08 November 2020

‘They shall grow not old … age shall not
weary them, nor the years condemn’

Fading poppies in a garden on Beacon Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 8 November 2020

The Third Sunday before Advent,

Remembrance Sunday

The Readings: Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78: 1-7; I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13.

There is a link to the Readings HERE.

The War Memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Our first reading this morning (Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25) describes a treaty between God and his people, like a treaty between a victorious king and a vanquished people.

The people are free to worship God or the local gods, but they elect to serve God (verse 15), and they recognise all God has done for them.

On Remembrance Sunday, we might ask how God protects people, whether they are victorious in conflict or have been vanquished

Our psalm (Psalm 78: 1-7) teaches that God has continued his saving acts in history despite the unfaithfulness of people. They should recount for generations to come how God has intervened in human affairs through his ‘power’ and ‘wonderful works.’

Does God continue to work through mighty acts and in history?

Or does God come alongside people, identify with their sufferings, and suffer with them?

The epistle reading (I Thessalonians 4: 13-18) challenges us to think about appropriate ways of remembering those who ‘have fallen asleep,’ the dead, on this morning, Remembrance Sunday.

Is there a thin borderline that separates remembering the dead and glorifying war?

Is there a way in which we might realise that God identifies with our sufferings through war, injustice and oppression, whether that is in the past or today?

The setting for the Gospel reading (Matthew 25: 1-13) is on the Mount of Olives, looking down on the Temple, where Christ has been teaching in the week leading up to his Passion, Death and Resurrection. In the Church, we too are preparing, preparing for Advent, when we think about Christ’s Second Coming, as King in Glory, at the end of time: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matthew 23: 39).

Christ is speaking about the connection we should make between how we live now and what will happen at the Second Coming.

Christ comes not as a special, added decoration for shop windows in the weeks before Christmas, or to make the Christmas crib cosy and comfortable … and everything else in the window marketable.

This Gospel reading challenges us: do we too easily accept the easy values of this world’s kingdoms … or are we prepared to meet the demands and expectations of the Kingdom of God?

The exhortation to ‘Keep awake’ is a call to be prepared – for the coming of the Kingdom of God, for the Second Coming of Christ.

I recently came across a poem, ‘Prayer of a Soldier in France,’ by the American poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918), who died in France in World War I. His poem shows not only how Christ identifies with suffering in war-time but our suffering at all times:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).

I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.

(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?)

My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

May I conclude on this Remembrance Sunday with a well-known prayer from Westminster Abbey:

May God grant
to the living grace,
to the departed rest,
to the Church and the World peace and concord,
and to us sinners eternal life. Amen

‘Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom … and five were wise’ (Matthew 25: 1-2) … sculptures at the West Front of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Matthew 25: 1-13 (NRSVA):

1 [Jesus said:] ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’

‘Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom … Five of them were foolish’ (Matthew 25: 1-2) … sculptures at the West Front of Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year A)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the king of all:
Govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
Look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

‘Age shall not weary them’ … fading poppies among weeds by the roadside in Comberford village, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


62, Abide with me (CD 4)
537, O God, our help in ages past (CD 31) or
494, Beauty for brokenness (CD 29)

A prayer for peace at the west front of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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.

This sermon was part of a celebration of the Eucharist in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes on Sunday 8 November 2020.

Wreaths at the War Memorial in Pery Square, Limerick … Sunday 8 November 2020 is the Third Sunday before Advent and Remembrance Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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