24 July 2015

How is today’s Gospel good
news for women like these?

Walking in the woods at High Leigh where we were asked all this week: how is the Gospel good news for women? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford,

Christ Church Cathedral,


Friday 24 July 2015,

12.45 p.m., The Mid-day Eucharist:

I Samuel 31: 1-13; Mark 5: 21-43.

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

I know it is not normal to have a sermon at this mid-day Eucharist, and I am not going to preach, or even speak for very long.

But in the light of today’s Gospel reading I thought it would be good to share with you some of the experiences I have had this past week.

This Gospel reading (Mark 5: 21-43) tells the stories of how Jesus responds to the plight of two very different people: a young girl is on her deathbed, and a woman who has been suffering for the previous 12 years, as long if not longer than the young girl has lived.

Both of them remain unnamed, like so many women in the New Testament.

One is the daughter of a leading male figure in the synagogue. But religious position and social status in the local community are of precious little value when a small girl is struck down with a death-threatening illness or disease.

It is shocking that when she dies the first reaction of some of the key local figures is to upbraid this man for seeking whatever help he can find for his daughter, and not to offer him comfort and sympathy. We can see that in his despair this man was finding no hope from his own community.

Their lack of compassion and sympathy contrasts sharply with the compassion Jesus shows for the woman who has been suffering for 12 years. She has spent all her money with consultants and doctors and specialists. None of them has been able to offer a cure, and now that all her money has run out all her hope has run out too.
It is all compounded by the fact that she is ritually unclean … no man should come near her.

In both cases, hope has run out for a little girl and for an old woman. In restoring their health, Jesus teaches what faith means, Jesus offers new hope, and Jesus shows what love is.

In both cases these women are ritually unclean … a bleeding woman, a dying or dead women. Jesus should not touch them. Yet their plight touches the heart of Jesus, and he reaches out to them with a healing touch.

One young woman is restored to her place in her family and in her community. One older woman, who has lost everything, who is at risk of being marginalised even by the Disciples, is offered the hope of her proper place.

In the middle of the story of Jairus’s daughter, Jesus uses the word daughter to describe a woman who has no man to speak up for her, presumably a widow who has lost her money, her status and her place in society, lost being considered a Daughter of God along with the other children of God.

I have spent most of this week at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency Us, the new name for USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel).

There we heard powerful and engaging stories of how projects supported by Us are empowering women from these islands to South Africa, from the West Indies and West Africa to India and Pakistan.

Canon Delene Mark, from the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, gave harrowing accounts of gender-based violence, people trafficking, child murder and forced prostitution, all being challenged by her group, Hope for Africa.

Sheba Sultan, from the Church of Pakistan, describing the varied lives of women in Pakistan, from tribal people with few resources and many restrictions, to the elite women who have lives of luxury but find cultural values also stop them from living life to the full.

She reminded us of the assassinated prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who had said women in Pakistan cannot achieve anything without tackling bigotry and intolerance, and of the story of Malala Yousafzai, the activist for women’s education and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace laureate.

Anjun Anwar, a Muslim woman born in Pakistan, spoke way beyond her experiences on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral.

We heard, in a Bible study with the Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel, of the work of the Delhi Brotherhood in challenging gender-based violence, including rape and murder.

Deaconess Dr Rachele Evie Vernon spoke of women challenging injustice and violence in Jamaica and in Liberia.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes from Durham talked about gender justice, which is much wider than ending gender-based violence. She shared a vision of equality for men and women who are created equally in the image and likeness of God, who are made one in Christ, who are called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and who live with the promise of abundant life for all.

Canon Andi Hofbauer of Wakefield Cathedral put careful thought and joy into the way she led us in worship each day.

We were challenged each day to ask ourselves: how is the Gospel good news for women? Speaker after speaker insisted it is only Good News – but only if we read it, accept its consequences for us, and then live it out.

This all came in a week that we celebrated Saint Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the Resurrection, and in the week Rachel Treweek was being consecrated Bishop of Gloucester in Canterbury Cathedral.

The Gospel is Good News for the two women in our Gospel reading today: they are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of both social status and age. Yet one does not come before the other. Jesus has equal compassion for both, and restores them to full life, physically, spiritually and socially, despite objections from men on the scene – the privileged men who have access to the house of Jairus, or the men around Jesus who find that a poor, old sick woman is embarrassing.

The Gospel is Good News for women like these two women. But only if we read it and then put it into practice.

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


Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

Church of Ireland missionaries
feature in new history collection

This half-age news report and photograph are published on the back page of today’s edition of the ‘Church of Ireland Gazette’:

Church of Ireland missionaries
feature in new history collection

Professor Salvador Ryan, editor of Treasures of Irish Christianity, Volume III, Mrs Mary O’Rourke, who launched the book in Maynooth, and Revd Professor Patrick Comerford, author of two chapters in the new book.

The stories of Church of Ireland missionaries feature prominently in the third volume of Treasures of Irish Christianity, which was launched earlier this month in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, by the former Minister for Education, Mrs Mary O’Rourke.

The latest volume in this series is edited by Dr Salvador Ryan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Maynooth, and is published by Veritas.

Treasures of Irish Christianity Volume III: To the Ends of the Earth, looks at “the Irish abroad,” with a special emphasis on the historical contribution of Irish missionaries.

This volume also marks the 1,400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus, the Irish missionary who founded monasteries in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms.

Professor Patrick Comerford, of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute has contributed two chapters to the book. One chapter looks at Sir Richard Church (1784-1873), an Irish Anglican from Cork who became commander-in-chief of the Greek army during the war of independence in the early 19th century, and later became a life Senator in Greece.

His second paper tells of the story of the Revd Robert Stewart from Dublin, his wife Louisa, and their family, who went to China with what is now the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, and were martyred in 1895.

The Waterford-based writer Dr Rachel Finnegan has also contributed two chapters, looking at the 18th century ‘Grand Tours’ of Thomas Miles, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, and his nephew, Richard Pococke, later Bishop of Ossory and of Meath.

Professor Raymond Gillespie of Maynoooth recalls the Revd Devereux Spratt, a 17th century Church of Ireland priest who was captured by North African pirates.

Angela Byrne of the University of Greenwich recounts the sisters Martha and Katherine Wilmot from Glanmire, Co Cork, who made a pilgrimage to Russia in 1806.
Emmet Jackson traces the Holy Land pilgrimage of Lady Harriet Kavanagh from Borris, Co Carlow, in 1846-1848.

Sarah Hunter, of Trinity College Dublin, writes about the Dublin University Mission in Bengal.

Kerry Houston, of the Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music, sketches the life of the Revd William Sandford Pakenham-Walsh (1868-1960), a missionary in China.