hand.

We might ask, as we prepare to open our church buildings in the next few weeks, whether we are preparing to welcome back the regular worshippers, churchgoers and parishioners.

And, we might also ask whether we are ready to delight in meeting strangers in our midst and bringing them into our tent, to share the kindness, friendship and hospitality found within. For the kingdom of God is at hand.

I find myself thinking about a well-known prayer by Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711):

O God, make the door of this house
wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship,
and a heavenly Father’s care;
and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children,
nor to straying feet,
but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power:
make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.

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

Christ and the Twelve Apostles in statues on Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 35 to 10: 8 [9-23] (NRSVA):

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.’

The Twelve Apostles on the High Cross at Moone Abbey, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Year A, Ordinary Time)

The Collect of the Day:

the strength of all those who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts.
May our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

A panel on the Royal or MacMahon tomb in the Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare, depicting Christ and the Twelve Apostles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


662, He who would valiant be
456, Lord, you give the great commission
491, We have a gospel to proclaim
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

Figures of the 12 Apostles surround the 16th century tomb of a knight and lady in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Church, Thurles, Co Tipperary (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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The hymn suggestions are provided in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling. The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000).

The Apostles and Evangelists in two sets of icons in the tiny Church of the Twelve Apostles on the island of Gramvousa off the north-west coast of Crete (Photographs: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen view)

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