30 April 2017

‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple
and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’

‘George Herbert (1593-1633) at Bemerton’ (William Dyce, 1860)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 30 April 2017,

The Third Sunday of Easter,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,

7.30 p.m., Evening Prayer:

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

The readings for this evening are a reminder of where we should find the true Temple, the Temple of our hearts.

In the first reading (Haggai 1: 13 to 2: 9), the people are called to work on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps they are thinking it is going to be a place for themselves, an exclusive place for themselves alone.

But any hint of a seeking an exclusive, elitist place apart in the Temple is challenged with the arrival of the Prophet Haggai, who tells them that the true Temple is a place that will be open to the heavens and the earth, and it will only be truly a place of worship when it is a place where all the nations can offer their gifts to God: ‘the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.’

This future Temple, open to all nations, will be far greater than any past or present Temple.

In one of the New Testament readings available this evening (I Corinthians 3: 10-17), the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, talking about how we should carefully lay the foundations for any building project. He uses this image to talk about how we should prepare our hearts as a true Temple for God.

And then he tells them: ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.’

Instead, we have heard the Gospel reading (John 2: 13-22) for a second service today, and which has been specially selected in the lectionary for these weeks in the Easter season. In this reading, Christ alludes to his own resurrection, and talks about the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Temple of his Body.

As the Church, we are the body of Christ, and so the Church, embracing every member of the Church, builds up into the true Temple, into which all are invited and all are welcome.

Our office hymn for Evening Prayer this evening, ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’ (Church Hymnal, 358), is part of his collection of poems, ‘The Temple,’ by the great English priest-poet George Herbert (1593-1633), edited by his friend Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding and published immediately after his death.

In this hymn, we are challenged to see ourselves, in body, heart and soul, as the Temple of God in which true worship is found. That true worship is found in love that never ceases (verse 1), in prayer throughout the week that never ceases (verse 2), and in praise that includes our Sunday worship, but is not just Sunday praise and never ceases (verse 3).

George Herbert died on 1 March 1633, but he is commemorated in the Church of England in the Calendar in Common Worship on 27 February. The Collect of that day in Common Worship prays:

King of glory, king of peace,
who called your servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honours
to be a priest in the temple of his God and king:
grant us also the grace to offer ourselves
with singleness of heart in humble obedience to your service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Evening Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, on Sunday 30 April 2017.

He made himself known to them
‘in the breaking of the bread’

‘Then they told ... how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread’ … the ‘Road to Emmaus’ icon by Sister Marie Paul OSB of the Mount of Olives Monastery, Jerusalem (1990), commissioned by Father Thomas Rosica

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 30 April 2017,

The Third Sunday of Easter

11 a.m., Castletown Church, Pallaskenry,

United Group Service, The Eucharist.

Acts 2: 14a, 36-41 or Isaiah 43: 1-12; Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17; I Peter 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 13-35.

In the name of + the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Some years ago, during a world Synod of Bishops on the Bible, the Bible story quoted most often was the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

According to a Canadian theologian, Father Thomas Rosica, who does much of the Vatican PR work on television, this Gospel story kept coming up at the synod in Rome in 2008 because so many bishops and other synod members saw it as the perfect example of what the Church must do with the Scriptures: discuss them with people, explain them and let them lead people to recognise Jesus.

Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva, then the Superior General of the Salesians, who have a house near here in Pallaskenry, told the synod that the story shows evangelisation, sharing the good news of the Gospel, the good news of the Risen Christ, takes place by walking alongside people, listening to their sorrows, and then giving them a word of hope and a community in which to live it.

Father Chavez told the synod that today’s young people definitely share with the disciples ‘the frustration of their dreams, the tiredness of their faith and being disenchanted with discipleship.’ They ‘need a church that walks alongside them where they are.’

But perhaps he could have gone further. I think this applies to so many people whose dreams have been frustrated, whose faith has become tired, who have failed to find the Church walking alongside them.

The story of Christ and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus is a very rich one and one that offers us a model for Christian life and travelling on the pilgrimage that is Christianity.

After seeing all their hopes shattered on Good Friday, two disciples – Cleopas and another unnamed disciple – head out of Jerusalem, figuratively turn their back on Jerusalem, and walk away from it all. As their make their way together, they are walking and talking on the road.

Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem, so it would have taken them two hours, perhaps, to walk there, maybe more if they were my age.

Somewhere along the way, they are joined by a third person, ‘but their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (verse 16, NRSV), or to be more precise, as the Greek text says, ‘but their eyes were being held so that they did not recognise him.’

These two cannot make sense of what has happened over the last few days, and they cannot make sense of the questions their new companion puts to them. When Christ asks them a straight question, they look sad and downcast.

I get the feeling that Cleopas is a bit cynical, describing Jesus as a visitor and responding to Jesus as if he really does not know what has happened in Jerusalem. In his cynicism, Cleopas almost sounds like Simon the Pharisee who asks Jesus when he is dining with him whether he really knows who the woman with the alabaster jar is.

Like Simon that evening, Cleopas and his friend once thought of Jesus as a Prophet. But now they doubt it. And the sort of Messiah they hoped for was not the sort of Messiah Jesus had been preparing them for, was he?

And they have heard the report of the women visiting the tomb, and finding it empty. Hearing is not believing. Seeing is not believing. And believing is not the same as faith.

When I find myself disagreeing fundamentally with people, I wonder do I listen even half as patiently as Christ did with these two.

There are no interruptions, no corrections, no up-braidings. Christ listens attentively and patiently, like all good counsellors should, and only speaks when they have finished speaking.

And then, despite their cynicism, despite their failure to understand, despite their lack of faith, these two disciples do something extraordinary. They press the stranger in their company not to continue on his journey. It is late in the evening, and they invite him to join them.

On re-reading this story I found myself comparing their action and their hospitality with the Good Samaritan who comes across the bruised and battered stranger on the side of the road, and offers him healing hospitality, offering to pay for his meals and his accommodation in the inn.

These two have also come across a bruised and battered stranger on the road, and they offer him healing and hospitality, they offer him a meal and accommodation in the inn.

Christ had once imposed himself on Zacchaeus and presumes on his hospitality. Now Cleopas and his companion insist on imposing their hospitality on Christ. The guest becomes the host and the host becomes the guest, once again.

Christ goes in to stay with them. And it is not just a matter of finding him a room for the night. They dine together.

And so, in a manner that is typical of the way Saint Luke tells his stories, the story of the road to Emmaus ends with a meal with Christ.

And at the meal – as he did with the multitude on the hillside, and with the disciples in the Upper Room – Christ takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to those at the table with him (verse 30).

Their time in the wilderness is over, the Lenten preparation has been completed. The one who has received their hospitality now invites them to receive the hospitality of God, and to join him at the Heavenly Banquet.

Their journey continues. Our journey continues. Christ is not physically present with us on the road. But we recognise him in the breaking of the bread. And we, being many, become one body, for we all share in the one bread.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in Co Limerick and Co Kerry.

The Resurrection, by the 15th-century artist Piero della Francesca, is in the civic museum, formerly the town hall, in the Tuscan market-town of Borgo San Sepolcro

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Living God,
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Luke 24: 13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognising him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Comberford residents are upset at
abandoned state of closed church

A recent report in the ‘Tamworth Herald’ describes how people in Comberford feel about the abandoned state of the closed church in the village

Patrick Comerford

During my recent visit to Lichfield, I missed an opportunity for a return visit to Comberford village. Now I have read a sad report, published in the Tamworth Herald earlier this month that talks about the distress local residents are feeling about the state of the church in Comberford, which was closed at the end of 2013.

In a report headed ‘Tamworth family furious after they claim diocese left church ‘gutted’,’ Jordan Coussins reports how a heartbroken family have spoken of their disgust after the church in Comberford was gutted of its artefacts by the local diocese.

According to the report, descendants of the Paget family, who own the land on which Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church stands, the ‘Church of England has taken contents not belonging to them.’

The church, which stands in Manor Lane, has been locked in a legal battle of ownership for almost four years since it was closed by the Diocese of Lichfield and the Paget family now claims that the diocese tried to sell the church.

Charles Hodgetts, who is a direct descendent of Francis Paget, a former owner of the church site, has called the situation ‘disgusting’ and has vowed to continue the fight for justice.

‘It’s tragic,’ he told the Tamworth Herald. ‘It’s complete vandalism what they have done to it. They have just ripped out items that were gifted by the Paget family.

‘These things should never have been taken from here – the church has been left like a building site.

‘There is loose wiring everywhere. They have reduced a once beautiful church into nothing.

‘It should have never have come to this. I’m so disappointed with the state it has been left in.’

The church was originally donated to a Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the people of Comberford by the Paget family who lived at Elford Hall. The first stone was laid at a special ceremony in 1914 and the building was completed in 1915.

Joanne Cliffe, who is an active member of the Friends of Comberford Church, has vowed to give the church back to the people.

She told the Tamworth Herald: ‘What we want to do is, first and foremost, get the building reinstated as it was when the church closed. And the now owners have agreed for the building to be for the community. The aim is to hold some events for the community as a whole, not just the people of Comberford.’

She added: ‘Because the church was given to the people of Comberford, we want to give it back.’

A spokesman for the Diocese of Lichfield told the Tamworth Herald: ‘Following the church's closure in 2013 it was agreed to give the building to the family who originally donated the land on which it stands. Under due legal process, after permission was granted by the Chancellor of the Diocese, the fixtures of the building were removed and given to other local churches.’

Charles Hodgetts stands inside Saint Mary's and Saint George’s Church

The church has been gutted of its artefacts

How the church looked before it was closed

Local residents and friends of the church visit the site

Photographs: Tamworth Herald

For many generations, my family continued to regard Comberford as our ancestral home, despite some of the complicated details in the family tree. My great-grandfather, James Comerford, had a very interesting visit to Comberford and Tamworth at the end of the 19th or in the early 20th century, visiting the Peel family who lived there … he probably had his heart set on consolidating those family links.

I first visited Comberford and Comberford Hall in 1970 and have been back many times since then. I have written before how – when my mind and imagination go wild – I think of how nice it would be to buy back Comberford Hall, and even dream of using that grand old house as a retreat centre or as a centre for spirituality and the arts, with the village church close at hand, across the fields at the end of a public right-of-way footpath.

Comberford Hall … ancestral seat of the Comberford family, set in the south Staffordshire countryside (Photograph: Patrick Comberford, 2016)

But the closure of the church can be the harbinger of the death of a village … and the church should be the last place to condemn a village to death. Comberford village, in Lichfield Rural District, is two or three miles north of Tamworth and about four or five miles east of Lichfield … as the crow flies. The village is without either a post office or a pub, and in recent years the village church closed, having been at the heart of the village for over a century, is closing.

Until recently, the parish described itself on its website as being ‘on the traditional side of the Church. That said, we have embraced the new services of Common Worship very happily and also enjoy a mixture of traditional hymns and modern music. But we are Catholic in the best sense of that word, seeing ourselves as rooted in the Holy Eucharist, and the traditional vestments and the reserved sacrament.’

It is a description of a church that would have appealed to many members of the Comberford family in previous centuries. However, they would have worshipped in Saint Editha’s Church in Tamworth, where generations of the family are buried in the Comberford Chapel ... although the original Comberford Hall may also have been used for Roman Catholic Masses in the late 16th century and for Quaker meetings for a short time in the mid-17th century.

The church in Comberford was built on a site donated in May 1914 by Howard Francis Paget (1858-1935) of Elford Hall to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the erection of a mission church. Howard Paget’s father, the Revd Francis Edward Paget (1806-1882), was Rector of Elford, an early follower of the Oxford Movement, and the author of Tractarian fiction, including The Curate of Cumberworth (sic) (1859).

The Paget family’s interest in the area continued for generations. Howard Paget’s daughter, Charlotte Gabrielle Howard Paget, married Joseph Harold Hodgetts, and died in Lichfield in 1979. Their son, the late Harold Patrick Hodgetts, lived nearby at Model Farm in Elford, and Pat Hodgetts was proud that his grandparents had given the church to the village.

The church is of architectural interest as one of the churches designed by Andrew Capper. A well-known Gothic revival architect, he worked closely with George Edmund Street. He designed, refurbished or contributed to rebuilding other churches in the Diocese of Lichfield, including Saint Leonard’s Church, Dunston, South Staffordshire; Saint Cuthbert’s, Donington, a Grade II Listed Building; and, I think, Saint Mary’s, Dunstall. His work alone makes the village church in Comberford of interest to architectural and heritage groups.

The emblems of Saint Mary (white rose) and Saint George (red cross) recall the church in Comberford on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The closure of the post office or the local pub is a bitter blow to a village. But if the village church stays open against all the odds, then it is a living testimony to our faith in the villagers and to our faith in the Resurrection, affirming the people who live there and asserting that their value is not to be assessed in merely fiscal terms or by counting the financial contributions they make to the life of the wider Church.

I have visited Comberford many times since 1970 … following in the footsteps of many generations of my family

Some estimates say about 20 Church of England church buildings are closed for worship each year, and the church in Comberford joined that list in 2013.

Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church is on Manor Lane, but the parish does not own the surrounding land, and access to the church is along a public right of way. But still this church has been the focus and point of contact in Comberford village for years. The attractive interior decoration and the rounded ceiling – both in wood – helped to created a sense of peace and tranquility.

There is a truism that we do not inherit what we have from the past but hold it in trust for the future. The future for the church in Comberford may be something very different than we can imagine. It would be sad to see it become another private house in the village. It still seems to me that its location offers the potential for a retreat centre or a centre for the arts and spirituality. The expansion of Tamworth may open potential for future generations. Who knows?

Despite the report in the Tamworth Herald earlier this month, I hope that with a little imagination this church this church can remain a great resource for local people and a centre for the community for generations to come.

Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church in summer sunshine last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)