The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
30 May 2010
A sermon by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see thee in thy one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 15:(5-11) 12-15
Trinity Sunday is an assignment that fills many preachers with a sense of dread. On the face of it, we are called to explain in detail, and in a way that is utterly comprehensible, the inner workings of what is, perhaps, the most complex of all Christian doctrines. We feel obliged to haul out our translations of the Cappadocian fathers, find our copies of Canon Norris’ treatises, and delve into J. N. D. Kelley’s Early Christian Doctrines, looking for the passages we underlined so many years ago. In the end, however, preaching Trinity Sunday is both simpler and so much more than that. Preaching Trinity Sunday, we are called not to write (or re-hash) the ultimate explanation of this supreme mystery, but rather to make meaning of the Triune God for the lives of those of us who are gathered here, in this place, today.
The Trinity is nothing more and nothing less than the union of God with God's self, the fullest expression of the Godhead. We are in relationship with the Triune God because God the Father created the world; because Jesus Christ, one with the father from the beginning of Creation came into the world and through the Paschal Mystery—his life, death, resurrection, and ascension—united us with him; because the Holy Ghost came into the world to breathe life into our common life and inspire us, empower us to live our lives united to God in Christ. Our relationship with the Triune God is a fact of our lives, begun in Baptism and nourished through the Sacraments. How we choose to make meaning of that relationship, a relationship with Relationship itself, is the work of theology to which we are all called as long as we have breath. This is what the faithful—those already united with God in Christ—from the Cappadocian Fathers to Canon Norris and beyond have been doing.
On this Trinity Sunday, therefore, I want to reflect on one aspect of this great Mystery and discern what it can mean for us, here, today. The Trinity, God united with God’s self—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three persons united in One—is an expression of the fulness of God, of the glory of God. In this way, our vision of the Trinity is a vision of God’s Glory, God’s Majesty, and this vision inspires us to worship, and our worship, in turn, inspires us to act.
This has always been true. One of the most powerful accounts of the inspiring encounter with the very Majesty of God is found way back in the time of the prophet Isaiah. He writes:
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
This is God in his complete majesty, the one to whom Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven continually do cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts.” This vision of the divine causes Isaiah to cry out in fear, to express his feelings of unworthiness. It inspires awe and trembling. And yet, God calls forth from the smoke, God sends his messenger and touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal (not perhaps, the most comforting of images, I will admit) and says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God, in his majesty, in his fulness, reaches out, gives us power and invites us to act. Isaiah now feels the power to respond, to take up the call, and exclaims, “Here I am! Send me.”
When John the Evangelist sought to describe the Glory and Fulness of God, he went straight to Isaiah's account. For him, Isaiah had expressed what it meant for God's majesty to inspire awe, worship, and action and his vision echos that of the prophet:
And lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads. From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind ..., and day and night they never cease to sing, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"
For John, the sight of the God in his fulness and of the heavenly chorus, inspired not the fear that Isaiah first experienced. No, John, already knowing how Isaiah responded and became that prophetic voice speaking to Israel, shows us that we are also called to worship: “to fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever.” Worship is, of course, not the end, it is our first response to God's majesty, to God’s power. Having worshipped, we are sent into the world as messengers—literally ourselves angels—of God's wish that as he is at one with himself, we are to be one with him and each other.
How, then, are we given access to such visions of the Triune God in all his majesty? How are we to experience the power of God as Isaiah and John experienced it? How are we to be called out of ourselves and into a vision of the transcendent that will inspire us to worship and service? It is tough in our world, I will admit. There are, however, ways. Indeed, one is through worship itself. In worshipping God as we do in this place, using all our senses and sharing in the Sacrament, we can, I believe experience a taste of the transcendent vision of God and unite our body with God’s body.
Today we have a special treat that can give us a vision of the Majesty and Fulness of the Triune God and inspire us to cry out, “Here I am! Send me.” Today, following Mass, we will celebrate a Solemn Te Deum, a very simple service traditionally sung on Trinity Sunday and other occasions of great joy. This cobbled together, yet ancient hymn, itself presents a vision of the glory and fulness of our God:
We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud,
the Heavens and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.
The glorious company of the apostles praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee.
The noble army of martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee,
the Father, of an infinite majesty,
thine adorable, true, and only Son,
also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
Taking its imagery from Isaiah and Revelation and other sources, the Te Deum allows us to add our own voices and put ourselves in the midst of that heavenly court and behold the vision of God. The setting that the choir will sing today, that which the twentieth-century English composer Herbert Howells’ composed for the choir of King’s College Cambridge, is perhaps (along with Britain’s) my favourite. For me, its lush harmonies do their job and through the power of the art of music make those words come alive and give me an inspiring vision of the majesty and beauty of God in his fulness and at unity with himself.
It is a vision that inspires me to leave this place and do the work that God has given me to do. And I pray, my brothers and sisters, that it might today, inspire all of us to cry out, along with the Prophet, “Here I am! Send me.” And so to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the blessed and glorious Trinity One God, be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Alcuin of Tours, 20 May 2010
© 2010 Andrew Charles Blume