Friday, 2 April 2021

An embarrassing meal
and a meal to release
inner spark and potential

Patrick Comerford

The Passover (Pesach) holiday theme of Redemption reaches a crescendo during its final two days – from sunset this evening (Friday 2 April 2021) until nightfall on Sunday (4 April).

There is a beautiful Jewish custom of concluding this holiday with a festive meal dedicated to future Redemption. This rich, multi-faceted custom is known as ‘Moshiach’s Meal’ or the ‘Messiah’s Meal.’ It was encouraged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson (1902-1994), who spoke at length each year about the messianic spark inside each person and how each individual, by tapping into their unlimited potential to do but one more act of goodness, holds the potential for global transformation.

Meanwhile, the Church of England has been deeply embarrassed this week and in response to strong criticism from priests and rabbis alike has withdrawn prayers and a video designed for people to observe Maundy Thursday at home last night because of perceived associations with a Passover Seder.

The Church’s National Inter-Religious Affairs Adviser, the Rev Dr Richard Sudworth, apologised yesterday (1 April 2021), saying: ‘The brief prayers and actions are not, and were not, intended to be a Christianised seder, as the text pointed out.’

A posting on the Church of England website last month offered prayers for use at home during Holy Week. The prayers for the evening of Maundy Thursday were to be said with a household gathered round a table that would include ‘a bowl of warm water with a towel, freshly baked ‘flat’ bread, herbs, including rosemary, and honey.’

The document tells people to say the Shema Jewish prayer in Hebrew and to have a dinner at which the youngest person present asks, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ The head of the household replies: ‘Once we were slaves in the land of Egypt, but the Lord rescued us on this holy night. That is why this night is special, and different from all other nights.’

In another section, one reader asks, ‘Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?’ and another replies, ‘We eat unleavened bread because there was no time that night to let it rise.’

An accord signed jointly by the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2019 advised there should be no allusions in Christian worship to a Jewish Seder – or even a ‘Christianised Seder.’

Dr Sudworth said: ‘The prayers and readings were offered to help families be mindful of the events of the original Last Supper, and the framing context of the feast of the Passover to Jesus and the disciples, connecting with our Christian Bible texts for this day.

‘However, we do not wish to encourage an impression that was not intended by the resource and apologise for any offence caused. As we prepare for Easter, we would like to offer our greetings to everyone in the Jewish community as they celebrate Passover.’

The Church also promoted a Facebook event on Wednesday alongside a screenshot from the video that appeared to show a family taking part in a Christian-style Seder. But priests and rabbis claimed the booklet and video for ‘appropriating liturgy’ from Judaism.

The Revd Nick Nawrockyi shared a screenshot of the event on Twitter with a comment: ‘Eek! The @churchofengland offering for Maundy Thursday online looks worryingly like a “Christian Seder”.’

The Revd Dr Jo Kershaw retweeted, adding:

‘A) it is wrong (and harmful) to steal Jewish ritual. We have our own.

‘B) they may say this isn’t a Christian Seder, but the duck test (if it walks and quacks like a duck ...) applies, and that sure as heck isn’t what a normal Anglican Eucharist looks like.’

The Revd Malcolm French asked: ‘So, @churchofengland, @JustinWelby, what exactly are you going to do about this? Cosplaying someone else’s rituals is not appropriate, especially since we’ve been repeatedly asked not to do this.’

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers, who teaches World Religions at Leo Baeck College, has worked at the Council of Christians and Jews and has co-ordinated Interfaith activities at West London Synagogue. She wrote: ‘I am very heartened by the many Christians on my time line asking people not to appropriate #passover #seder for Easter. Thank you ...’

In a feature in the Church Times some years ago (27 March 2015), Professor Aaron Rosen, a Jewish theologian and the Revd Dr Carolyn Rosen, now an Episcopal priest, noted the increasing trend among some Christians to celebrate a ‘Christian seder’ and pointed out many aspects that ‘might justifiably make Jews a little nervous.’

Although for some Christians the primary attraction of the seder lies in exploring what the Last Supper of Jesus was really like, they pointed out how this is historically anachronistic ‘since the Haggadah only developed many centuries after the death of Jesus. There is profound paschal imagery in the eucharist, to be sure, but Jesus certainly did not celebrate a seder in a way we would recognise today.’

They also pointed to a second, even more worrying, issue. When Jews and Judaism are valued principally for the light they shed on Christian history and theology, the door is flung wide open to the spectre of supersessionism.

‘Jews today are unwilling to be seen as the librarians of Christendom,’ they said.

As for the Moshiach’s Meal, this tradition, celebrated by many Jews to mark the waning hours of Passover, was instituted by the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, as a feast celebrating the Divine revelation yet to come.

Moshiach’s Meal is held following Minchah, the afternoon service, on the eighth day of Passover, with an open door, allowing anyone who wished to partake. The celebration customarily extends past nightfall, ushering out Passover amid song, words of Torah and inspiration.

During the time of the Baal Shem Tov, the main ingredient of Moshiach’s Seudah was matzah. Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, added four cups of wine to the matzah of Moshiach’s Meal in 1906, mirroring the Seder held the week before.

For my Friday evening reflections this evening, I am reading the verses from the Book of Isaiah that are read as the haftorah on the last day of Passover (Isaiah 10: 32 to 12: 6). This reading includes the prophecy of a leader for whom ‘the spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord’ (Isaiah 11: 2).

He shall bring peace to humanity, ‘with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth’ (Isaiah 11: 4). This new peace and godly understanding will extend to all of God’s creatures: ‘The wolf shall live with a lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them’ (Isaiah 11: 6).

Shabbat Shalom

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
7, TS Eliot, ‘East Coker,’ Stanza IV

‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world’ … the Byzantine-style crucifix by Αλεξανδρα Καουκι, icon writer in Rethymnon, Crete

Patrick Comerford

Friday 2 April 2021

Good Friday, The Three Hours, 12 noon to 3 p.m.

Reading: John 19: 16b-42.

Our third poem for these ‘Three Hours’ on Good Friday is the fourth stanza of ‘East Coker,’ the second poem in the Four Quartets by TS Eliot (1888-1965).

In this stanza in East Coker, Eliot responds to that very pertinent question: Why do we call this day of all days, this Friday of all Fridays, Good Friday?

Eliot’s ashes are buried in the church in East Coker, in Somerset. His Elyot Puritan ancestors left there for New England in the 1660s. The family became Unitarians and migrated to Missouri, where TS Eliot was born in St Louis.

His own life story is a pilgrimage from that Puritan Unitarian background of his birth to embracing the Christian faith in its Anglo-Catholic expression in 1927. His spiritual yearning found expression in his first great poetic work, ‘The Waste Land’ (1922), with its oft-quoted opening words, ‘April is the cruellest month …’

The Four Quartets (1942) is his last great poetic work, his religious refraction of The Waste Land. This is one of the most profound Christian works of poetry of the 20th century and the literary canon. In four long poems, each with five sections, he explores the relation of time and redemption, the self and history, the soul and the Saviour.

In the third stanza of ‘East Coker,’ he recalls:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought …
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

In the late 1930s, Eliot cycled over to East Coker while he was staying with friends nearby. But this was not so much an ancestral village for Eliot as an idea, a poetic metaphor, an idyll of England at the start of World War II. It was, metaphorically, his beginning and his end.

In a poetic paradox, this poem begins: ‘In my beginning is my end.’ And at the end the poem he says, ‘In my end is my beginning.’

Eliot’s Good Friday in ‘East Coker’ is a place of wounded surgeons, dying nurses and

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire
.

Even if we recover, we shall still

Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us …


Good Friday, the darkest day in the Church calendar, is fraught with harsh paradoxes: the crowds that hailed Christ as king on Palm Sunday now cry for his crucifixion; the only perfect Man is condemned as a criminal; the sins of all in time and space come together and are put to death on the Cross; the eternal God perishes; and yet on this Friday of deepest tragedy, ‘in spite of that, we call this Friday good.’

TS Eliot contemplates another paradox in this poem: the mystery of our healing at the hands of a wounded Saviour.

‘East Coker’ is the second poem The Four Quartets. The fourth section presents a picture of Christ who is at the centre of all. In other parts of the work, Christ is pictured more abstractly and symbolically as ‘the still point of the turning world.’ But here, in a heart-rending way, he is human. Drawing on mediaeval and Biblical imagery of Christ as both the great Physician and the suffering Saviour, Eliot portrays the Christ of Good Friday as ‘the wounded surgeon.’

In throbbing rhythm and sharp rhyme, the five stanzas of ‘East Coker’ clothe Good Friday’s paradoxical revelations of the nature of salvation, sanctification, and sacrament in the garb of the hospital. Christ is ‘the wounded surgeon’ with ‘the bleeding hands,’ healing us who are sick in the knowing and mercy bought of his own death.

The German word seelsorger, a ‘carer of souls,’ is also a German word for priest. Among the Patristic writers, Saint John Chrysostom says that every priest is, as it were, the father of the whole world, and therefore should have care of all the souls to whose salvation he can co-operate by his labours. Besides, priests are appointed by God as physicians to cure every soul that is infirm.

Origen calls priests ‘physicians of souls,’ while Saint Jerome calls us ‘spiritual physicians.’ Later, Saint Bonaventure asks: ‘If the physician flees from the sick, who will cure them?’

The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 drew an analogy between the physicians of the body and the physicians of the soul. The English word curate refers to a person who is charged with the care or cure (cura) of souls in a parish.

In Eliot’s ‘East Coker,’ the Church that ministers his salvation is staffed by ‘dying nurses,’ attending the suffering because they share their condition. ‘The whole earth is our hospital,’ a place in which all instruments and all activity are intended to work for our healing. And yet, that healing comes through worsening sickness, unpleasing care, eventual death, and the nourishment of the ‘dripping blood’ and ‘bloody flesh’ that alone can sustain our bodies and spirits alike.

This too is a description of Eliot’s sacramental faith and piety as an Anglican, as an Anglo-Catholic.

Yet, he merely hints at the full, final healing. A joy beyond death is not proclaimed, for this poem single-mindedly honours ‘the sharp compassion’ by which ‘we call this Friday good.’

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, East Coker, where TS Eliot’s ashes are buried

East Coker IV, by TS Eliot

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

‘And quake in frigid purgatorial fires / Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars’ … a candle and a rose on a dinner table in Minares Restaurant on Vernardou Street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 19: 16b-42 (NRSVA):

16b So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews”.’ 22 Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,

‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’

25 And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ 37 And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Prayers:

We glory in your cross, O Lord,
and praise you for your mighty resurrection;
for by virtue of your cross
joy has come into our world.


God be gracious to us and bless us:
and make his face shine upon his,
that your way may be known upon the earth,
your saving power among all nations.

Let all the peoples praise you, O God:
let all the peoples praise you.


O let the nations rejoice and be glad,
for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.

Let all the peoples praise you, O God:
let all the peoples praise you.


Then shall the earth bring forth her increase,
and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

We glory in your cross, O Lord,
and praise you for your mighty resurrection;
for by virtue of your cross
joy has come into our world.


Holy God,
holy and strong,
holy and immortal,
have mercy upon us.


(From the Good Friday Anthems, ‘Common Worship: Times and Seasons’)

‘We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise you for your mighty resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come into our world’ … Saint John Chrysostom says priests are appointed by God as physicians to cure every soul that is infirm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued tomorrow

Previous poem



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.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is included in this service, is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2006.

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
6, Katharine Tynan, ‘All in an April Evening’

‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world’ … the Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Friday 2 April 2021

Good Friday, The Three Hours, 12 noon to 3 p.m.

Reading: John 18: 28 to 19: 16a.

Our second poem for these ‘Three Hours’ on Good Friday is ‘All in an April Evening,’ by the Dublin-born poet Katharine Tynan (1859-1931), or Katharine Tynan Hinkinson.

Her nephews included the comedian Dave Allen (born David Tynan O’Mahony) and his brother Peter Tynan O’Mahony, one of the journalists who recruited me to the staff of The Irish Times in the mid-1970s.

Despite its opening line, the title of this poem is taken from the last stanza, drawing attention to the real subject matter, which is not the beauty of pastoral scenes in the countryside at Spring time, but the Crucifixion and death of Christ on the evening of Good Friday.

TS Eliot opens ‘The Waste Land’ with the words:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.


But Katherine Tynan has a very different impression of April days. Her poem became popular and well-known after it was set to music by Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952), who gave it a tender and light but reverent setting for two-part chorus and piano accompaniment. Based on a wonderful poem by Katharine Tynan, this memorable song is steeped with pastoral imagery and natural energy.

During Lent, as we move on from the lambing season, it has been a pleasure to watch the lambs in the fields growing, yet still dependent on their mothers for guidance, protection and safety. The lambs in the fields are a reminder that God’s Creation is at its best and most beautiful when it is nurtured in unconditional love.

Now, on Good Friday, we face one of the ironies or paradoxes of our faith, in which the Good Shepherd becomes the Lamb of God.

Throughout the Liturgy we refer to Christ as the Lamb of God – in the Gloria, when we say: ‘Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.’ Prayer 2 in Holy Communion 2 in The Book of Common Prayer refers to Christ at Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter Week as ‘the true passover Lamb.’ In Agnus Dei, we proclaim: ‘Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.’

The Lamb of God is the title given to Christ at his Baptism in the Jordan by Saint John the Baptist, declaring: ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1: 29), and exclaiming: ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ (John 1: 36). Christ is the True Lamb who takes the place of the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of the Passover (see Mark 14: 12).

In the Prophetic literature, the word ‘Lamb’ means both servant and lamb. Christ is the Suffering Servant who is spoken of by the Prophets, and who sacrifices himself for his brothers and sisters.

To understand this a little more we read Isaiah where the Prophet speaks of the Suffering Servant:

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53: 3-4)

In the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostle Philip explains this passage about the Suffering Servant to the Ethiopian courtier: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth’ (Acts 8: 32-33).

The Lamb that was slain in order that we may enter more deeply into the Mystery of Christ’s saving act of Redemption, and we still meet him in the Eucharist, in the Word proclaimed, and in service to one another and to the world.

‘All in the April morning, / April airs were abroad; / The sheep with their little lambs / Pass’d me by on the road’ … sheep grazing with their lambs on the Curragh, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

All in an April Evening, by Katharine Tynan

All in the April morning,
April airs were abroad;
The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road.

The sheep with their little lambs
Pass’d me by on the road;
All in an April evening
I thought on the Lamb of God.

The lambs were weary, and crying
With a weak human cry,
I thought on the Lamb of God
Going meekly to die.

Up in the blue, blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet:
Rest for the little bodies,
Rest for the little feet.

But for the Lamb of God
Up on the hill-top green,
Only a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between.

All in the April evening,
April airs were abroad;
I saw the sheep with their lambs,
And thought on the Lamb of God.

‘Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’ (John 19: 5) … ‘Crucifixion with figures’ (1952-1958) by Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), chalk, ink and wash, in a recent exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 18: 28 to 19: 16a (NRSVA):

28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ 30 They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ 31 Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’ 32 (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 40 They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ 7 The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ 11 Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ 15 They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ 16a Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Collect of the Word:

Merciful God,
who gave your Son to suffer the shame of the cross:
save us from hardness of heart,
that, seeing him who died for us,
we may repent, confess our sin,
and receive your overflowing love,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Antoinette Fleming’s Dancers (1988) in the Katharine Tynan Memorial Plot in Tallaght (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued this afternoon

This afternoon’s first poem



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.

Poems for Holy Week 2021:
5, Leonard Cohen, ‘Here It Is’

‘Here It Is’ was first recorded on ‘Ten New Songs’ (2001), Leonard Cohen’s tenth studio album

Patrick Comerford

Friday 2 April 2021

Good Friday, The Three Hours, 12 noon to 3 p.m.

Reading: John 18: 1-27.

Each evening in Holy Week this year, we have been reading a poem to help our reflections.

Our first poem for ‘The Three Hours’ on Good Friday this afternoon is ‘Here It Is,’ a poem/song by Leonard Cohen. It was first released 20 years ago on Ten New Songs, his tenth studio album, which was co-written and produced by Sharon Robinson and released in 2001.

I first used this poem in a Lenten setting when I was asked to preach at the Three Hours Devotion in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, by the then dean, Bishop Michael Burrows, on Good Friday, 9 April 2004.

This poem has the capacity to touch the reader or listener in painful places we do not care to search or reach.

Leonard Cohen himself once said: ‘It’s nice to write a catchy tune about death.’ But, while, some people may like poems that talk about blood, sweat and tears, I found out in Cork that Good Friday 17 years ago that many people are uncomfortable with some of the words in this poem. Yet, surely, Christ must have suffered to this extreme of anxiety in Golgotha, and must have emptied himself completely of all human fluids on the cross on Calvary.

Who speaks in the poem? Whose voice do we hear? Who is singing? Who narrates within the lyrics? Is it God? Is it just Leonard Cohen? Is it his soul? Does it really matter?

Some of those questions may be answered if we read this poem in the light of Lent and the journey towards Good Friday and Easter.

Is this a legitimate way to read this poem? In his introduction to his Harvard lectures, The use of poetry and the use of criticism, TS Eliot wrote: ‘The poem’s existence is somewhere between the writer and the reader. It has a reality which is not simply the reality of what the writer is trying to ‘express’, or of his experiences of writing it, or of the experience of the reader, or of the writer as reader. Consequently the problem of what the poem ‘means’ is a good deal more difficult that it first appears… But a poem is not just either what the poet ‘planned’ or what the reader conceives, nor is its ‘use’ restricted to what the author intended or what it actually does for readers.’

Some commentators say the speaker in this poem by Leonard Cohen is God; others say the poet is speaking to himself at a point in life where death seems near, and he feels the need to collect his thoughts, recollect the past, and to face the future in truth.

And here is your love,
That lists where it will.


In this poem, God is taking an overview of a life and mixing in a bundle of opportunities in which a person has the opportunity to love. In each of these love/desire experiences, one has the opportunity to feel God’s presence.

In the first paired verses, 1 and 2, God is King of the universe and Lord of Creation, and shows his majesty and his lordship through his love of all created things:

Here is your crown
And your seal and rings;
And here is your love
For all things.


In verse 2, the ‘cart’ is the human body in which Christ is incarnate and in which he moves around in God’s royal domain, the ‘cardboard’ the weak and flimsy body of his suffering, and the ‘piss’ the loss of all human life in his dying. In his life, suffering and death, he gives his all in love for all:

Here is your cart,
And your cardboard and piss;
And here is your love
For all of this.


In the second pair of verses, verses 3 and 4, the ‘wine’ in verse 3 may mean our thoughts and spiritual ideas. But I find resonances with the wine of the Last Supper and imagery that reminds me of Christ falling under the weight of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, for the sake of his love for all:

Here is your wine,
And your drunken fall;
And here is your love.
Your love for it all
.

The ‘sickness’ in verse 4, may be the love we have for each other, a love that may keep us away from loving God, and therefore perhaps defined as a ‘sickness’ as it detracts us from our divine purpose, to ‘love God’ first and then to love others. The bed and the pan also echo the ‘piss’ in the second verse:

Here is your sickness.
Your bed and your pan;
And here is your love
For the woman, the man
.

In the four sets of two verses, the third line of each verse points to ways that we may love. But love is not mentioned in the third set of paired verses (5 and 6) – instead, we have the lines:

And here is the night,
The night has begun;
And here is your death
In the heart of your son.

And here is the dawn,
(Until death do us part);
And here is your death,
In your daughter’s heart.


Instead of love, he uses the word ‘death’ in the third lines of each of these two verses, emphasising the depth of love a parent feels for a child, and so the even deeper love God feels for us as his children in the death of Christ on the Cross.

Those verses reiterate the idea of the living and dying of every moment; the following of day with night, and night with day.

Night could represent ignorance and not knowing. But for mystics like John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, the night is also the beginning of the mystics’ journey towards communion and union with the Father, the ‘I Am Who Am.’ The Son must die in order for us to recognise his inherited unity with the Father.

Night turns to dawn with the resurrection, dawn is no longer night, the conscious is united with unconscious, night with day, and the soul with God.

In the last two paired verses, 7 and 8, he warns us in verse 7 of ‘hurried’ desire and reminds us of how we hurry because we ‘long’ for something to be fulfilled or over or experienced. Instead, it is love on which everything is built and has its foundation:

And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon.


In the final, closing verse (verse 8), the reference to Christ’s death, when he is nailed to the cross on the Hill of Calvary, becomes the summation of the poem:

Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will.


The word ‘lists’ in verse 8 may be a ‘list’ of objects, names or experiences. But to ‘list’ is also to listen, and also to ‘lean’ one way or the other, as when a boat leans to one side. Is he suggesting that our love may lean in different directions as time goes by, or that the love in each verse is different, listing or leaning in a different direction?

The refrain after each paired set of verses says:

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.


We keep living and dying each moment. May we just do this.

Here It Is, by Leonard Cohen

Here is your crown
And your seal and rings;
And here is your love
For all things.

Here is your cart,
And your cardboard and piss;
And here is your love
For all of this.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.


Here is your wine,
And your drunken fall;
And here is your love.
Your love for it all.

Here is your sickness.
Your bed and your pan;
And here is your love
For the woman, the man.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.


And here is the night,
The night has begun;
And here is your death
In the heart of your son.

And here is the dawn,
(Until death do us part);
And here is your death,
In your daughter’s heart.

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And, my love, Goodbye.


And here you are hurried,
And here you are gone;
And here is the love,
That it’s all built upon.

Here is your cross,
Your nails and your hill;
And here is your love,
That lists where it will

May everyone live,
And may everyone die.
Hello, my love,
And my love, Goodbye.




John 18: 1-27 (NRSVA)

1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ 5 They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ 8 Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ 9 This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23 Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Leonard Cohen on stage at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, in 2012 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Continued this afternoon

Yesterday’s poem



Scripture quotations are 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.

‘Here It Is’ lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
45, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Edicule or Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (Photograph: Antoine Taveneaux / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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 Good Friday (2 April 2021), the Friday in 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).

It seems appropriate that my photographs this morning on Good Friday (2 April 2021) are from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostella are the three most visited pilgrim cities in the Christian world.

At the time I first visited Jerusalem in 1987, I was spending three weeks in Limassol in Cyprus, and this visit was a present as a way of congratulating me on a degree in theology I was about to receive. As I stooped to enter the Edicule or tomb of Christ within the Church, I banged me head with a thud against the lintel. The Orthodox priest inside noticed my pain, presented with me a special cross and prayed with me before I left.

Golgotha or the site of the crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (Photograph: Maxim Massalatin / Wikipedia)

John 18: 1 to 19: 42 (NRSVA):

1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ 5 They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he’, they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, ‘For whom are you looking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ 8 Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ 9 This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17 The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ 18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23 Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ 30 They answered, ‘If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.’ 31 Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.’ The Jews replied, ‘We are not permitted to put anyone to death.’ 32 (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34 Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35 Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36 Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37 Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 38 Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, ‘I find no case against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 40 They shouted in reply, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a bandit.

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ 7 The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?’ 11 Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’ 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.’

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ 15 They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews”.’ 22 Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,

‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’

25 And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ 37 And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (2 April 2021), Good Friday, invites us to pray:

Let us pray that through the sacrifice of Him who bore our sins on the cross we might share in Christ’s self-giving love in the communities in which we live and work.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

I first visited Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 1987 (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