Sunday, 12 July 2020

‘How long will you keep us in
suspense?’ … ‘I give them eternal
life, and they will never perish’

‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10: 27) … street art in Carlingford, Co Louth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 July 2020

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity V)


9.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

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

Readings: I Peter 2: 1-10; Psalm 121; John 10: 22-29

‘Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon’ (John 10: 23) … the Temple-like portico at Plassey House in the University of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Last week, we reopened the churches in Askeaton and Tarbert, and this morning we are back in Castletown and Rathkeale. This is our second Sunday as we reopen our churches this morning, and, perhaps, we are beginning to cope with this new stage in the Covid-19 pandemic.

I know, many of us have mixed feelings. As the statistics rise again, the weekend behaviour of many people must leave us wondering whether, in fact, things are getting better.

Is this just a temporary relaxation of the lockdown?

Is everything going to be all right?

We are conscious of those who are not here this morning, because they are feeling vulnerable, even fearful.

If you were not in church last week, then you are going to find the restrictions this morning strange and off-putting: wearing masks, leaving contact details for tracing, sitting in pews that are not of your choice, wondering about the markings.

Like last week, there are things that are different this morning: fewer readings and hymns, so we spend less time in a closed space; listening to but not singing hymns; not sharing the peace; the strange way of administering the Holy Communion … We are trying to make ourselves safe, but many of us are still feeling awkward, uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Is this the ‘new normal’?

Hopefully, we can return to living out the ideal of the Church as community, the church as the living body of the Christ … ‘we being many are one body, for we all share in the one bread.’

How do we balance the joy of reopening our churches with the obvious restraints we must respect?

How do we balance our celebrations with the real mourning and grieving that our families, our parish, our community, our diocese, our nation, all need to acknowledge?

It is difficult to balance the joy of reopening this church with the obvious restraints surrounding everything we do.

No wonder many people are going to ask where God has been in the midst of this crisis. Has God been present in the church? Has God heard our prayers? Is God going to answer our prayers?

Our psalm this morning, Psalm 121, promises us that God will guard us and look after our well-being, our health, and our lives, both day and night.

The Lord will keep us from all evil. ‘The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.’

In the New Testament reading (I Peter 2: 1-10), we are told we have come out of darkness into God’s light, and have received God’s mercy. We are asked to put behind us all the problems that marked previous ways of living and to enjoy being in the presence of God.

We are reminded that the Church is not just bricks and mortar. The Church is – or should be – a living presence in the world today, and we are like living stones, being built into a spiritual house.

The cornerstone of this house is Christ himself. Although he has been rejected by others (the builders), he has become the very cornerstone of this new edifice that is the Church.

As for us, we are the Church because we are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.’

If we have been waiting in suspense for many months for this church to open once again, then Christ in the Gospel reading (John 10: 22-29) reminds us what all our waiting has been for.

He promises us not immediate satisfaction but eternal life: ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.’

No matter what fears we may continue to have in the weeks and months to come, Christ in his love for us ensures that we cannot be separated from God’s love for us and God’s care for us.

The Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, concluded his weekly letter on Friday with this thought:

‘Tough times are ahead but we live by hope. Bishop David Jenkins of Durham used to say, “you can’t keep a good God down”. I agree. It’s time for renewed confidence in his love and purpose.’

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

‘Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house’ (I Peter 2: 5) … a cross carved into a corner stone at the church in Vlatadon monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Peter 2: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:

‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,

8 and

‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

John 10: 22-29 (NRSVA):

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.’

‘Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon’ (John 10: 23) … the portico of the Duomo di Sant’Andrea in Amalfi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Introductory prayer:

Lord, be with us as we open the door.
Come in with us, go out with us.
Do not sleep when we sleep,
but watch over us, protect us and keep us safe,
our only help and maker. (cf Psalm 121)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
we praise you for the many blessings
you have given to those who worship you here:
and we pray that all who seek you in this place may find you,
and, being filled with the Holy Spirit,
may become a living temple acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace to you from God our heavenly Father.
Peace from his Son Jesus Christ who is our peace.
Peace from the Holy Spirit the Life-giver.
The peace of the Triune God be always with you.
And also with you.

Preface:

You have revealed your glory
as the glory of your Son and of the Holy Spirit:
three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour,
yet one Lord, one God,
ever to be worshipped and adored:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Father in heaven,
whose Church on earth is a sign of your heavenly peace,
an image of the new and eternal Jerusalem:
grant us in the days of our pilgrimage
that, fed with the living bread of heaven,
and united in the body of your Son,
we may be the temple of your presence,
the place of your glory on earth,
and a sign of your peace in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Concluding Prayer and Blessing:

Heavenly Father,
you have not made us for darkness and death,
but for life with you for ever.
Without you we have nothing to hope for;
with you we have nothing to fear.
Lift us from anxiety and guilt
to the light and peace of your presence,
and set the glory of your love before us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Liturgical colour: Red. Green is the colour for Ordinary time, Red symbolises both the Holy Spirit and the witness of the Church in the lives of the great saints and martyrs.

Hymns:

330: God is here! As we his people (CD 20)
374: When all thy mercies, O my God (CD 22)

‘Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon’ (John 10: 23) … the Temple-like portico built by the Williamson brothers at Emo Court in Co Laois (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

The hymn numbers refer to the Church of Ireland’s Church Hymnal (5th edition, Oxford: OUP, 2000)

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

Material from Common Worship is © The Archbishop’s Council, the Church of England.

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