Sunday, 28 March 2021

An island walk along
a nature trail near
the Shannon Estuary

The Aughinish Alumina Nature Trail is by the banks of the River Deel where it flows from Askeaton into the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Aughinish Island is one of the many islands within this group of parishes, and is an island near Askeaton in the Shannon estuary, Co Limerick.

With the development of Aughinish Alumina and Rusal Aughinish, Europe’s largest bauxite refinery, the island has effectively become a peninsula. The site includes a deep-water jetty in the Shannon through which the refinery imports bauxite from Guinea and Brazil and exports alumina to be refined into aluminium metal.

Although most of the island is occupied by industry, it is also the site of Ireland’s first butterfly sanctuary, located in an abandoned quarry.

Earlier today, after the Palm Sunday Eucharist and before the rains came down again, two of us went for a walk along the Aughinish Alumina Nature Trail, by the banks of the River Deel where it flows from Askeaton into the Shannon Estuary.

The Hunt Lough on Aughinish Island is a unique dragonfly sanctuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

This nature trail, 30 km west of Limerick City, provides an excellent opportunity to view a wide range of wildlife. It is a self-guided nature trail through wild countryside, and it includes a bird hide, Ireland’s first designated sanctuary for butterflies, meadlowland and a rare heath habitat.

This was my first time to walk this trail, but I am told it is equally fascinating in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

The Butterfly Sanctuary in a disused quarry is Ireland’s first sanctuary for butterflies, with a habitat management programme specifically for the benefit of native butterflies. It has a carpet of bird’s foot trefoil and kidney vetch, the food plants of the dingy skipper and small blue butterfly. Bee orchids are common here, while ravens nest on the cliff ledges.

The meadowland is a habitat with areas where the grass is kept short to attract various thrushes and wintering curlew.

The heath is now a rare type of habitat in Ireland. Grasses, herbs and wild flowers grow in abundance, with the promise of a colourful display in summer.

The Hunt Lough is a unique dragonfly sanctuary, and the constant singing of the skylark can be heard along with the meadow pipits and cuckoo.

It is wonderful what you can see in your own parish and within your own 5 km radius when you look for it on a Sunday afternoon.

Walking along the nature trail on Aughinish Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Sunday intercessions on
28 March 2021,
Palm Sunday

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an icon by Theodoros Papadopoulos of Larissa

Let us pray:

‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Mark 11: 9):

Heavenly Father,
on Palm Sunday,
we ask for the grace to follow Christ,
in times of rejoicing and of grief
in times of welcome and rejection,
in times of triumph and defeat.

We pray for the nations of the world,
for Ireland north and south,
for the Taoiseach and Tanaiste,
the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

We pray for nations torn by war, strife and division,
we pray for all who defend democracy and human rights,
for all who stand against racism, prejudice and oppression,
and we pray for all peacemakers …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever’ (Psalm 118: 1, 29):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may welcome Christ in word and sacrament.

We pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes
in Co Limerick and Co Kerry,
that we may be blessed in their variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui,
the Anglican Church in Hong Kong and Macao,
and the Primate, Archbishop Andrew Chan.

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe
and Bishop Andrew Forster.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for our local schools
that they may continue to be places of
learning, happiness and safety
for pupils, teachers and other staff.

We pray for our own parishes and people,
and we pray for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

‘The Lord God helps me … he who vindicates me is near’ (Isaiah 50: 7-8):

Holy Spirit,
we pray for one another,
we pray those we love and those who love us,
we pray for family, friends and neighbours,
and we pray for those we promised to pray for.

We pray for those in need and those who seek healing …
for those working for healing …
for those waiting for healing …
for those seeking an end to this Covid crisis …

We pray for those who are sick or isolated,
at home or in hospital …

Una … Ann … Daphne … Sylvia … Ajay …
Joey … Ena … George … Louise …

We pray for those we have offered to pray for …
and we pray for those who pray for us …

We pray for all who grieve and mourn at this time …
for Joey, Kenneth, Victor, and their families …

We remember and give thanks for those who have died …
especially for Linda Smyth …
and for those whose anniversaries are at this time …
May their memories be a blessing to us …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A prayer from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) on Palm Sunday:

Holy God, as your Son entered his own city
on a colt, the foal of a donkey,
may we in humility, yet with your confidence,
work to transform our communities, through your Son.

Merciful Father …

These intercessions were prepared for use in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes on Palm Sunday, Sunday 28 March 2021



Moving from Palm Sunday
through the disappointment
of Good Friday to Easter hope

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an image from Gaudí’s Basilica de Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 March 2021, Palm Sunday

10 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29; Mark 11: 1-11.

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

It is now more than a year since we entered the first lockdown, and it looks as though the pandemic is going to keep our Church buildings closed for a second consecutive Easter.

Many of my colleagues are wondering whether Church is ever going to be the same again when this pandemic is over. What is the ‘new normal’ going to mean for the Church in the years ahead?

Some people have got out of the habit of regular, Sunday church-going. Are other Sunday morning activities going to prove more attractive?

Other people have become comfortable with the idea of church-at-home on Sundays, watching live-streamed services on social media, or broadcast services on television. Will they opt for the comfort of the comfy couch rather than returning to the wooden pews?

Since we started recording our Sunday sermons and Sunday intercessions, twice as many people are watching these through YouTube, Facebook and my blog than have ever come to church. When the lockdown ends, are we going to find ways of meeting their spiritual needs without using ‘spiritual bullying’, trying to cajole them into our churches?

And, of course, there are people who feel God has let them down during the pandemic. They expected a God who would meet their expectations. Now they miss their grandchildren, they miss the crowds, they miss the buzz on the city streets, they miss their jobs, they miss friends and sports fixtures and coffee shops and stopping to chat in the streets … They miss the ordinary but very good things in life, and they may think God has let them down, they may feel disappointed thinking God no longer hears their prayers.

The story of Palm Sunday is the story of city crowds, without any social distancing. But it is also the story of people who expect a Saviour who meets their expectations, and – having hailed their expected Messiah on a Sunday morning – turn on him in the days that follow when he fails to meet those expectations, when he does not deliver on their demands, when he refuses their call to fashion a god in their own image and likeness and who does their bidding.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week are stories of built-up expectations, and rapidly escalating disappointments, on the part of people who we have to recognise and accept saw themselves as deeply religious, filled with pious hopes.

In Saint Mark’s account of that first Palm Sunday, Christ arrives in Jerusalem to great solemnity. This triumphal entry sounds the note of majesty and kingship before the Passion narrative begins. But Saint Mark gives us hints too that we should be also look forward to Christ’s second coming.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is the entry of the king into his capital. And the crowd acclaims him as king when they say: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’

This phrase from the Psalms was used as a title for the Messianic king (Psalm 118: 26). Many in the crowd expected a new liberating king. But did anybody on that first Palm Sunday really realise who Jesus truly is?

Their expectations of him are high, but deep down their attitude towards Christ is unchanged. For most of them, he may still be a prophet in their eyes, but that is less than he actually is. He may be a king, but they want a king who will deliver what they want, not what he has come to give.

The crowd that welcomes him in is soon to turn him out. He is an outsider coming in, and if he disappoints them, if he fails to give them what they want, rather than what they need, then it is inevitable that they are going to turn on him.

When he fails to meet their expectations, he loses his popularity. When he refuses to accept the expectations they lay on his shoulders, they force him to carry the cross on his shoulders. When their hopes die, he must die too.

Christ choses the way he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But he abandons all choice about how he is going to be taken outside the city to die a few days later. And Christ, who receives a lively welcome into the city on Palm Sunday, is taken outside the city and crucified on Good Friday.

● Christ upsets our priorities.
● Christ makes demands on our time.
● Christ makes demands on our commitments.
● Christ challenges us about where we are going.
● And yet, Christ offers no quick fixes.

Christ steps into the comfort zones of the people in the city, and offers no quick fixes for the masses. They change their attitude, and there is a rapid, radical change in the social climate in Jerusalem that first Holy Week.

Things get out of hand, and Christ has no control over what happens. God in Christ has emptied himself of all choice and of all control.

So often we want to be in control, we want to have the choices. And yet life is not like that. When we find we cannot control the agenda, we get upset, we get frustrated.

When we can control the agenda, when we have the choices, so often we act in our own interests, rather than in the interests of others. But, you know, we are never fully human when we are alone. We are never fully human without relationships.

Some years ago, I was taught a lesson when I saw the community in Skerries in north Co Dublin showing its true humanity, its true capacity to love, it showed Christ-like priorities, when the people gave, shared and abandoned their own priorities to search for two missing fishermen who were drowned at sea.

The images that came to the fore from that community throughout that search reminded me constantly of the Good Shepherd and his search for the lost sheep.

I am least like Christ when I put my own selfish interests, my own gain, my own demands, before the needs of others.

When we value relationships, when we consider the needs of others, when we show that community matters and show that relationships lead to love, we become more like Christ.

Palm Sunday teaches us about getting our priorities right. Good Friday shows us how God gets those priorities right.

Good Friday appears to be the end. But it is only the beginning.

As TS Eliot says at the end of East Coker, the second of his Four Quartets:

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
… In my end is the beginning.


Palm Sunday seemed like a triumphal beginning. Good Friday seemed like a frightening, empty, desolate end. But, in the end, we find the beginning, our hope is in our Easter faith.

Easter gives us the hope that when we get our priorities right, when I turn from me to us, from self to relationship, then I not only become more human, but I become more Christ-like. And, when we become more Christ-like, we become more like the person God created us to be.

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 Entry Into Jerusalem ascribed to Fra Angelico (1387-1455) in Saint Mark’s, Florence

Mark 11: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Palm Sunday decorations on the front door at the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Red (or Violet):

The canticle Gloria is omitted in Lent.

Penitential Kyries (Passiontide and Holy Week):

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Palm Sunday):

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace (Ephesians 2: 17).

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

‘Buro Taxi’ … riding on a donkey in Mijas in south-east Spain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

134, Make way, make way for Christ the King (CD 8)
231, My song is love unknown (CD 14)

Palm Sunday … an icon of the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
40, Saint Thomas’s Church, Achill Island

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, on Achill Island, Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent and Easter this year, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Today is Palm Sunday (28 March 2021), and we are moving into Holy Week, the last week in Lent. This week I am offering photographs from seven churches that I think of as places of pilgrimage and spiritual refreshment (I have reflected earlier this Lent on the place of the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and of Lichfield Cathedral, in my spiritual life).

My photographs this morning (28 March 2021) are from Saint Thomas’s Church in Dugort on Achill Island, off the coast of Mayo.

I first visited Achill Island in 1974, and for many years we spent days on end – even weeks on end – on Achill Island, as a retreat from the pressures of daily life, whether those were the demands of work, campaigning or study. When Achill provided safe space for reflection, and this church was a place for prayer and spiritual reflection.

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, has been a place for prayer and spiritual reflection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 11: 1-11 (NRSVA):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (28 March 2021), Palm Sunday, prays:

Holy God, as your Son entered his own city
on a colt, the foal of a donkey,
may we in humility, yet with your confidence,
work to transform our communities, through your Son.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The beach below Slievemore at Dugort, Achill Island … safe space for reflection (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