Friday, 16 March 2012

The setting sun bursts through on Saint Patrick’s Eve

The setting sun on Saint Patrick’s Eve ... seen from a mound beside Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church in Donabate this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The announcement that Archbishop Rowan Williams is retiring at the end of the year and moving from Canterbury to Cambridge to become Master of Magdalene College in January hardly came as a surprise this morning ... rumours of a move like this had been flying around in academic circles in Cambridge when I was there earlier last month, and Magdalene was one of three colleges I heard named in conversations over the dinner table and in combination rooms.

This is a return to Cambridge, for Rowan Williams was an undergraduate at Christ’s College, where he studied theology, and he returned to Cambridge in the 1980s as a lecturer and Dean of Clare College

I first meet Dr Williams at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury in 1998, when he was Bishop of Monmouth and I was part of the media team, including reporting for the Church of Ireland Gazette.

The news came late in the morning. It had been raining for most of the morning in Dublin, but by lunchtime, two of us decided to head north to Laytown and Bettystown on the “Gold Coast” of Co Meath for a walk on the beaches.

The grey clouds that had brought the rain earlier in the day were still cloaking the coast and stretched out east on the horizon and north too, so that it was only possible to catch the outline of the Mountains of Mourne on the coast of Down.

A window box in the courtyard at Relish in Bettystown, Co Meath, at lunchtime today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We postponed our walk and opted instead for lunch in Relish, overlooking the beach in Bettystown. We were given a table near one of the two bay windows, and enjoyed a leisurely hour or more over our meal.

An ugly spot on the beach in Bettystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Although the low grey clouds were still hanging in the skies when we had finished, we went for a walk on the long, sandy stretches. The tide was out, and there were few people on the beach at Bettystown this afternoon. Close to the Neptune, an apparent burst pipe was gurgling its content out onto the beach, uncontrolled and looking like a horrid little volcano.

Grey skies but beautiful sands on the beach in Bettystown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

But the stretch of rippled sand was unspoilt otherwise, and despite the lack of sunshine or warmth we enjoyed our stroll.

Thousands of daffodils stretching over the horizon in a field in Gormanston, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In Gormanston, we stopped awhile to admire a filed full of thousands and thousands of spring daffodils, stretching over the brow of a hill and on to the horizon.

Sunset in Portrane this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We then visited Portrane briefly, and just as we are about to drive back to south Dublin, the setting sun started to break through the clouds and bathe the Portrane and Donabate peninsula in glorious shades and hues of red, orange, pink and purple.

Standing on a small mound in the churchyard of Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland churchyard in Donabate, I snatched a closing glimpse of the setting sun. It was an appropriate setting to see the setting sun on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, and a splendid close to the day at the end of a very demanding and hard-working week.

Harmony, Hope and Hospitality

‘Joseph Dwelleth in Egypt’ (c. 1896-1902), by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), gouache on board (23.2 x 27.7 cm), the Jewish Museum, New York

Patrick Comerford

Friday, 16 March 2012, Morning Prayer:

Genesis 47: 1-31; Psalm 26; I Corinthians 9: 16-27

On Monday morning, [Dr] Katie [Heffelfinger] introduced us to Old Testament spirituality, and there have been good efforts to emphasise Old Testament spirituality in the life of the chapel throughout this week.

From Tuesday morning to this morning [Friday], the daily lectionary readings for Morning Prayer in the Church of Ireland have been from the Vayigash or Vaigash, which is the eleventh weekly Torah parshah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.

The Vayigash constitutes Genesis 44: 18 to 47: 27, and is generally read in December or January. It takes its name from the Hebrew word (וַיִּגַּשׁ – “and he drew near” or “then he drew near”), which is the first word of the parshah or portion, translated in the NRSV as: “The Judah stepped up to him and said …”

In the portion, Judah pleads persuasively on behalf of his brother Benjamin, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, Jacob comes down to Egypt, and Joseph’s administration of Egypt saves lives but transforms all the Egyptians into bondsmen.

I want to refer briefly to three ways in which traditional rabbinical thinking has understood or approached this morning’s passage:

Firstly, the rabbis pointed out that this parshah, and its accompanying haftarah or portion from the Prophets (Ezekiel 37: 15-28), both tell stories of the reconciliation of Jacob’s progeny.

Appropriately, then, we have been reminded a few times this week of the Psalmist’s words (Psalm 133: 1-2):

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes

Secondly, for the rabbis, Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh (verse 7) enacts the earlier promises in this book (see Genesis 12: 3, 22: 18, 26: 4 and 28: 14) that through the descendants of Abraham the other families of the earth would be blessed. The report of Genesis 47: 27 that the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied finds an echo in Exodus 1: 7.

Thirdly, among the many Rabbinical interpretations of Genesis 47, Rabbi Jose said that while the Egyptians befriended the Israelites only for their own benefit, they were, nevertheless, rewarded for their hospitality. He concluded that if Providence thus rewards one with mixed motives, Providence will reward even more one who selflessly shows hospitality (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot, 63b).

So, here we have:

● the value of dwelling together in harmony in the family of faith;

● hope for God’s blessings to all nations and peoples through the family of faith;

● and the importance of hospitality, whether it is half-hearted or, even better, full-hearted.

These are three important themes – harmony, hope and hospitality – to take away with us today from this morning’s Old Testament reading.

The Collects:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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. Amen.

‘Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by Pharaoh’ (before 1903), watercolour by James Tissot

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at Morning Prayer on Friday 16 March 2012, and the illustrations were used on the chapel service sheets.

Poems for Lent (21): ‘Holy Cross,’ by Sir Shane Leslie

‘It is the bare and leafless Tree ...’ (Sir Shane Leslie) ... a bare and leafless tree in the grounds of the Lough Erne Resort, Co Fermanagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are only three weeks from Good Friday, and my choice of a Poem for Lent this Friday is another poem by Sir Shane Leslie (1885-1971) of Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan, whose ‘Forest Song’ I selected on Thursday of last week.

Holy Cross, by Sir Shane Leslie

It is the bare and leafless Tree
Our sins once sowed on Calvary,
And mockers digged with trembling knee –
Holy Cross.

It is the dead impitying Wood,
That like a crimson pillar stood,
Where none unmoved unweeping could —
Holy Cross.

O fearful sight foretold to man,
The cloven spar, the sacred span,
Whence God’s atoning Blood once ran —
Holy Cross.

It is the Holy Gibbet Tree,
All stained with Love’s last agony
And marked with awful mystery —
Holy Cross.

What stains are these incarnadine,
What scars are these more red than wine
Of more than human Passion sign?
Holy Cross.

It is the sunless stricken Tree,
Upon whose branches sore to see
O mystery, died One of Three —
Holy Cross.

What storm swept o’er its boughs that day,
When God to God did sorely pray.
And human guilt ebbed slow away —
Holy Cross.

When earth shall smoke and sun shall flee,
Alone unmoved o’er sinking sea
Shall stand one all-redeeming Tree —
Holy Cross.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.