Sunday, 16 May 2021

When it’s OK to be second best
and not everyone’s first choice

‘The lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1: 17) … Saint Matthias depicted in a window in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 16 May 2021,

The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter VII)

11 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; John 17: 6-19.

There is a direct link to these readings HERE.

Saint Peter stood up among the believers … and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled’ (Acts 1: 15) … Saint Peter depicted in a window in the north nave in in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

None of us would like to be counted as the successor of Judas. But our reading from the Acts of the Apostles recalls the successor to Judas as one of the Twelve, the Apostle Matthias. Indeed, his feast day fell two days ago on Friday (14 May 2021).

I sometimes wonder whether Saint Matthias saw the humour in being second choice. After all, he was the second choice – not the first choice, but the second choice – to succeed Judas among the Twelve.

Imagine how Saint Matthias might have felt.

The first time round, he was not good enough to be among the Twelve. But Judas was, and he would betray Christ.

So too were Peter, James, John and Thomas. They were called to be among the Twelve, but Peter would betray Christ three times before his crucifixion, James and John had ambitions beyond their station, Thomas would refuse to believe until he met the Risen Christ on his own terms.

Now, in this morning’s reading from the Acts of Apostles, the remaining eleven have met to pick a successor to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26).

But even now, even on the second time round, Matthias is not the first name mentioned, he is not the first choice. Instead, the first name to come forward is that of Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus.

We are in the in-between time between the Ascension, last Thursday (13 May 2021) and the Day of Pentecost, next Sunday (23 May 2021). According to the Acts of the Apostles, in the days following the Ascension of Christ, Peter proposes to the assembled disciples, who number about 120, that they choose one among them to fill the place of Judas.

And so, the assembled believers come forward with two nominations: their first choice is Joseph Barsabbas, or Joseph Justus.

Nobody ever since remembers Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus. His saintly life, such as it was, has passed into oblivion.

It may only be as an afterthought that someone suggests the name of Matthias. And then, they cannot make up their minds. Instead, they cast lots, and the lot falls to Matthias.

I doubt any of us would be happy to hear we have been selected or nominated for any role in the Church, for example, at our Select Vestry meetings these weeks, by tossing a coin, drawing straws or rolling a dice as others pray about whether we are suitable or qualified.

Saint Matthias is unnamed before this account. After this, there is no further mention of him. He is the forgotten apostle, like the 'Fifth Beatle.' Having made an unexpected entrance onto the stage, Saint Matthias walks off once again. And we hear nothing more about him.

His name, identity and life story have been forgotten, apart from making him the patron saint of alcoholism and smallpox, and a few small towns. We are not sure where he died, or where he is buried.

The Early Church writer Clement of Alexandria says the apostles are not chosen for some outstanding character, and certainly not on their own merits.

The apostles are chosen by Christ for his own reasons, but not for their merits.

If Saint Matthias had not been worthy of being called first time round, how is he worthy now to join the Twelve?

Saint Matthias is a warning to me. He silently warns me, ‘I am here because someone else failed. The same thing could happen to me if I stop taking my nourishment from the True Vine and stop bearing good fruit.’

We are often in the place we are in life only because the person who was here before us failed: Joshua led Israel because Moses failed in the wilderness; David became King because Saul failed; Matthias became an apostle because Judas failed.

Discipleship, being a follower of Christ, is never about my worthiness, my merits. It is Christ alone who calls us.

Saint Matthias was elected not because he was worthy but because he would become worthy. Christ chooses each one of us in the same way. We have been grafted into the company of the Children of God, not through our own merits, but by God’s grace.

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

‘The lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1: 17) … The 12 Apostles depicted in a mediaeval carving in the Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26 (NRSVA):

1 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, 16 ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus – 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

The setting for the Gospel reading (John 17: 6-19) is in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately after the Last Supper, known in Orthodoxy as the Mystical Supper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 17: 6-19 (NRSVA)

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’

‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee’ … the Twelve Apostles depicted in the East Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White, or Gold.

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

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

Penitential Kyries:

God our Father,
you exalted your Son to sit at your right hand.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you are the way, the truth and the life.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, Counsellor,
you are sent to be with us for ever.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

O God the King of Glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Mercifully give us faith to know
that, as he promised,
he abides with us on earth to the end of time;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14: 27, 28)

Preface:

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who after he had risen from the dead ascended into heaven,
where he is seated at your right hand to intercede for us
and to prepare a place for us in glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal Giver of love and power,
your Son Jesus Christ has sent us into all the world
to preach the gospel of his kingdom.
Confirm us in this mission,
and help us to live the good news we proclaim;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ our exalted King
pour on you his abundant gifts
make you faithful and strong to do his will
that you may reign with him in glory:

Dismissal (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

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

Christ and the twelve apostles in the East Window in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

461, For all thy saints, O Lord (CD 27)
518, Bind us together, Lord (CD 30)

The 12 Apostles in a ceiling display at the crossing in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Francis Street, Dublin (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.



Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
89, College of the Ascension, Birmingham

The former College of the Ascension in Selly Oak, Birmingham … now the Al Mahdi Institute

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, 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 the Seventh Sunday of Easter – an ‘in-between Sunday’, between Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost. This week, we are in an ‘in-between week’, between Ascension Day and the Day Pentecost. My photographs this week are from places I associate with the life of USPG. Earlier in this series, I introduced the Chapel in the USPG offices in Southwark and its stained glass windows (20 March 2021). My photographs this week are from places I associate with the life of USPG.

This morning (16 May 2021), on this Sunday after the Ascension, my photographs are from the College of the Ascension, later the United College of the Ascension, on Weoley Park Road in Selly Oak, Birmingham.

While I was working on Christian-Muslim relations as the Foreign Desk Editor at The Irish Times, I was offered the opportunity to take a course in Christian-Muslim Dialogue at the College of the Ascension 25 years ago, in March 1996.

The course leader, Canon Andrew Wingate, was later the Canon Theologian at Leicester Cathedral, until recently was a Chaplain to the Queen, and was made an OBE in 2009 for his work in interfaith relations. He was the founding director of Saint Philip’s Centre for Study and Engagement, Leicester, where I also took a course in 2012, and is now a consultant and teacher in Inter-Faith Relations editing and producing many books in the field.

I was at the College of the Ascension in the days immediately after the Dunblane Massacre. Saint Patrick’s Day fell on Sunday that year, and Andrew invited me to preach in the college chapel that morning. I was then a reader in Dublin diocese, and a group of ordinands from Wales who were in the college for a pre-ordination retreat were encouraging about my own explorations of the path to ordination.

The College of the Ascension in Selly Oak, Birmingham, opened in 1923, when women still faced barriers in access to university education. The opening of the college added to a ‘mini-university’ of small colleges then emerging in Selly Oak, built with Cadbury vision and generosity.

The planned college was proposed by Charles Gore, Bishop of Birmingham, who realised that because Selly Oak was gaining recognition in progressive missionary circles. Until then, however, the Federation of Selly Oak Colleges had been an exclusively Nonconformist project, and for a traditionally high church Anglican mission society to send its women there was, as one Quaker observed, ‘an amazing step.’

The College of the Ascension, with its dramatic chapel and buildings inspired by Lutyens, were opened by Princess Mary and Archbishop Davidson.

For 40 years, the College of the Ascension remained an exclusively women’s institution. SPG’s men were mostly clergy and were assumed to need no further preparation. The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) was formed with the merger of SPG and the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa, and in 1965 USPG relaunched the college, opening its doors to male students too.

The Methodist College at Kingsmead closed in 1993, and after many years of discussion, USPG and the Methodist Church agreed to form the United College of the Ascension. The Selly Oak Colleges merged with the University of Birmingham in 1999, and the college later moved to the campus of the Queen’s Foundation, Edgbaston, as the Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies, formed in 2006 to train mission partners from the churches in Britain in preparation for service overseas and to welcome leaders from the wider world church to study at Queen’s.

The former College of the Ascension in Selly Oak has since been sold by USPG, and this is now the Al Mahdi Institute, a centre for Muslim scholarship, education, research and outreach in the ‘Twelver’ tradition, with a long-term commitment to dialogue with Muslims and non-Muslims.

I have since returned to Selly Oak, staying at Woodbrooke, the Quaker-run college, for a conference organised by the China Desk of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, representing the Dublin University Far East Mission.

The former chapel of the College of the Ascension in Selly Oak … when this was a chapel, I preached here 25 years ago on Saint Patrick’s Day 1996

John 17: 6-19 (NRSVA)

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.’

The former College of the Ascension became the United College of the Ascension under the sponsorship of USPG and the Methodist Church

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 May 2021, Seventh Sunday of Easter) invites us to pray:

Knowing God,
May we trust in Your wisdom,
And follow the path You have set us on.
Let us be faithful disciples,
Spreading the Word.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The College of the Ascension, with its Lutyens-style building and dramatic chapel, opened in Selly Oak in 1923

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

I have also stayed at Woodbrooke, another Selly Oak college … Europe’s only Quaker Study Centre, it is based in the former family home of George Cadbury near Bourneville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)