Archbishop Preaches at St Patrick’s Day Service in Zion Parish
Archbishop Michael Jackson preached at a service in Zion Parish Church in Rathgar yesterday evening to mark St Patrick’s Day. Here he reflects on the service, which took place just before new steps were announced in Dublin & Glendalough as part of the national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. His sermon is below.
Yesterday evening, St Patrick’s Day 2020, I had the opportunity to worship in Zion, with rector and parishioners, to mark St Patrick’s Day. There is no doubt that the mood was sombre. All of the requisite guidelines were adhered to and everyone left individually and in silence.
It was wonderful to have music. It was strengthening to have very well prepared and equally well delivered prayers. It was delightful to have The Gloria on a Saint’s Day in Lent.
The immediate and longer future hold uncertainty and anxiety across Ireland and the rest of the world. There are very good and public spirited people in our parishes who will play their part appropriately in their workplace and in a volunteer capacity as neighbours and friends. There are very good clergy who will dig deep to find compassionate and creative ways to bring worship to those who want to have it. And I hope and pray that there will be new people also who want to have worship.
Discipleship will come to the fore in ways none of us ever expected. Is it not a wonderful thing that we have had such an extensive opportunity to explore the Five Marks of Mission as a programme of discipleship in the diocese through the lens of: Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform and Treasure? I encourage all members of the diocese to go and do likewise with the guidance of Christ the Teacher and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. I greatly look forward to the return to the regular rhythm of worship in the life of our diocese and pray that our people will not feel neglect or rejection in the straitened times in which we all now live.
+MichaelThe text of Archbishop Jackson’s sermon is below:
St Patrick’s Day March 17th 2020 Zion Church, Rathgar, Diocese of Dublin
St John 4.38: I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour, and you have entered into their labour.
WATER AND REAPING
As chance would have it, we hear once again today part of The Gospel Reading that we heard on Sunday March 15th the Third Sunday in Lent. It has to do with the re–connection of the disciples with Jesus after he has had his long theological conversation about water and a number of other things with the Samaritan Woman. On St Patrick’s Day, our attention is drawn to the part of that Reading which deals with a duty and a responsibility that we have in our day to harvest. We are to stop letting ourselves off the hook by saying that we are only in the business of sowing seeds. We are told rather forcefully by St John, through the words of Jesus to a group of male disciples who have been little use to him and who are totally thrown by his sending a Samaritan woman to do their work of mission, we are told today what they are told then – they are told that this is the time to harvest; this is the time to join the dots; this is the time to connect sowing and reaping; it is this relationship of connection that offers rejoicing.
CONTEMPORARY ANXIETIES THAT ARE REAL ANXIETIES
There is no doubting that we live today in times of unprecedented anxiety resulting from the coronavirus. The fact that our generation has not felt the force of nature in this way before hits us hard for a number of good reasons:
The virus is deadly
The virus is unpredictable
The virus is incurable
The virus is global.
We are called to civic and communal action in the service of the vulnerable, the unremembered, the undocumented, the disabled, the fearful and the ill. We are called to lift our eyes and to see harvesting that will enrich all our citizens in a time of crisis. We are called to connect the fundamentals of faith and humanity with creativity and gladness.
For many years now, I have been saying at Services of Confirmation that my fear for this generation is that it has no fear; well, we certainly know fear now. While it is perfectly correct for us to fear for ourselves, we must fear and act for others also; we must respond beyond fear with faith, hope and love – especially to those who are most vulnerable and those who are in the front line of care and response. Extraordinary times bring to fore extraordinary virtues and we see much of this coming through in local contexts and with outstretched arms – although of course we are rightly touching nobody.
ST PATRICK’S DAY
What, then, of St Patrick – bedraggled and cancelled as a civic celebration and international rallying cry for Irishness in 2020, devoid of beard and greenery, taken from his float and restored to ground level? Our Patron Saint of conviviality is confined to self–isolation like his multifarious and gregarious people. Our instinct is to be together and to shake hands and to embrace and to bounce off one another; all of this is on ice. Let us look at the set Scriptures for today for some sense of direction. Tobit, admittedly not everyone’s holiday reading, speaks of how God deals with his people forcefully but never rejects them and it is in their land of exile, in their zone of unknowing, that they ‘show his power and majesty to a nation of sinners.’ They are to take the responsibility for living out as an example of God in their own lives. St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians tells us that through who we are and what we do, Jesus Christ shines in our hearts in order for us to share and show this light to everyone. We carry our treasure in earthen vessels, in clay jars, but the mundane, the everyday is honourable and noble in its own right. We are not invited either to leisure or to satisfaction but to be a beacon of hope in the body of Christ and in the body of the world. The two belong together. St John offers and provides us with the confidence to harvest, not to delay hard work and put it off. He encourages dejected and despondent disciples to lift their eyes to see what is there as something of the future as a present reality. There is hope, there is invitation, there is job satisfaction in a time of gloom.
A TRADITION OF FAITH
Inheriting a tradition of faith is a wonderful thing to do. It is also a responsible thing to do. But the inheritance is useless if it is not harvested. The tradition simply languishes if it is not used, if it is not harvested in our day. We need to see the harvest where others see only empty space and we need to see the area in between as a place of hope and growth in a landscape of fear. It is not our option to say: We have done our bit, someone else can harvest. The fact that St Patrick’s Day falls within the Season of Lent is an accident of time itself but it can teach us something further about our national saint and about Christianity in Ireland. We are on a journey to Jerusalem – on the last leg – with Jesus. As we travel with him we see through the Gospels an interesting and important combination of
revelation about himself and his role on earth as in heaven
response to the needs of others.
Revelation and response very much shape the Scriptures on this St Patrick’s Day:
Revelation of the Lord of righteousness in Tobit’s land of exile
Revelation of the light and response to the world in Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians
Revelation and response in St John’s instruction that as disciples we cannot hide our need to harvest behind our invisibility cloak of sowing and hand wringing.
This time of global pandemic, this time of political opportunism, this time of public generosity is the time in which we are exercizing our discipleship and presence in Ireland today. We are called upon to harvest the tradition, the sowing, in the reaping of love for others, of public service and of calm commitment to one another and to those we do not know and will never meet. So, what opportunities does St Patrick’s Day 2020 offer us? The times in which we live challenge us to live beyond antiseptic denominationalism. The times in which we live challenge the romance of religion; everything is more urgent in the times in which we live; our antennae need to be out.
St Patrick came to bring the Gospel to the Irish people, not to any one of the Irish churches but to the people. We should now bring the Gospel of care and commitment, of engagement and neighbourliness in the same Patrician spirit.
The Book of Tobit 13.1: Blessed be God who lives for ever, because his kingdom lasts throughout all ages.