Sunday, 7 February 2021

Care for the universe and
the created order reflects
the mission of Christ

‘All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being’ (John 1: 3) … Christ the Pantocrator in the dome of the parish church in Panormos in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 7 February 2021

The Second Sunday before Lent (Creation Sunday)

10 a.m.: The Eucharist

The Readings: Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; Psalm 104: 26-37; John 1: 1-14

The statue of Pythagoras (1989) by Nikolaos Ikaris (1920-1994) on the harbour front in Pythagóreio on the Greek island of Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

This is the third time in less than two months that we have heard the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel. It is the traditional Gospel reading on Christmas morning; we heard it again on the Second Sunday of Christmas (3 January 2021); and now we hear it again this morning (John 1: 1-14), which the Church Calendar marks as Creation Sunday.

These opening verses in Saint John’s Gospel are like the opening verses of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. They talk of a new creation, and a creation in which God is pleased, God is very pleased.

In this reading, we are introduced to key concepts in Saint John’s thinking: word or logos (λόγος, logos), life (ζωή, zoe), light (φῶς, phos), belief and being sent, testimony or witness, truth, and the cosmos (κόσμος, cosmos).

The word cosmos appears in this passage four times, and later,when Saint John goes on to tell us that ‘God so loved the world …’, he actually says ‘God so loved the cosmos that he sent his only Son …’ (John 3: 16).

The cosmos is the Universe, but the word specifically refers to a complex and orderly system or entity, the very opposite of chaos. The word cosmos gives us words in the English language like: cosmology, trying to understand the reasons for existence and its significance; or, more simply, cosmetics, an equal presence of order and beauty, an attempt to bring order or even beauty to the chaos of our skin, our facial appearance.

The term was first used by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (ca 570 BCE to ca 495 BC), the philosopher we remember because everyone in school learned the theorem to which he gives his name: ‘The square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.’

Pythagoras lived on the Greek island of Samos, and he influenced every Greek philosopher who came after him, including Plato and Aristotle. He is said to have been the first to prove that the earth is a sphere; he shaped how we think of numbers and musical notation, the perfect consonances of music; he taught the immortality of the soul; … and he was the first philosopher to develop the concept of the cosmos, the harmony of the created universe.

His followers, the Pythagoreans, believed in a superior divinity, the One God, above all other gods. Because of this belief in one God, and their rejection of the pantheon of mythical Greek gods, Pythagoras and his followers were labelled as atheists.

He who was the first philosopher to give the word cosmos to the universe on the basis of his concepts of order and harmony which he believed govern all things.

He said that humanity and the universe are made in the image and likeness of God, and that understanding God, the universe and humanity are inter-connected.

In Pythagorean thinking, the cosmos is not just the whole world, but the whole universe, the whole created order; it is the earth and all that encircles the earth like its skin.

For Pythagoras, all things are related, just as in an ecosystem. In this thinking, the universe is a living organism and not an inanimate machine.

His followers compared a just and well-ordered society to a well-tuned lyre. While each note retains its individuality, all are proportionally linked together in a larger whole to form a musical scale, and all are interdependent in terms of their reliance on one another (Plato, Republic 443 D-444). Justice is present in any well-functioning organism, society, and the soul.

When Saint John the Divine wrote the Book of Revelation, he was in exile on Patmos, the neighbouring island of Samos, where Pythagoras was born, and like Pythagoras, he too was in exile in a cave.

So, is it any wonder that the idea of the cosmos, the harmony of the created universe, is a key concept in the writings of Saint John?

The word cosmos occurs 188 times in the New Testament, and the vast majority of these occurrences (104) are in Saint John’s Gospel and his three letters.

The first use of the word cosmos in the New Testament is in our Gospel reading this morning. When Saint John uses the word here – ‘He was in the cosmos, and the cosmos came into being because of him’ (John 1: 10) – he is referring not to humanity, not to the world as our planet Earth, but to the created universe, the sum total of everything, not here and now but past, present and future, the orderly universe created by God to be in harmony.

When we care for the cosmos, the created order, we reflect the life of Christ. It is not a marginal, side issue for the Church, but it is at the heart of the mission of the Church, because it is at the heart of why the Word has become flesh and dwells among us (John 1: 14).

The fifth of the five marks of mission agreed in the Anglican Communion is: ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and re-new the life of the earth.’

These five points of mission are the topics for the shared study course organised for Lent this year by the dean and chapter members of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. This is taking place on Zoom on five Tuesday evenings in Lent (8 p.m., 23 February to 23 March).

On Creation Sunday, and throughout Lent, it is good to be reminded that the care of creation, the cosmos, is not an added-on extra to our priorities in mission; rather, it underpins and explains all we do in mission. When we care for the cosmos, the integrity of creation, we are being like Christ.

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

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … light pours into the darkness in Saint Barbara’s Church, Rethymnon, in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 1-14 (NRSVA):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … a winter sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Green (Ordinary Time).

Collect:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … light in the darkness in the courtyard in Marlay Park, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

59, New every morning is the love (CD 4)
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … the River Lee at night in Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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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