26 January 2020

‘The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light’

‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23) ... inside the Nuova or New Synagogue, the only surviving synagogue in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

The Readings: Isaiah 9: 1-4; Psalm 27: 1, 4-12; I Corinthians 1: 10-18; Matthew 4: 12-23.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

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

This morning’s Gospel reading challenges us to look at what it means to follow Christ in a new light. Are we prepared to give up our old ways, to rake the plunge, to risk all for the sake of the kingdom?

Tomorrow [27 January 2020] is Holocaust Memorial Day and also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau and the beginning of the end of the Holocaust.

To put our Gospel reading into context, we might recall that for the past two weeks we have been thinking about the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist and what it means for us.

When Christ hears about the arrest of Saint John the Baptist, he withdraws to the Wilderness, where he is tempted by the Devil. However, he refuses to use his divine powers to his own human ends.

In this morning’s reading, Christ moves from Nazareth to Capernaum, to begin his mission. At the start of his public ministry, he calls on people to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

He then calls his first four disciples: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee. He invites them to follow him, and to ‘fish for people.’ They give up their trade immediately, leave their nets and their boats, and begin a radically different way of life.

We are then told how Christ continues his ministry, travelling throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, and proclaiming the good news in both word and deed.

It is interesting to see how Andrew and Simon Peter are called together: two brothers, one with a very Jewish name, Simon or Shimon (שִׁמְעוֹן), and one with a very Greek name, Andrew or Andreas (Ἀνδρέας).

From the very beginning, the Church, the Body of Christ, brings us together in a new family in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, in which all discrimination comes to an end.

The Gospel reading reminds us how ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23). It is a sharp reminder that Jesus was a practicing Jew, worshipping regularly in synagogues, and it is a timely reminder just a day before Holocaust Memorial Day.

I was in London last Monday for the launch in the House of Lords of resources for use by Christians to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 and prepared by the Council of Christians and Jews.

We are using some of these resources at the Eucharist this morning.

Holocaust Memorial Day this year marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a landmark anniversary, and also marks the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Bosnia.

The National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration takes place in the Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin this evening.

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration cherishes the memory of all who perished in the Holocaust. It recalls six million Jewish men, women and children and millions of others who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, political affiliations or their religious beliefs.

It is a time to remember too the millions of people murdered in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

This is a day to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own – it is a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. To paraphrase the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading and quoted in the Gospel reading, the people who walked in darkness needed to see a great light.

We are fortunate here in Ireland; we are not at immediate risk of genocide. But during my recent visit to Auschwitz, I was chilled by one exhibit that shows how the Nazis’ plan to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe included 4,000 Jews in Ireland.

Four Irish citizens, Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon, and Ephraim and Lena Sacks from Dublin were murdered in Auschwitz, and Isaac Shishi from Dublin and his family were murdered by the Nazis in Lithuania.

Esther, or Ettie, was one of the seven children of Aaron Hirsh Steinberg and his wife Bertha Roth. She grew up at 28 Raymond Terrace, in ‘Little Jerusalem’ off the South Circular Road in Dublin. Ettie went to school at Saint Catherine’s School, the Church of Ireland parish school on Donore Avenue, and she married Vogtjeck Gluck in the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the South Circular Road, Dublin, in 1937.

She was 22 and he was 24, and they moved to France.

When the Vichy regime began rounding up Jews, Ettie, Vogtjeck and their son Leon were arrested. Back in Dublin, her family secured visas that would allow them to travel to Northern Ireland. But when the visas arrived in Toulouse, it was too late. Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon had been arrested the day before.

As they were being transported to the death camps, Ettie wrote a final postcard to her family and threw it out a train window. A passer-by found the postcard and it eventually reached Dublin.

The Glucks arrived in Auschwitz on 4 September 1942. It is assumed that they were put to death immediately.

Isaac Shishi, Ephraim Sacks and his sister Lena, were all born in Ireland, but their families moved to Europe when they were children.

Isaac was born in Dublin on 29 January 1891, when his family was living at 36 St Alban’s Road, off the South Circular Road. Isaac, his wife Chana and their daughter Sheine were murdered by the Nazis in Vieksniai in Lithuania in 1941.

Ephraim and Lena Sacks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim was 27 when he was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942; Lena was about 24 when she was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.

Olivia Marks-Woldman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reminded us last Monday that as well 6 million Jews, the victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust included Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors, people with disabilities, and people who joined the Resistance throughout Europe.

The Holocaust touched every family in Europe. Let’s not think for a moment that there was a family that did not lose cousins, neighbours, friends, work colleagues, school friends. In my own family, a very, very distant family member, Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), was born in Paris but was descended from the Comerford family of Wexford.

She was involved in the French resistance and was captured, and on 7 April 1944. She was sent to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944.

Her husband, Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), died in the concentration camp in Dachau two months later in January 1945.

They are very distant branches on a very extended family tree. But we have to be willing to cherish the memory of everyone who died in the Holocaust. We must refuse to distance ourselves from them, to classify these victims as ‘them.’

The Holocaust calls us to put an end to all discrimination. Christ’s call of Simon and Andrew together calls us to put an end to all discrimination.

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

Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 12-23 (NRSVA):

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles –
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9: 2) ... lights at a house shrouded in darkness in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty Father,
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
May your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped,
and obeyed to the ends of the earth;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (CD 33)
593, O Jesus, I have promised (CD 34)

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.

‘Immediately they left the boat … and followed him’ (Matthew 4: 22) … small boats in the small harbour of Gaios on the Greek island of Paxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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