Sunday, 1 March 2020

Going beyond the drama in
search of the ‘real East End’

Brick Lane in the heart of the East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

For many years I have been a fan of EastEnders. I remember many of the original characters, I remember Den and Angie, and I even remember when Ian Beale was a boy.

I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s the only soap I watch on television, four times a week – Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays – and I prefer to watch it on the BBC, without interruption.

Sometimes, the melodramatics – pubs being burned down, people being kidnapped, thrown off bridges or tops of buildings, murders in the woods – and sometimes the avoidance of the real political issues of the day, such as Brexit, take away from the real drama on EastEnders that offers a slice of life in London today.

Commercial Tavern on Commercial Road … a typical East End pub? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although EastEnders avoided the ‘Brexit’ debate, over the years it has dealt with a variety of issues: anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, sharp business practices, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, class division, domestic abuse, marital fidelity, relationships, elder abuse, sexuality, knife crime, abortion, loneliness …

Even Dot Cotton’s habit of quoting random verses of Scripture, often out of context, or its stereotypical ‘more tea’ vicars who seem to pop up only for the ‘hatch, match and dispatch’ moments of Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals, invite discussion about the relevance of Christian faith in the world today.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry, founded in 1570, the oldest registered company in England, closed in 2017 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

It is easy to criticise EastEnders for presenting an East End that is long gone but idealised by the children and grandchildren of East Enders who were moved out to Essex shortly before or after World War II.

It is similar to the criticism of Coronation Street for its portrayal of the North of England, or the critics of Emmerdale who insist that England is no longer the ‘green and pleasant land’ of William Blake’s Jerusalem.

Of course, Blake is saying that England is more like ‘these dark satanic mills’ than a ‘green and pleasant’ land. These critics ignore how poetry, song and drama have a different way of presenting reality. And with its dialogue, sets, characters and storylines, EastEnders is in the tradition of classical English drama.

Spitalfields Market … there has been a market on the site since 1638 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Finding something new

I often pass through the East End as I take the train from Stansted Airport to Liverpool Street station, on my way to Southwark and meetings of the trustees of the mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The City of London spread out around Liverpool Street and Saint Paul’s Cathedral. As the docks of the old East End closed and as old communities have been rehoused in Essex and Hertfordshire, the City has started to intrude into areas that once would never have been seen as fashionable and desirable.

But how many people who work in the world of capital, investment and finance know the real East End for themselves?

On some recent visits, I have taken the opportunity to stroll through different parts of the East End, and to ask whether the life and diversity found in places such as Mile End, Brick Lane, Commercial Road, Cable Street and Whitechapel are truly reflected in EastEnders.

Bevis Marks Synagogue is the oldest continuously operating synagogue in Europe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Where is the East End?

The East End developed east of the Roman and mediaeval walls of the City of London, and north of the River Thames. It has no generally accepted boundaries and parts of it now lie within Central London.

Of course, it is difficult to define the borders of Central London too. But the East End includes Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Bishopsgate, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, parts of Hackney, Stepney and Mile End.

The East End began to emerge in the Middle Ages but really developed from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when London was seen as having four parts: the City of London, Westminster, Southwark and those areas beyond the Tower of London. Eventually, the East End spread east of the River Lea and into Essex.

The East End was known for its poverty, overcrowding and social problems, which motivated both political activists and social reformers.

But alongside these social and economic problems, the East End has also been associated with migration, beginning with Sephardic Jews and Huguenot refugees. They were quickly followed by successive generations of Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews, and, in the 20th century, families from Bangladesh.

When the Sephardic Jews arrived in London from Amsterdam in the late 17th century, they were the descendants of Portuguese and Spanish Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity or persecuted by the Inquisition. They built the Bevis Marks Synagogue which remains the oldest continuously operating synagogue in Europe.

Huguenot houses built on Fournier Street in the 1720s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Huguenot refugees who arrived in the 17th century created a new area in Spitalfields. But the Huguenot weavers and the Irish weavers often found themselves in contact with each other.

The Spitalfield Riots were put down with brutal force and ended with two men being hanged publicly in front of the Salmon and Ball, a public house at Bethnal Green: John Valline, who was from a Huguenot family, and John Doyle, an Irish weaver.

Thomas John Barnardo, born in Dublin in 1845, opened his first children’s home in 1868 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Social reformers, slum priests

The East End has also been associated with generations of social reformers, often motivated by their religious faith. The beginnings of the Salvation Army can be traced to William Booth preaching in a tent in Whitechapel in 1866, and Thomas John Barnardo, a Dublin-born doctor, set up his ‘ragged schools’ in the East End around the same time.

Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884, provided a springboard for social reformers. It was associated with people like RH Tawney, Clement Atlee and gave rise the Workers’ Educational Association, and later the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and the Child Poverty Action Group.

The ‘slum priest’ tradition was continued at Saint Botolph without Aldgate by Kenneth Leech (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The work of the philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts in the East End, including Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, led to formation of the first societies for the prevention of cruelty to children.

It was the home of the great Anglo-Catholic slum priests in the Victorian Church of England and later of activists and priests like the Revd Kenneth Leech, who died five years ago.

Radicals and anarchists commemorated in a mural in Angel Alley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Political activism and street battles

At the beginning of the 20th century, the East End also attracted socialist, communist and anarchist revolutionaries, including Kropotkin, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, as well as Maxim Gorky and Rosa Luxemburg.

Here Emily Pankhurst first campaigned for women’s votes.

Dublin-born Max Levitas was one of the heroes of the Battle of Cable Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Battle of Cable Street took place in in the East End on Sunday 4 October 1936. When Oswald Mosley and his Fascists tried to march through the East End, the police were sent in to protect the marchers rather than the Jewish people and local communities in the East End.

A petition supported by 100,000 local people was rebuffed by the Home Secretary, John Simon. When 20,000 anti-fascist demonstrators turned out, they were confronted by 2,000-3,000 fascists marchers protected by 6,000 police.

The heroes of the Battle of Cable Street, in eyes of many East Enders, included Dublin-born Max Levitas, later a councillor in Stepney for 15 years. He was still politically active when he died at the age of 103 on 2 November 2018.

11, A sign on Whitechapel Road recalls the ‘Jewish Daily Post’ … a short-lived Yiddish language newspaper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Pluralism and diversity

In many ways, the story of the changing nature of religious pluralism and cultural diversity in the East End is told in the changes that transformed a Huguenot chapel into a synagogue before it became Brick Lane Mosque.

Brick Lane Mosque stands on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane, just a short walk from Whitechapel station. High above the separate entrances for men and women to the mosque, a stone sundial is carved with the Latin words Umbra Sumus, ‘We are shadows.’

Brick Lane Mosque has been a Huguenot church, a Methodist chapel, a mission hall and Spitalfields Great Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

These words and the date 1743 above reflect the long history of a building that has stood in the heart of the East End for almost 250 years. It has been a centre of worship for successive generations of immigrants who have made the East End their home. Over time, it has been a Huguenot church, an evangelical mission hall, a Methodist chapel, a synagogue and a mosque.

It was originally built as a church by French Huguenots who settled in the Spitalfields area, having fled religious persecution in France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

It was built in 1743 as La Neuve Eglise or the ‘New Church’ by Huguenots. At the same time, the Church of England built Christ Church, Spitalfields, at the other end of Fournier Street.

Christ Church, Spitalfields, at the other end of Fournier Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Huguenot chapel on Brick Lane survived for more than six decades. But when weaving declined with industrialisation in the north of England, these Huguenots moved on and their church on Brick Lane fell out of use.

It was bought in 1809 by the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People. But this mission hall lasted only 10 years, and from 1819 it was a Methodist chapel.

Later, it became the main synagogue of a new Jewish community that started to arrive in this part of the East End from the mid-19th century on.

From the 1880s into the early 20th century, massive pogroms and the May Laws in Russia forced many Jews to flee the Tsarist Empire and parts of Central Europe, and about 140,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Britain.

The former Huguenot church at 59 Brick Lane was acquired by a Jewish immigrant community in 1898 and was known as the Spitalfields Great Synagogue.

The East London Mosque stands on the site of Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

But over the years, the Jewish population in the East End declined, with many people moving to other parts of East London and to suburbs in North London. The synagogue in Brick Lane closed in 1973 and a successor congregation opened in Golders Green. Only four of the 150 synagogues that were built in Tower Hamlets remain today.

Meanwhile, the Bengali community in Tower Hamlets was growing rapidly in the second half of the 20th century and it now makes up 32 per cent of the total population of Tower Hamlets. The Brick Lane Synagogue was sold in 1975 and was transformed into a mosque, reopening in 1976 as the London Great Mosque.

It is now known as the Brick Lane Mosque. It is used primarily by the large Bengali community in the East End and can hold up to 3,200 people.

The Synagogue of the Congregation of Jacob is one of five remaining synagogues in the East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continuing poverty

The East End has given us the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Fish and Chips, the Cockney dialect, ‘rhyming slang’ and the Pearly Kings and Queens among the fruit and vegetable stallholders on the streets and in the markets of the East End.

The closure of the last of the East End docks in 1980 created further challenges and led to attempts at regeneration at the London Docks and Canary Wharf, and the Olympic Parks means the East End is going through further change.

Sadly, to this day, however, some parts of the East End continue to live with some of the worst poverty in Britain.

East End culture includes fish and chips and rhyming slang (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

This feature was first published in the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) in March 2020.

What are the real temptations
we face in the season of Lent?

The Temptation of Job in the Purgatory Window by Richard King of the Harry Clarke Studios in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 1 March 2020,

The First Sunday in Lent.

11.30 am: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

Morning Prayer 2


Readings: Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4: 1-11.

‘The devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple …’ (Matthew 4: 5) … a gargoyle at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

There are no special Lenten study groups in this group of parishes this year. Instead I thought it might be interesting to concentrate in our Sunday sermons on the interesting, unusual characters we are going to meet in the Gospel readings on the Sundays in Lent this year.

They include:

1, The Devil, who appears as the serpent (Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7) and the Tempter (Matthew 4: 1-11) in this morning’s readings (Lent 1: 1 March 2020)

2, Nicodemus, who comes to meet Jesus in the night (John 3: 1-17) next week (Lent 2: 8 March 2020)

3, The unnamed Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 5-42) two weeks from now (Lent 3: 15 March 2020)

4, The women at the Cross (John 19: 25b-27) on Mothering Sunday (Lent 4: 22 March 2020)

5, I am leaving it to the Revd Joe Hardy to look at Lazarus who is raised from the dead (John 11: 1-45) when he takes our United Group service on the fifth Sunday of the month (Lent 5: 29 March 2020)

All these characters, as we meet them along the journey through Lent, prepare us for meeting Christ when he arrives in Jerusalem and we come face-to-face with him at his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

What is your image of the Devil?

For many people today, he is old hat and the stuff of superstition. For other people he is a figure of fun: the gargoyles gushing out rainwater from gutters on cathedrals and churches; the logo for Manchester United; or the impish black-and-red costumes of children at Hallowe’en or some adults at Carnival in Continental European cities in the days before Lent.

Many of our cultural images of the Devil come not from the Bible but from Dante’s Inferno, which influenced John Milton’s Paradise Lost, other poets, including TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, as well as frescoes, paintings, and stained-glass windows throughout the world.

But the Devil appears in many forms throughout the Bible.

The word satan does not occur in this morning’s reading from Genesis. Instead, the tempter is a talking serpent.

The original Hebrew term sâtan (שָּׂטָן‎) means an ‘accuser’ or ‘adversary,’ and refers to both human adversaries and a supernatural entity. The word is derived from a verb meaning primarily to obstruct or to oppose. When it is used without the definite article (satan), the word can refer to any accuser; when it is used with the definite article (ha-satan), it refers specifically to the heavenly accuser: the Satan.

Ha-Satan with the definite article occurs 13 times in two books of the Hebrew Bible: Job 1 and 2 (10 times) and Zechariah 3: 1-2 (three times); satan without the definite article is used in 10 instances.

These occurrences without a definite article include the Angel of the Lord who confronts Balaam on his donkey (Numbers 22: 22); and the Angel of the Lord who brings a plague against Israel for three days after David takes a census (II Samuel 24).

The satan who appears in the Book of Job is one of the ‘sons of God’ (Job 1: 6-8) who has been roaming around the earth and who tortures Job physically, mentally and spiritually, to see whether Job will abandon his faith. But Job remains faithful and righteous, and satan is shamed in his defeat.

The English word devil, used as a synonym for Satan, can be traced through Middle English, Old English and Latin to the Greek διάβολος (diabolos), ‘slanderer,’ from a verb (diaballein) meaning to slander, but originally meaning ‘to hurl across’ or ‘to back bite.’ In the New Testament, the words Satan and diabolos are used interchangeably.

Another name, Beelzebub, means ‘Lord of Flies,’ and is also a contemptuous name for a Philistine god and a pun on his name meaning ‘Baal the Prince.’ Some Pharisees accuse Jesus of exorcising demons through the power of Beelzebub.

Satan plays a role in some of the parables, including the Parables of the Sower, the Weeds, the Sheep and the Goats, and the Strong Man.

In Saint Luke’s Gospel, Judas betrays Christ because ‘Satan entered into’ him (see Luke 22: 3-6; cf John 12: 13: 2) and Christ implies Satan has authority to test Peter and the other apostles (see Luke 22: 31).

In Saint John’s Gospel, Satan is identified as ‘the Archon of the Cosmos’ (ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου) who is to be overthrown through Christ’s death and resurrection (John 12: 31-32).

The Letter to the Hebrews describes the devil as ‘the one who has the power of death’ (Hebrews 2: 14).

In the Book of Revelation, Satan is first the supernatural ruler of the Empire. In this book, we also come across Abaddon, whose name in Greek is Apollyon, meaning ‘the destroyer,’ an angel who rules the Abyss (Revelation 9: 11).

The vision of a Great Red Dragon with seven heads, 10 horns, seven crowns, and a sweeping tail (Revelation 12: 3-4) is an image inspired by the apocalyptic visions in the Book of Daniel. A war then breaks out in heaven, and Michael and his angels defeat the Dragon who is thrown down. This dragon is identified with ‘that ancient serpent, who is called Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12: 9) and the accuser.

This identifies him with all the images of satan in the Hebrew Bible, from the serpent in Eden, to Job’s tempters.

Later, the chained and imprisoned Satan breaks loose from his chains in the abyss and wages war against the righteous. But he is defeated and cast into a lake of fire (see Revelation 20: 1-10).

This morning’s Gospel reading is one of the three accounts in the synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 4: 1-11, Mark 1: 12-13, and Luke 4: 1-13) describing the temptation of Christ by Satan in the wilderness.

Satan first shows Jesus a stone and tells him to turn it into bread. He then takes him to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and tells him to throw himself down so that the angels will catch him. Then he takes Jesus to the top of a tall mountain, shows him the kingdoms of the earth and promises to give them all to him if he will bow down and worship him.

In each of these temptations, Christ is tempted to the right thing for the wrong reasons.

What would be wrong with Christ turning stones into bread if that is going to feed the hungry?

What would be wrong with Christ showing his miraculous powers, if this is going to point to the majesty of God?

What would be wrong with Christ taking command of the kingdoms of this world, if this provides the opportunity to bring in justice, mercy and peace?

These are real temptations. Christ is truly human and truly divine, and for those who are morally driven there is always a real temptation to do the right thing … but to do it for the wrong reason.

Each time, Christ rebukes Satan, and after the third temptation he is ministered to by the angels.

Too often we reduce temptation to small things in life. On RTÉ 1, the one real temptation facing Jeff Difford, the slick pastor in Young Sheldon, was greed in the form of wanting a new combined toaster and microwave oven. He resisted that temptation for a day or so, and when he gives in, he asks for forgiveness.

But this is a fatuous and fraudulent presentation of temptation. True temptation can come in small ways, but it can also come in dramatic ways, in the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and in the temptation to do nothing.

There is real evil in the world. For example. this year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust.

Yet during carnival last week – a time of fun before entering Lent – at a carnival parade in Campo de Criptana, about 120 km south-east of Madrid, participants dressed like Nazis and Jewish concentration camp prisoners while dancing next to a float evoking crematoria.

In Aalst in Belgium, some people in the carnival parade dressed like haredim or pious Orthodox Jews but depicting them as ants, others wore fake hooked noses based on Jewish stereotypes, and still others dressed in black uniforms and red armbands imitating Nazi uniforms.

Three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust, some people still think real evil in the world is an appropriate them for carnival floats. How does this prepare us for Lent and the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

I was reminded of the temptation to be silent in the face of evil when I visited the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, and the cell of the Revd Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent German Lutheran pastor and an outspoken opponent of Hitler, was held in isolation.

On the wall of this cell are his words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.


This Lent, I invite you to join me on the journey, on the pilgrimage that leads to Good Friday, and that leads, of course, to the joys of Easter Day.

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

‘Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me’ … Pastor Martin Niemöller’s cell in the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4 But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.’

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,”
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”.’

7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him”.’

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Saint Michael and the Devil … a statue by Jacob Epstein at Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

The canticle Gloria may be omitted in Lent. The doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

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.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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.

The Collect of the Word:

O Lord,
who for our sake fasted forty days and forty nights:
give us grace to use such abstinence,
that, our flesh being subdued by the Spirit,
we may ever obey your godly will
in righteousness and true holiness;
to your honour and glory,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

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:

‘ … and suddenly angels came and waited on him’ (Matthew 4: 11) … two angels by Eric Gill support a bishop’s coat-of-arms in Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

108, Praise to the Holiest in the height (CD 7)
207, Forty days and forty nights (CD 13)
595, Safe in the shadow of the Lord (CD 34)

‘Then the devil left him …’ (Matthew 4: 11) … a sculpture in the Llotja de la Seda or Silk Exchange in Valencia (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.

Giovanni da Modena’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna was inspired by Dante’s descriptions of the Devil and Hell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Temptations in Lent,
including the temptation
not to speak out for others

‘The devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple …’ (Matthew 4: 5) … a gargoyle at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 1 March 2020,

The First Sunday in Lent.

9.30 am: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)


Readings: Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12-19; Matthew 4: 1-11.

The Temptation of Job in the Purgatory Window by Richard King of the Harry Clarke Studios in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

There are no special Lenten study groups in this group of parishes this year. Instead I thought it might be interesting to concentrate in our Sunday sermons on the interesting, unusual characters we are going to meet in the Gospel readings on the Sundays in Lent this year.

They include:

1, The Devil, who appears as the serpent (Genesis 2: 15-17, 3: 1-7) and the Tempter (Matthew 4: 1-11) in this morning’s readings (Lent 1: 1 March 2020)

2, Nicodemus, who comes to meet Jesus in the night (John 3: 1-17) next week (Lent 2: 8 March 2020)

3, The unnamed Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 5-42) two weeks from now (Lent 3: 15 March 2020)

4, The women at the Cross (John 19: 25b-27) on Mothering Sunday (Lent 4: 22 March 2020)

5, I am leaving it to the Revd Joe Hardy to look at Lazarus who is raised from the dead (John 11: 1-45) when he takes our United Group service on the fifth Sunday of the month (Lent 5: 29 March 2020)

All these characters, as we meet them along the journey through Lent, prepare us for meeting Christ when he arrives in Jerusalem and we come face-to-face with him at his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

What is your image of the Devil?

For many people today, he is old hat and the stuff of superstition. For other people he is a figure of fun: the gargoyles gushing out rainwater from gutters on cathedrals and churches; the logo for Manchester United; or the impish black-and-red costumes of children at Hallowe’en or some adults at Carnival in Continental European cities in the days before Lent.

Many of our cultural images of the Devil come not from the Bible but from Dante’s Inferno, which influenced John Milton’s Paradise Lost, other poets, including TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, as well as frescoes, paintings, and stained-glass windows throughout the world.

But the Devil appears in many forms throughout the Bible.

The word satan does not occur in this morning’s reading from Genesis. Instead, the tempter is a talking serpent.

The original Hebrew term sâtan (שָּׂטָן‎) means an ‘accuser’ or ‘adversary,’ and refers to both human adversaries and a supernatural entity. The word is derived from a verb meaning primarily to obstruct or to oppose. When it is used without the definite article (satan), the word can refer to any accuser; when it is used with the definite article (ha-satan), it refers specifically to the heavenly accuser: the Satan.

Ha-Satan with the definite article occurs 13 times in two books of the Hebrew Bible: Job 1 and 2 (10 times) and Zechariah 3: 1-2 (three times); satan without the definite article is used in 10 instances.

These occurrences without a definite article include the Angel of the Lord who confronts Balaam on his donkey (Numbers 22: 22); and the Angel of the Lord who brings a plague against Israel for three days after David takes a census (II Samuel 24).

The satan who appears in the Book of Job is one of the ‘sons of God’ (Job 1: 6-8) who has been roaming around the earth and who tortures Job physically, mentally and spiritually, to see whether Job will abandon his faith. But Job remains faithful and righteous, and satan is shamed in his defeat.

The English word devil, used as a synonym for Satan, can be traced through Middle English, Old English and Latin to the Greek διάβολος (diabolos), ‘slanderer,’ from a verb (diaballein) meaning to slander, but originally meaning ‘to hurl across’ or ‘to back bite.’ In the New Testament, the words Satan and diabolos are used interchangeably.

Another name, Beelzebub, means ‘Lord of Flies,’ and is also a contemptuous name for a Philistine god and a pun on his name meaning ‘Baal the Prince.’ Some Pharisees accuse Jesus of exorcising demons through the power of Beelzebub.

Satan plays a role in some of the parables, including the Parables of the Sower, the Weeds, the Sheep and the Goats, and the Strong Man.

In Saint Luke’s Gospel, Judas betrays Christ because ‘Satan entered into’ him (see Luke 22: 3-6; cf John 12: 13: 2) and Christ implies Satan has authority to test Peter and the other apostles (see Luke 22: 31).

In Saint John’s Gospel, Satan is identified as ‘the Archon of the Cosmos’ (ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου) who is to be overthrown through Christ’s death and resurrection (John 12: 31-32).

The Letter to the Hebrews describes the devil as ‘the one who has the power of death’ (Hebrews 2: 14).

In the Book of Revelation, Satan is first the supernatural ruler of the Empire. In this book, we also come across Abaddon, whose name in Greek is Apollyon, meaning ‘the destroyer,’ an angel who rules the Abyss (Revelation 9: 11).

The vision of a Great Red Dragon with seven heads, 10 horns, seven crowns, and a sweeping tail (Revelation 12: 3-4) is an image inspired by the apocalyptic visions in the Book of Daniel. A war then breaks out in heaven, and Michael and his angels defeat the Dragon who is thrown down. This dragon is identified with ‘that ancient serpent, who is called Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12: 9) and the accuser.

This identifies him with all the images of satan in the Hebrew Bible, from the serpent in Eden, to Job’s tempters.

Later, the chained and imprisoned Satan breaks loose from his chains in the abyss and wages war against the righteous. But he is defeated and cast into a lake of fire (see Revelation 20: 1-10).

This morning’s Gospel reading is one of the three accounts in the synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 4: 1-11, Mark 1: 12-13, and Luke 4: 1-13) describing the temptation of Christ by Satan in the wilderness.

Satan first shows Jesus a stone and tells him to turn it into bread. He then takes him to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and tells him to throw himself down so that the angels will catch him. Then he takes Jesus to the top of a tall mountain, shows him the kingdoms of the earth and promises to give them all to him if he will bow down and worship him.

In each of these temptations, Christ is tempted to the right thing for the wrong reasons.

What would be wrong with Christ turning stones into bread if that is going to feed the hungry?

What would be wrong with Christ showing his miraculous powers, if this is going to point to the majesty of God?

What would be wrong with Christ taking command of the kingdoms of this world, if this provides the opportunity to bring in justice, mercy and peace?

These are real temptations. Christ is truly human and truly divine, and for those who are morally driven there is always a real temptation to do the right thing … but to do it for the wrong reason.

Each time, Christ rebukes Satan, and after the third temptation he is ministered to by the angels.

Too often we reduce temptation to small things in life. On RTÉ 1, the one real temptation facing Jeff Difford, the slick pastor in Young Sheldon, was greed in the form of wanting a new combined toaster and microwave oven. He resisted that temptation for a day or so, and when he gives in, he asks for forgiveness.

But this is a fatuous and fraudulent presentation of temptation. True temptation can come in small ways, but it can also come in dramatic ways, in the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and in the temptation to do nothing.

There is real evil in the world. For example. this year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust.

Yet during carnival last week – a time of fun before entering Lent – at a carnival parade in Campo de Criptana, about 120 km south-east of Madrid, participants dressed like Nazis and Jewish concentration camp prisoners while dancing next to a float evoking crematoria.

In Aalst in Belgium, some people in the carnival parade dressed like haredim or pious Orthodox Jews but depicting them as ants, others wore fake hooked noses based on Jewish stereotypes, and still others dressed in black uniforms and red armbands imitating Nazi uniforms.

Three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust, some people still think real evil in the world is an appropriate them for carnival floats. How does this prepare us for Lent and the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

I was reminded of the temptation to be silent in the face of evil when I visited the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, and the cell of the Revd Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prominent German Lutheran pastor and an outspoken opponent of Hitler, was held in isolation.

On the wall of this cell are his words:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.


This Lent, I invite you to join me on the journey, on the pilgrimage that leads to Good Friday, and that leads, of course, to the joys of Easter Day.

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

Giovanni da Modena’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna was inspired by Dante’s descriptions of the Devil and Hell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ 4 But he answered, ‘It is written,

“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.’

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you,”
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”.’

7 Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”.’

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; 9 and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him”.’

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Saint Michael and the Devil … a statue by Jacob Epstein at Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet

The canticle Gloria may be omitted in Lent. The doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

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.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
you renew us with the living bread from heaven.
Nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
strengthen our love,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

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

‘ … and suddenly angels came and waited on him’ (Matthew 4: 11) … two angels by Eric Gill support a bishop’s coat-of-arms in Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

108, Praise to the Holiest in the height (CD 7)
207, Forty days and forty nights (CD 13)
595, Safe in the shadow of the Lord (CD 34)

‘Then the devil left him …’ (Matthew 4: 11) … a sculpture in the Llotja de la Seda or Silk Exchange in Valencia (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.

‘Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me’ … Pastor Martin Niemöller depicted in the museum at Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying through Lent with
USPG (5): 1 March 2020

The train tracks in Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today [1 March 2020] is the First Sunday in Lent. Later this morning, I am presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, at 9.30 and leading preaching at Morning Prayer in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections, and – because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust – illustrating my reflections with images on this theme.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (1-7 March), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on ‘Theological Education: a Key Pillar of Mission,’ with a particular focus on Bishop Gaul Theological College in Harare, which takes its name from Bishop Billy Gaul, an early SPG missionary from Ireland.

The former Bishop of Harare, Bishop Chad Gandiya, was recently appointed acting principal of Bishop Gaul Theological College in Harare, with effect from 31 December 2019. I got to know Bishop Chad when he was the Regional Desk Officer for Africa and the Indian Ocean at the USPG office in London, where he oversaw a wide range of projects, such as health, leadership development and education, including theological education. He has also been on the staff of the former United College of the Ascension in Birmingham, where I took a course in 1996. His decision to return to Zimbabwe in 2009, during difficult times, was a brave and heroic decision.

Introducing this week’s theme, the Prayer Diary provides this insight:

Bishop Gaul College is the national Anglican theological college in the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA). Since its establishment, the college has produced bishops and over 100 priests. It caters to students of the five dioceses in Zimbabwe and the Diocese of Botswana. More recently, the college has opened to students from countries outside CPCA; this has brought an international flavour and opportunities for students to think beyond their borders. Increasing students from the laity are now being trained. The impact of a wider range of people trained to spread the Good News and the salvation of souls is in line with the college’s objectives.

Bishop Gaul College is committed to the formation, training, and equipping of clergy and laity for the Christian ministries in the Church of the Province of Central Africa, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The college has substantially increased the number of students from the laity. It is the college’s intention to contribute spiritually and socially to the community by teaching the laity. There are currently 27 students. The college currently faces various challenges, including a reduction in the number of ordinands, a lack of water and rising running costs.

Sunday 1 March: First Sunday in Lent, and Zero Discrimination Day:

Holy God, thank you for treating us all equally.
Help us, both during this season of Lent,
and the rest of the year,
to stand against all forms of discrimination
and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Readings: Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1–7; Psalm 32; Romans 5: 12-19; and Matthew 4: 1-11.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
Give us grace to discipline ourselves
in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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.

With Bishop Chad Gandiya, the acting principal of Bishop Gaul College during his visit to Dublin as Bishop of Harare in 2011

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection