Sunday, 19 May 2019

‘I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another’

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet (Ford Madox Brown)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 19 May 2019,

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter V)


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

Readings: Acts 11: 1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21: 1-6; John 13: 31-35.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

I spent much of last week, it seems, involved in decision making and voting.

I spent Wednesday in London at a meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) preparing for next month’s council meeting, which is the equivalent of USPG’s annual general meeting.

And then I spent three days in Derry, from Thursday to Saturday, as one of the elected representatives from this diocese at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.

Two of the important debates included the future relations between this diocese and the Diocese of Tuam, and how these dioceses, in future years, are to be represented numerically at the General Synod.

And there is more to come, with the Diocesan Synod for this diocese next month [29 June 2019].

Voting and elections are part of good governance and service in all matters of church life, from Easter Vestries to Diocesan Synods, and from mission agencies to the General Synod.

If we stop seeing them as part of how we govern and serve the church, and how the church serves the world, then those meetings become tedious and boring, and we hand over the decision-making and the voting to those who are in danger of being crass, ambitious or even corrupt.

It is so in the Church, and it is so in politics, in society.

Later this week, we face a wide range of choices at the ballot box, from referendums and choices about mayors, to elections for local councils and the European Parliament.

There are important choices to be made, and they are not easy.

If they were easy choices, there would be no need to have elections.

There are no easy choices and there are no easy decisions to be made in politics.

I am not going to tell you what way I am going to vote in the various choices we have to make next Friday [24 May 2019]: I have no right to tell you, and you have no right to know.

But our lectionary readings offer us some very interesting advice before we go to the polls next Friday.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 11: 1-18) tells of a time when the Apostle Peter has gone back to Jerusalem and finds that the Church there is suspicious of outsiders, Gentiles, people from other nations, people who are different in language, colour, ethnicity and nationality.

And he tries to deal with their exclusivism, their fears of the outsider, their far-too-tight drawing of the boundaries of the Church by describing a vision he had in Joppa.

What he provides is not some exotic recipe page from an apocalyptic cookery book. This was a time when one of the most visible marks of difference when it came to ethnicity, nationality and religion was what people eat.

When it comes to food, variety truly is the spice of life. What Saint Peter is saying is: no matter what they eat, no matter what their ethnic, national or religious food is, all are invited to eat at the Heavenly Banquet in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

When Saint Peter arrives back in Jerusalem, he reminds members of the Church there that God gave gentile believers in Caesarea the ‘same gift’ of the Holy Spirit that the first believers in Jerusalem received.

Saint Peter’s critics are told that God’s promise of new life in Christ is there for all, without any discrimination based on religious background, ethnic origins, language, class, food preferences or circumstances of birth.

In the second reading (Revelation 21: 1-6) we begin to hear about Saint John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. We shall hear about it again next Sunday.

If we ignore God’s promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth, if we leave that promise to those who want to indulge in the strange and the weird, we are missing out on part of the great Christian promise of hope and of love that should be to the fore in our faith in this season between Easter and Pentecost.

Too easily we could take the promises waiting to burst forth with Easter joy and reduce them to what Joe Hill in his song parodied as ‘pie in the sky when you die.’

God’s promises are not of ‘pie in the sky when you die.’ For, ‘the home of God is among mortals.’ God will dwell with us; we will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21: 3, 4).

And it is the responsibility of the Church, of Christians, of each of us, to see that the Church is a sign, a reflection, a sacrament of that promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth.

God speaks from his throne, promising to make all things news, transforming all of history, for he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of everything, and he brings water to the thirsty, life to all.

What would be your vision of a New Earth?

What would a New Earth mean for someone who is unemployed?

What would a New Earth mean for a woman who is battered and beaten?

What would a New Earth mean for a child who is going to go to bed hungry tonight?

What would a New Earth mean for an immigrant or a refugee family who are stuck in a direct provision centre, find themselves unwelcome, or who listen daily to racist taunts?

Would they feel God has wiped every tear from their eyes?

When they hear about the Heavenly Banquet, when they see us gathered around the altar or the Table for the Eucharist or the Holy Communion, will they know too that they have been invited to be here?

When they look to the Church, will they look to you and me and see that we too have a vision for, that we live in hope for, that we reflect and are signs of, sacraments of, that New Heaven and that New Earth?

For to the thirsty he gives water as a gift from the spring of the water of life (see Revelation 21: 6).

In the Gospel reading (John 13: 31-35), after the Last Supper, Christ washes the feet of the disciples in a sign of servanthood. Saint Peter misunderstands Christ’s action. Christ tells him that to share in Christ requires accepting Christ as his servant as well as his master. Peter will understand later (verse 7).

The reading ends with Christ giving the new commandment that is at the heart of the Gospel message: ‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13: 34-35).

All three main readings offer interesting opportunities to reflect on these elections and to challenge people about the ways they are thinking of voting, without in any way being party political in what we speak.

We are told that the Holy Spirit is available to all. To what degree are our candidates pledged to work impartially for the benefit of all?

In the reading from the Book of Revelation, we are invited to begin thinking of the vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Are our candidates filled with a vision that embraces all, that invites all in? Or are they still clinging to old ways that excluded some and admitted others only on sufferance?

In the Gospel reading, the new commandment is to love one another. How is this commandment to love others going to be given practical expression in the way we work through the ballot paper?

Politics and politicians should not be disparaged. In Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, we are thinking not only of the clergy but of politicians too when we pray:

Let your ministers be clothed with righteousness
and let your servants shout for joy.

Or, as the Book of Common Prayer put it in the past:

Endue thy ministers with righteousness
and make thy chosen people joyful.

We do not know how you and I are going to vote next Friday. But if candidates are still knocking on your door over the next few days or evenings, it may be worth asking how their election platforms and promises reflect the values in our readings this morning, and whether they are going to make God’s people joyful.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

‘The Holy City’, a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker in the corridors of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse in the East End of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 13: 31-35 (NRSVA):

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. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 21: 6) … the AΩ symbol in the altar designed by James Franklin Fuller in Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

The Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

A glimpse of promises a new heaven and a new earth? … waiting for sunset on the beach at Ballybunion, Co Kerry, earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hymns:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name (CD 12)
553, Jesu, lover of my soul (CD 32)
515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’ (CD 30)

Peter Preaching, Fra Angelico, ca 1400-1455 (see Acts 11: 4-18)

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.

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