Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
3, Walter Brueggemann, ‘Marked by Ashes’

‘Ashes’ (1894), by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

Patrick Comerford

Wednesday 31 March 2021

Wednesday in Holy Week (‘Spy Wednesday’)

Reading: John 13: 21-32.

Each evening in Holy Week this year, once again, I am reading a poem to help our reflections.

My choice of a poem for Holy Week this evening, the last Wednesday in Lent, is ‘Marked by Ashes,’ by Walter Brueggemann, in which he says:

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes


This poem is included in his book Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp 27-28. This is a poem, not only for Ash Wednesday, but for every Wednesday in Lent.

Walter Brueggemann, who born in Nebraska in 1933, is a distinguished Old Testament scholar and theologian. An ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, he is Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, and now lives in retirement in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He is the author of over 100 books, hundreds of articles, and several Biblical commentaries, and is known for his brilliant method of combining literary and sociological modes in reading the Bible.

Throughout his career, Walter Brueggemann has combined the best of critical scholarship with his love for the local church and its service to the kingdom of God. His experience as a long-standing member of his local church gave rise to his book Prayers for a Privileged People, which includes this poem.

The Dean of Wakefield, the Very Revd Simon Cowling, in a blog posting some years ago while he was Canon Precentor of Sheffield Cathedral, said: ‘At first reading the prayer, with its striking and insistent use of ‘Easter’ as an imperative verb, appears to be less about Lenten penitence and fasting than about Resurrection joy and feasting. Digging more deeply, we begin to understand that the prayer is an exploration of an archetypal, perhaps the archetypal, New Testament theme: the mysterious space between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’; between Christ’s resurrection victory and his coming again at the consummation of all things.’

In Brueggemann’s prayer, it is Ash Wednesday, or just ‘Wednesday’, that stands for this space. And God’s ‘eastering’ of this space continually reminds us that, even in the midst of our Lenten disciplines, the fruits of Christ’s resurrection continue to be known in our lives and the life of the Church.

Marked by Ashes by Walter Brueggemann

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day ...
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

John 13: 21-32 (NRSVA):

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

The Collect of the Day:

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son 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. Amen.

‘This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility’ … a late summer sunset at Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued tomorrow: CP Cavafy, ‘Julian at the Mysteries’

Yesterday’s poem: CS Lewis, ‘Evensong’



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.

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
43, Santiago de Compostela

The west façade of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, facing onto the Praza do Obradoiro (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, a photograph of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

This is Wednesday in Holy Week (31 March 2021), the last week in Lent. This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that I think of as places of pilgrimage and spiritual refreshment (I have reflected earlier this Lent on the place of the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and of Lichfield Cathedral, in my spiritual life).

My photographs this morning (31 March 2021) are from the Cathedral of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. After Rome and Jerusalem, Santiago is the third most visited place of pilgrimage in the Christian world, and I visited there in January 2019.

The history of the Camino de Santiago dates back to the early ninth century and the discovery of the tomb of Saint James in the year 814. Since then, Santiago de Compostela has been a destination for pilgrims from throughout Europe. The Camino has become a popular spiritual quest in recent decades, even for many pilgrims who have few if any church connections.
The ‘Botafumeiro’, the large thurible above the crossing, is the largest censer in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 13: 21-32 (NRSVA):

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (31 March 2021), Wednesday in Holy Week, prays:

Let us give thanks for our Lenten journey as we prepare to celebrate the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A pilgrim marker, with a pilgrim shell and a bright arrow, along the Camino route to Santiago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
2, CS Lewis, ‘Evensong’

The lion on the rectory door in Dundela, Belfast, that inspired CS Lewis … Aslan’s name is the Turkish word for lion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Reading: John 12: 20-36.

Each evening in Holy Week this year, once again, I am reading a poem to help our reflections.

My choice of a poem this evening is ‘Evensong’ by the Belfast-born writer, CS Lewis (1893-1963). He is known worldwide for his popular and scholarly works that include literary criticism, children’s literature, fantasy literature and essays, as well as his works in theology and as a Christian apologist. His great works include Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves, and Surprised by Joy.

At the age of 32, through the influence of JRR Tolkien, Hugo Dyson and other friends, Lewis returned to the Anglicanism of his birth: ‘In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’

He died on 22 November 1963 came a week before his 65th birthday – and on the same day that President John F Kennedy was assassinated.

The Eagle and Child in Saint Giles’, the pub in Oxford where CS Lewis and the Inklings met on Tuesday mornings in 1939 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Evensong, by CS Lewis

Now that night is creeping
O’er our travail’d senses,
To Thy care unsleeping
We commit our sleep.
Nature for a season
Conquers our defences,
But th’eternal Reason
Watch and ward will keep.

All the soul we render
Back to Thee completely,
Trusting Thou wilt tend her
Through the deathlike hours,
And all night remake her
To Thy likeness sweetly,
Then with dawn awake her
And give back her powers.

Slumber’s less uncertain
Brother soon will bind us
– Darker falls the curtain,
Stifling-close ’tis drawn:
But amidst that prison
Still Thy voice can find us,
And, as Thou hast risen,
Raise us in Thy dawn.

John 12: 20-36 (NRSVA):

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30 Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

The Collect of the Day:

O God,
who by the passion of your blessed Son made
an instrument of shameful death
to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ,
that we may gladly suffer pain and loss
for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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. Amen.

The Communion vessels presented by CS Lewis’s father, Arthur Lewis, to Saint Mark’s Church, Dundela, the Belfast church where CS Lewis was baptised (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued tomorrow: Walter Brueggemann, ‘Marked by Ashes’

Yesterday’s poem, Christina Rossetti, ‘Lent’



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.

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
42, Santa Maria, Trastevere

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, in the very heart of Trastevere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, a photograph of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

This is Tuesday in Holy Week (30 March 2021), the last week in Lent. This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that I think of as places of pilgrimage and spiritual refreshment (I have reflected earlier this Lent on the place of the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and of Lichfield Cathedral, in my spiritual life).

My photographs this morning (30 March 2021) are from the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome. I imagine that every pilgrim, tourist and visitor to Rome spends some time at Saint Peter’s Basilica, but this is the first church I visit when I am in Rome. This church is one of the oldest in Rome. The first church here is said to have been as built ca 220 or 221 by Pope Callixtus I (217-222). Today this is a friendly and welcoming church, with strong links to the local community and the Community of San’Egidio.

The mosaics in the apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 12: 20-36 (NRSVA):

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30 Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (30 March 2021), Tuesday in Holy Week, prays:

Let us pray for all who work toward ending hunger within our world, especially those who harvest and prepare food for the good of the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

There are rich archaeological and historical artefacts in Santa Maria in Trastevere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Monday, 29 March 2021

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
1, Christina Rossetti, ‘Lent’

Christina Rossetti, by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Patrick Comerford

Monday 29 March 2021

Reading: John 12: 1-11.

I am planning each evening in Holy Week this year, once again, to read a poem to help our reflections.

My choice of a poem for Holy Week this evening is ‘Lent,’ a short poem written about 1886 by the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894).

We are more likely to associate Christina Rossetti with Christmas rather than Lent because two of her poems, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘Love came down at Christmas,’ are among the best-loved and most popular Christmas carols.

She was born in London, the daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, an exiled Italian poet, and she was a sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet. Their brother William Michael Rossetti and sister Maria Rossetti were writers too.

When she was 14, Christina Rossetti suffered a nervous breakdown and left school. Bouts of depression and related illness followed. During this period she, her mother and her sister became absorbed in the Anglo-Catholic movement that developed in the Church of England, and religious devotion came to play a major role in Christian Rossetti’s life.

Her time spent alone, in prayer, in a single life, devoted to Christ and to working with the marginalised, might be compared with Mary in this evening’s Gospel reading, who devotes her wealth to Christ but is criticised by Judas.

She is honoured in the liturgical calendar of the Church of England and other Anglican churches on 27 April. Her writings have strongly influenced writers such as Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin.

Christian Rossetti wrote many poems on the theme of Lent, including ‘Lent,’ ‘Ash Wednesday,’ ‘Mid-Lent’ and ‘Good Friday.’

Her poem ‘Lent,’ in which she talks about ‘the present distress’ and the need ‘to watch and to pray,’ seems so appropriate as many of us continue to face isolation because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Her poem also seems to echo the themes and thoughts in the Collect of the Day, the Monday in Holy Week.

Lent, by Christina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.

It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent
So it leads us to Easter Day.

John 12: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

The Collect of the Day:

O God,
who by the passion of your blessed Son made
an instrument of shameful death
to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ,
that we may gladly suffer pain and loss
for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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. Amen.

‘It is good to spend and be spent, / It is good to watch and to pray’ … a lone prayer in the church in Torcello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued tomorrow: CS Lewis, ‘Evensong’

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.



Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
41, Rethymnon Cathedral

The Cathedral in Rethymnon was rebuilt after World War II and is modelled on the Church of Evangelistria on Tinos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, a photograph of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This is Monday in Holy Week (29 March 2021), the last week in Lent. This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that I think of as places of pilgrimage and spiritual refreshment (I have reflected earlier this Lent on the place of the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and of Lichfield Cathedral, in my spiritual life).

My photographs this morning (29 March 2021) are from the Cathedral of the Presentation in Rethymnon. I first visited Rethymnon in the 1980s, and immediately felt at home. I have returned almost every year ever since, not just for holidays but for time for personal prayer and reflection.

Although Rethymnon is centuries old as a city, with classical, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman buildings around every corner, I know of no surviving remains of Rethymnon’s mediaeval cathedral, which was destroyed in a raid by Algerian corsairs in 1571. The Cathedral of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple is a relatively new building. It occupies most of Mitropolis Square and was first built in 1834 on the site of an earlier church. It was rebuilt after World War II and is modelled on the Church of Evangelistria on Tinos.

Inside the Cathedral of Rethymnon on a recent Good Friday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 12: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (29 March 2021), Monday in Holy Week, prays:

Let us pray that during this Holy Week we might journey toward Easter with a hope that will enliven our communities with the presence of Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Inside the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the centre of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Sunday, 28 March 2021

An island walk along
a nature trail near
the Shannon Estuary

The Aughinish Alumina Nature Trail is by the banks of the River Deel where it flows from Askeaton into the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Aughinish Island is one of the many islands within this group of parishes, and is an island near Askeaton in the Shannon estuary, Co Limerick.

With the development of Aughinish Alumina and Rusal Aughinish, Europe’s largest bauxite refinery, the island has effectively become a peninsula. The site includes a deep-water jetty in the Shannon through which the refinery imports bauxite from Guinea and Brazil and exports alumina to be refined into aluminium metal.

Although most of the island is occupied by industry, it is also the site of Ireland’s first butterfly sanctuary, located in an abandoned quarry.

Earlier today, after the Palm Sunday Eucharist and before the rains came down again, two of us went for a walk along the Aughinish Alumina Nature Trail, by the banks of the River Deel where it flows from Askeaton into the Shannon Estuary.

The Hunt Lough on Aughinish Island is a unique dragonfly sanctuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

This nature trail, 30 km west of Limerick City, provides an excellent opportunity to view a wide range of wildlife. It is a self-guided nature trail through wild countryside, and it includes a bird hide, Ireland’s first designated sanctuary for butterflies, meadlowland and a rare heath habitat.

This was my first time to walk this trail, but I am told it is equally fascinating in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The Butterfly Sanctuary in a disused quarry is Ireland’s first sanctuary for butterflies, with a habitat management programme specifically for the benefit of native butterflies. It has a carpet of bird’s foot trefoil and kidney vetch, the food plants of the dingy skipper and small blue butterfly. Bee orchids are common here, while ravens nest on the cliff ledges.

The meadowland is a habitat with areas where the grass is kept short to attract various thrushes and wintering curlew.

The heath is now a rare type of habitat in Ireland. Grasses, herbs and wild flowers grow in abundance, with the promise of a colourful display in summer.

The Hunt Lough is a unique dragonfly sanctuary, and the constant singing of the skylark can be heard along with the meadow pipits and cuckoo.

It is wonderful what you can see in your own parish and within your own 5 km radius when you look for it on a Sunday afternoon.

Walking along the nature trail on Aughinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Sunday intercessions on
28 March 2021,
Palm Sunday

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an icon by Theodoros Papadopoulos of Larissa

Let us pray:

‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mark 11: 9):

Heavenly Father,
on Palm Sunday,
we ask for the grace to follow Christ,
in times of rejoicing and of grief
in times of welcome and rejection,
in times of triumph and defeat.

We pray for the nations of the world,
for Ireland north and south,
for the Taoiseach and Tanaiste,
the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

We pray for nations torn by war, strife and division,
we pray for all who defend democracy and human rights,
for all who stand against racism, prejudice and oppression,
and we pray for all peacemakers …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever’ (Psalm 118: 1, 29):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may welcome Christ in word and sacrament.

We pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes
in Co Limerick and Co Kerry,
that we may be blessed in their variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui,
the Anglican Church in Hong Kong and Macao,
and the Primate, Archbishop Andrew Chan.

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe
and Bishop Andrew Forster.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for our local schools
that they may continue to be places of
learning, happiness and safety
for pupils, teachers and other staff.

We pray for our own parishes and people,
and we pray for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

‘The Lord God helps me … he who vindicates me is near’ (Isaiah 50: 7-8):

Holy Spirit,
we pray for one another,
we pray those we love and those who love us,
we pray for family, friends and neighbours,
and we pray for those we promised to pray for.

We pray for those in need and those who seek healing …
for those working for healing …
for those waiting for healing …
for those seeking an end to this Covid crisis …

We pray for those who are sick or isolated,
at home or in hospital …

Una … Ann … Daphne … Sylvia … Ajay …
Joey … Ena … George … Louise …

We pray for those we have offered to pray for …
and we pray for those who pray for us …

We pray for all who grieve and mourn at this time …
for Joey, Kenneth, Victor, and their families …

We remember and give thanks for those who have died …
especially for Linda Smyth …
and for those whose anniversaries are at this time …
May their memories be a blessing to us …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A prayer from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) on Palm Sunday:

Holy God, as your Son entered his own city
on a colt, the foal of a donkey,
may we in humility, yet with your confidence,
work to transform our communities, through your Son.

Merciful Father …

These intercessions were prepared for use in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes on Palm Sunday, Sunday 28 March 2021



Moving from Palm Sunday
through the disappointment
of Good Friday to Easter hope

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an image from Gaudí’s Basilica de Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 March 2021, Palm Sunday

10 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Mark 11: 1-11.

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

It is now more than a year since we entered the first lockdown, and it looks as though the pandemic is going to keep our Church buildings closed for a second consecutive Easter.

Many of my colleagues are wondering whether Church is ever going to be the same again when this pandemic is over. What is the ‘new normal’ going to mean for the Church in the years ahead?

Some people have got out of the habit of regular, Sunday church-going. Are other Sunday morning activities going to prove more attractive?

Other people have become comfortable with the idea of church-at-home on Sundays, watching live-streamed services on social media, or broadcast services on television. Will they opt for the comfort of the comfy couch rather than returning to the wooden pews?

Since we started recording our Sunday sermons and Sunday intercessions, twice as many people are watching these through YouTube, Facebook and my blog than have ever come to church. When the lockdown ends, are we going to find ways of meeting their spiritual needs without using ‘spiritual bullying’, trying to cajole them into our churches?

And, of course, there are people who feel God has let them down during the pandemic. They expected a God who would meet their expectations. Now they miss their grandchildren, they miss the crowds, they miss the buzz on the city streets, they miss their jobs, they miss friends and sports fixtures and coffee shops and stopping to chat in the streets … They miss the ordinary but very good things in life, and they may think God has let them down, they may feel disappointed thinking God no longer hears their prayers.

The story of Palm Sunday is the story of city crowds, without any social distancing. But it is also the story of people who expect a Saviour who meets their expectations, and – having hailed their expected Messiah on a Sunday morning – turn on him in the days that follow when he fails to meet those expectations, when he does not deliver on their demands, when he refuses their call to fashion a god in their own image and likeness and who does their bidding.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week are stories of built-up expectations, and rapidly escalating disappointments, on the part of people who we have to recognise and accept saw themselves as deeply religious, filled with pious hopes.

In Saint Mark’s account of that first Palm Sunday, Christ arrives in Jerusalem to great solemnity. This triumphal entry sounds the note of majesty and kingship before the Passion narrative begins. But Saint Mark gives us hints too that we should be also look forward to Christ’s second coming.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is the entry of the king into his capital. And the crowd acclaims him as king when they say: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’

This phrase from the Psalms was used as a title for the Messianic king (Psalm 118: 26). Many in the crowd expected a new liberating king. But did anybody on that first Palm Sunday really realise who Jesus truly is?

Their expectations of him are high, but deep down their attitude towards Christ is unchanged. For most of them, he may still be a prophet in their eyes, but that is less than he actually is. He may be a king, but they want a king who will deliver what they want, not what he has come to give.

The crowd that welcomes him in is soon to turn him out. He is an outsider coming in, and if he disappoints them, if he fails to give them what they want, rather than what they need, then it is inevitable that they are going to turn on him.

When he fails to meet their expectations, he loses his popularity. When he refuses to accept the expectations they lay on his shoulders, they force him to carry the cross on his shoulders. When their hopes die, he must die too.

Christ choses the way he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But he abandons all choice about how he is going to be taken outside the city to die a few days later. And Christ, who receives a lively welcome into the city on Palm Sunday, is taken outside the city and crucified on Good Friday.

● Christ upsets our priorities.
● Christ makes demands on our time.
● Christ makes demands on our commitments.
● Christ challenges us about where we are going.
● And yet, Christ offers no quick fixes.

Christ steps into the comfort zones of the people in the city, and offers no quick fixes for the masses. They change their attitude, and there is a rapid, radical change in the social climate in Jerusalem that first Holy Week.

Things get out of hand, and Christ has no control over what happens. God in Christ has emptied himself of all choice and of all control.

So often we want to be in control, we want to have the choices. And yet life is not like that. When we find we cannot control the agenda, we get upset, we get frustrated.

When we can control the agenda, when we have the choices, so often we act in our own interests, rather than in the interests of others. But, you know, we are never fully human when we are alone. We are never fully human without relationships.

Some years ago, I was taught a lesson when I saw the community in Skerries in north Co Dublin showing its true humanity, its true capacity to love, it showed Christ-like priorities, when the people gave, shared and abandoned their own priorities to search for two missing fishermen who were drowned at sea.

The images that came to the fore from that community throughout that search reminded me constantly of the Good Shepherd and his search for the lost sheep.

I am least like Christ when I put my own selfish interests, my own gain, my own demands, before the needs of others.

When we value relationships, when we consider the needs of others, when we show that community matters and show that relationships lead to love, we become more like Christ.

Palm Sunday teaches us about getting our priorities right. Good Friday shows us how God gets those priorities right.

Good Friday appears to be the end. But it is only the beginning.

As TS Eliot says at the end of East Coker, the second of his Four Quartets:

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
… In my end is the beginning.


Palm Sunday seemed like a triumphal beginning. Good Friday seemed like a frightening, empty, desolate end. But, in the end, we find the beginning, our hope is in our Easter faith.

Easter gives us the hope that when we get our priorities right, when I turn from me to us, from self to relationship, then I not only become more human, but I become more Christ-like. And, when we become more Christ-like, we become more like the person God created us to be.

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

The Entry Into Jerusalem ascribed to Fra Angelico (1387-1455) in Saint Mark’s, Florence

Mark 11: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday decorations on the front door at the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Red (or Violet):

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent.

Penitential Kyries (Passiontide and Holy Week):

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Palm Sunday):

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace (Ephesians 2: 17).

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

‘Buro Taxi’ … riding on a donkey in Mijas in south-east Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

134, Make way, make way for Christ the King (CD 8)
231, My song is love unknown (CD 14)

Palm Sunday … an icon of the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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



Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
40, Saint Thomas’s Church, Achill Island

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, on Achill Island, Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Today is Palm Sunday (28 March 2021), and we are moving into Holy Week, the last week in Lent. This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that I think of as places of pilgrimage and spiritual refreshment (I have reflected earlier this Lent on the place of the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and of Lichfield Cathedral, in my spiritual life).

My photographs this morning (28 March 2021) are from Saint Thomas’s Church in Dugort on Achill Island, off the coast of Mayo.

I first visited Achill Island in 1974, and for many years we spent days on end – even weeks on end – on Achill Island, as a retreat from the pressures of daily life, whether those were the demands of work, campaigning or study. When Achill provided safe space for reflection, and this church was a place for prayer and spiritual reflection.

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, has been a place for prayer and spiritual reflection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 11: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (28 March 2021), Palm Sunday, prays:

Holy God, as your Son entered his own city
on a colt, the foal of a donkey,
may we in humility, yet with your confidence,
work to transform our communities, through your Son.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The beach below Slievemore at Dugort, Achill Island … safe space for reflection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Saturday, 27 March 2021

When 5 million means
more than framed
war-time banknotes

What does 5 million mean … whether they are war-time banknotes or readers of this blog? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

There are some phrases I heard constantly in my childhood and teens that lost their currency in my adult years:

‘Jet-setters’ and ‘high-flyers’: until the pandemic put an end to many of our travel plans last year, Ryanair had put Ireland at the centre of Europe and allowed many Irish people to fly to major European capitals on city breaks.

‘Leafy suburbs’: the suburban sprawl in every direction in Dublin from the 1970s means no-one lives very far from a leafy suburb.

‘The high life’: high living went out of fashion in Dublin when the towers were built in Ballymun. The debates between Frank McDonald and Jonny Ronan in The Irish Times about the shape of the future Dublin makes me wonder whether it is going to come back into fashion again.

‘Two-car families’: in the leafy suburbs of Dublin, it appears the only two-car families nowadays are the ‘empty-nesters.’

‘Millionaires’: When the high-flyers in the leafy suburbs count up the value of their homes, their pension pots, the more-than-two cars in the drive, the small stash from granny’s will, and the early retirement package, we might realise there are more millionaires in Ireland than we ever imagined.

I never wanted to be a millionaire, still less a multimillionaire. But framed among my collection of old, redundant, war-time Greek banknotes are two 5 million drachmai notes from 1944. When I die, I may not only be a millionaire, but a multimillionaire – even though those two 5 million drachma notes are worthless.

It brought personal satisfaction to realise that the number of visitors to this blog passed the 5 million mark earlier this evening [27 March 2021] while I was watching to Leinster v Munster PRO14 rugby final.

I have said often that this is not a ‘bells-and-whistles’ blog, and I still hope it is never going to be a commercial success. It was never designed to be so.

I decline advertising and commercial sponsorships, I accept no ‘freebies,’ and I endorse no products. Even when I am political, mainly about war and peace, racism, human rights and refugees, I refuse to declare my personal party preferences when it comes to voting.

I am keen to resist commercial pressures, I have refused to receive books from publishers and I only review books I have bought myself. Without making too much a point of it, I value my independence so much that I refuse the offer of complimentary coffee when I return to a restaurant or café I have mentioned … as journalists like to be reminded, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The five most popular postings on this blog so far are:

1, The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons and Orthodox spirituality (7 April 2010), over 17,000 hits.

2, A visit to ‘Howth Castle and Environs’ (19 March 2012), over 12,200 hits.

3, Readings in Spirituality: the novelist as a writer in spirituality and theology (26 November 2009), over 10,100 hits.

4, ‘When all that’s left of me is love, give me away’ … a poem before Kaddish has gone viral (15 January 2020), over 10,100 hits.

5, Raising money at the book stall and walking the beaches of Portrane (1 August 2011), about 7,400 hits.

When I began blogging, it took until July 2012 to reach 0.5 million hits. This figure rose to 1 million by September 2013; 1.5 million in June 2014; 2 million in June 2015; 2.5 million in November 2016; 3 million by October 2017; 3.5 million by September 2018; 4 million on 19 November 2019; 4.5 million on 18 June 2020; and 5 million today [28 March 2021].

To break down those figures, you could say this blog is getting over half a million hits a year, somewhere about 50,000 to 60,000 a month, and at the moment an average of about 2,100 or 2,200 hits a day.

But those figures surpassed on some occasions, and this is a tally of the biggest daily hits:

19,143: 3 February 2020
17,641: 5 February 2020
16,854: 4 February 2020
15,587: 6 February 2020
14,775: 2 February 2020

13,030: 26 May 2020
9,960: 30 January 2020
8,671: 26 December 2019
7,239: 20 May 2020
7,128: 3 May 2020

6,933: 24 November 2019
6,683: 14 January 2020
6,541: 9 April 2020
6,507: 22 December 2019
6,463: 26 January 2020

6,374: 6 November 2019
6,308: 26 November 2019
6,285: 14 October 2019
6,280: 3 January 2020
6,208: 29 November 2019

6,205: 30 November 2019
6,152: 1 October 2019
6,113: 2 January 2020
6,094: 15 October 2019
5,926: 10 March 2021

In other words, the top ‘two dozen’ have been within the past year or two.

As for the latest landmark figure of 5 million hits, I might ask on a positive note, what do 5 million people – as opposed to a worthless 5 million banknote – look like?

The population of the Republic of Ireland is just under 5 million – 4,977,846 this week, according to the Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data. There are 5 million people in Oman, Palestine, Costa Rica, Liberia and the Republic of Ireland, and 5 million people live in Melbourne, Addis Ababa and Sydney.

The US reached the grim milestone of more than 5 million Covid-19 cases in August 2020, India’s total coronavirus cases passed 5 million a month later, and Brazil’s coronavirus cases passed 5 million in October.

By mid-January, the UK had administered over five million coronavirus vaccine jabs across the country.

But five million means more in so many other ways too.

Limerick City and County Council is spending €5 million on a total upgrade of the surface of the Limerick Greenway. On completion, the entire 40 km route from Rathkeale to the Kerry border near Abbeyfeale will have a 3-metre wide macadam surface … which is just enough to keep your 2-metre social distancing in order.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, pledged a further €5 million in humanitarian assistance from Ireland for the crisis in Yemen earlier this month.

The Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and the Diaspora, Colm Brophy, last month announced an additional €5 million in Irish Aid funding for the global health response to COVID-19, to enable developing countries access vaccines.

The Late Late Show last November raised over €5 million for Christmas charities.

Sometimes, 5 million can mean a lot and can go a long way.

What does it mean to be a multimillionaire when your millions are in war-time drachmai? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
39, Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey

Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford … Pugin’s only Romanesque church in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, a photograph of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that were designed by Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852), the architect singularly responsible for shaping and influencing the Gothic revival in church architecture on these islands.

My photographs this morning (27 March 2021) are from Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford.

This is Pugin’s only Romanesque-style church in Co Wexford. His designs were strongly influenced by Joseph Potter’s mixed Romanesque and Gothic style for Holy Cross Church, Lichfield, which I featured yesterday (26 March 2021), including Potter’s entrance door and his turret.

This is one of the earliest of Pugin’s churches, and dates from 1839. When the church was opened in 1843, it was claimed that Pugin’s design had been influenced by Dunbrody Abbey in south Co Wexford. But Saint Michael’s has many of the proportions of Pugin’s cathedral in Birmingham, being as wide and almost as long.

The West Door of Saint Michael’s Gorey … can be compared with Joseph Potter’s Romanesque door in Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 11: 45-57 (NRSVA):

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. 53 So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

The interior of Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (26 March 2021), prays:

Let us give thanks for the Church of North India’s Let My People Go programme, fighting injustice on behalf of marginalised communities in India.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The turret of Saint Michael’s Church, Gorey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Friday, 26 March 2021

Passover has become
a reminder of how we
are all interdependent

Shabbat haGadol begins at sunset this evening, and Passover begins at sunset tomorrow evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing last Friday how Passover this year begins at sunset tomorrow evening (Saturday 27 March 2021) and continues until Sunday evening 4 April. The Shabbat before Passover is known as Shabbat Hagadol, ‘the Great Shabbat.’

After an entire year of challenge, change, unrest and uncertainty, Passover, the Festival of Liberation, is arriving once again. Although many people of us are still deeply affected by COVID, spring is blooming, vaccines are beginning to roll out, and soon we may begin to hope that the worst is behind us.

As Jewish families sit down tomorrow evening and on Sunday night to relive the Exodus from slavery and eat the shmurah matzah and bitter herbs, these may also be evenings to thank God for the myriad of miracles big and small in daily and personal lives.

Those who have entered a new era of health will not forget those still in isolation. Pesach offers a renewed appreciation and focus on who interdependent all are.

The Jewish calendar is based on a lunar calendar with adjustments, which means that Passover begins on Saturday night about once every nine years. This means that erev Pesach, the day before Passover 2021, coincides with Shabbat, bringing with it a number of unique customs and guidelines.

It is an ancient tradition for the firstborns to fast on the day before Passover. Since Jews generally do not fast on Shabbat, which is a day of feasting, or on Friday which may interfere with the joy of Shabbat joy, this fast of the firstborn was observed in many families yesterday (Thursday 25 March, 12 Nissan).

The widespread custom is for firstborns to participate in a siyum or another celebratory event that overrides the fast and allows them to eat for the remainder of the day. This, too, was followed yesterday (Thursday).

On the night before Passover, households traditionally search by candlelight for chametz, which they are forbidden to own or eat on Passover. These are foods with leavening agents. Chametz is a product that is both made from one of five types of grain – two varieties of wheat and three varieties of barley – and has been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than 18 minutes and becomes leavened. Some Sephardi Jews from Spain and North Africa, including Moroccan Jews, have different restrictions, such as avoiding rice during Pesach.

Since this search cannot be carried out on Friday night, which is Shabbat, this tradition was observed in families after nightfall last night.

The last bits of chametz must be burned the day before Passover, before the fifth halachic hour of the day. Since this cannot be done on Shabbat, the burning of the chametz takes place at the same time on Friday, even though just enough chametz is kept to eat at the Friday night and Shabbat morning meals.

All chametz that is saved for use after Passover must be sold to a non-Jew and then bought back again after the holiday has passed. This sale typically takes place on the morning before Passover. Since buying and selling are forbidden on Shabbat, the sale is transacted by the community rabbi on behalf of his community on Friday.

Since the house cannot be cleaned on Shabbat, all cleaning must be finished on Friday. Yet it is a mitzvah to eat bread at the Friday night and Shabbat morning meals. It is also forbidden to eat matzah at this time, so that it can be enjoyed fully on Passover eve.

In practice, a small portion of chametz is retained, carefully kept away from all other food and utensils, all of which are strictly kosher for Passover by this time.

On Shabbat morning, services are held early so that the Shabbat meal, which requires two challah loaves, which are chametz, can take place before the deadline.

In a practical way, families are advised to prepare small rolls, one for each participant at each meal, and this can then be handed out and eaten without the use of a knife. But all the chametz that has been left for Shabbat must be eaten before the deadline, as chametz cannot be sold, burned, or taken outside the home on Shabbat.

In practice, any remaining challah pieces and crumbs are flushed down the toilet. At this point, people say the second Kol Chamira declaration, disowning any leftover chametz.

As Shabbat is a day of rest, people cannot prepare for the events after Shabbat in ways that include setting the table, cooking, and preparing. This can only be done once night has fallen on Saturday night. The prayer before these tasks begin says, ‘Blessed is he who divides between the sacred (Shabbat) and the sacred (holiday).’

On Shabbat, the blessing is different for each of the three services, evening, morning and afternoon. On Friday evening, the blessing speaks of the Shabbat of creation, on Saturday morning of the Shabbat of revelation, and in the afternoon of the Shabbat of redemption. In this way, Shabbat becomes a journey through the three phases of faith: God’s creation of the Universe; God’s self-revelation to humanity; and God’s redemptive acts, collectively summoning us to build a world at peace at peace with itself because it is at peace with God.

‘He sustains the living with lovingkindness and with great compassion revives the dead. He supports the fallen, heals the sick, sets captives free, and keeps his faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, Master of might, and to whom can you be compared, O King who brings death and gives life, and makes salvation grow?’ (Authorised Daily Prayer Book, p 287).

Many communities sing special hymns at the morning services on Shabbat haGadol. The main theme of these hymns is the laws of Passover, presented in verse form to make it easy for people to become familiar with the laws of the festival

Part of the Passover Haggadah is read on Shabbat haGadol, beginning at the paragraph that opens with the words ‘We were slaves’ and continuing until the words, ‘to atone for all of our sins.’ One reason for this is that the redemption began on Shabbat haGadol. Another reason is so children become familiar with the contents of the Haggadah. Yet another explanation is that the reading from the Haggadah on Shabbat haGadol is like a rehearsal for the Seder night, and allows people to become more familiar with the text.

In some Sephardic communities, it is customary to greet each other on this Shabbat to adding the title of the day: ‘Shabbat haGadol mevorach, a blessed Shabbat haGadol.’

It is a custom in some communities on the day before Shabbat haGadol to bake a small quantity of bread from the flour that has been reserved for making the matzot. This bread is referred to as the ‘challah of the poor’ or the ‘synagogue challah,’ and it is distributed to the poor in the community. The wealthy prepare a large quantity of this special challah, and those less well-off prepare a smaller quantity.

Traditionally, a lengthy and expansive sermon is given to the general community in the afternoon. There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat from the Book of Malachi: ‘Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents …’ (Malachi 4: 5-6).

Shabbat haGadol mevorach

Palm Sunday, Holy Week in
Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin
Group of Parishes

‘Buro Taxi’ … riding on a donkey in Mijas, near Malaga in south-east Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 28 March 2021

Palm Sunday, the Sixth Sunday in Lent


Due to Covid-19 guidelines from the Government and the Bishops of the Church of Ireland, there is no public celebration of the Parish Eucharist next Sunday, Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021.

However, there will be a celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday, and the sermon and intercessions will be made available online (www.patrickcomerford.com), through the parish Facebook page, and through Patrick Comerford’s YouTube channel.

In addition, the Cathedral Eucharist is livestreamed from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, at 11.15 a.m. on Sunday mornings.

In preparation for this Sunday, or on Sunday itself, you may find it helpful to use the Sunday readings, Collects and Post-Communion Prayers.

The Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Mark 11: 1-11.

Liturgical colour: Red (or Violet).

Theme: Moving from Palm Sunday through the disappointment of Good Friday to Easter hope

The Collect of the Day (Palm Sunday):

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer (Palm Sunday):

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Hymns:

134, Make way, make way for Christ the King (CD 8)
231, My song is love unknown (CD 14)

Holy Week:

The pandemic restrictions also mean that, despite planning and preparation, there are no public services during Holy Week.

However, a reflection in the form of a poem on the themes of Holy Week, is being planned for the evenings from Monday to Maundy Thursday at 6.30 p.m., and at noon on both Good Friday and the Saturday before Easter.

These Holy Week reflections will be posted each day on Patrick’s blog (www.patrickcomerford.com), on his YouTube channel, and through the Parish Facebook page:

1, Monday 29 March, ‘Lent’ by Christina Rossetti (6.30 pm)

2, Tuesday 30 March, ‘Evensong’ by CS Lewis (6.30 pm)

3, Wednesday 31 March, ‘Marked by Ashes’ by Walter Bruegemann (6.30 pm)

4, Maundy Thursday 1 April, ‘Julian at the Mysteries’ by CP Cavafy (6.30 pm, with the Maundy Eucharist)

5, Good Friday, 2 April, ‘Three Hours’ with three poems by Leonard Cohen, Katharine Tynan and TS Eliot (12 noon to 3 pm)

6, Saturday 3 April, ‘If it be your will’ by Leonard Cohen (12 noon)

‘Julian … crossed himself. The Figures vanished at once; the haloes faded away, the lights went out’ (CP Cavafy, ‘Julian at the Mysteries’) … a crucifix icon from the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)