Trinity Sunday

We celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today because in 1334 Pope John XXII decided that on the Sunday after Pentecost the Western Church would celebrate the Trinity. It was already a popular feast. Nearly two hundred years previously Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop on this day, and kept the feast. Its popularity in the British Isles is shown by the fact that we number the Sundays between now and Advent not ‘after Pentecost’ but ‘after Trinity’. It defines the majority of the liturgical year for us.

This morning, at the very beginning of our service, the following words were said, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ We said ‘Amen’ to signify our assent and many Christians make the sign of the Cross as the words are said. At the end of the Eucharist I, as the priest, will pray that God will bless you as I invoke the name of the Trinity and make the sign of the Cross. These words and gestures are not random, or the result of a whim, but are part of our tradition of worship as Christians. This is how we express and declare our faith; through words and actions. These help us to reinforce what we believe and help us to live out our faith.

In this morning’s epistle we heard the closing words of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Their relations have not been been easy or pleasant. Paul has written urging reconciliation, something which the church always needs, and something at the heart of our faith. This is because it is what Jesus achieves on the Cross, our reconciliation with God and with each other. Paul urges the church to embrace in love, as we will soon do during the Peace. He ends with words which are very familiar to us: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2Cor 13:13) We often repeat these words, and call them ‘the Grace’.

This Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the unmerited kindness we have received through him, which we do not deserve. We have not earned it, but receive it through Him. The Love of God is such that He gave His only Son ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17). The Love of God sees Jesus take flesh by the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preach repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God, and die for us on the Cross. Then he rose again, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost, and promised to come again as our Judge. Fellowship, or Communion is what the persons of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – have between each other, and which we the Church are invited to share. It is the imparting of the grace, the undeserved kindness of God. In the act of Holy Communion we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we might share in the divine life here on earth.

We can do this because we have been baptised. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells the apostles to go and make disciples ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). This is the central act of our faith, it is how we enter the Church; how we put on Christ; how we are saved. It defines us as Christians.

In public prayer, at the end of Psalms and Canticles, we end with the words, ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit ; As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.’ This is a doxology which means ‘Words that praise God’ We say these words because they express our faith.

Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others cannot accept the fact that as Christians we say that we do not worship three Gods, but One God. That we believe that  the Son is God, not less than the Father, likewise the Holy Spirit, and yet there are not three Gods but one God. These are not manifestations, but persons which share the same divine essence and yet are distinct. The Father uncreated; the Son begotten; the Spirit proceeding. It is why we stand up and state our beliefs. It matters. We do it regardless of the cost. Simply believing the Christian faith and declaring it publicly can lead to imprisonment or death in some countries around the world today.

Our faith matters. It can change lives. It can change the world. It isn’t a private concern, something to be hid away politely. It is the most important thing there is. It is something to fill us with joy. It is something that we should share with others, so that they might believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

masaccio_holy_trinity

Epiphany IV

In the marriage act, love is triune: wife gives self to husband and husband to self and out of that mutual self-giving is  born the ecstasy of love. The spirit too must have its ecstasy. What the union of husband and wife is in the order of the flesh, the union of the human and the Risen Christ is in Holy Communion

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests, 1974: 157

Everyone loves a party, and that is right and proper, and what more wonderful thing is there to celebrate than a wedding, the joining of a man and a woman that they may become one flesh. Marriage is an image used of Christ and his church: it speaks of a deep union, a profound and meaningful relationship, one of self-giving love, commitment, something wonderful and mysterious. We have not come here this morning to celebrate a wedding but rather the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have come to do what he told his disciples to do at the Last Supper, and the church has done ever since, and will until the end of time. We have come so that we may be fed, be fed by Christ, be fed with Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit God is active in our lives, transforming us, by his grace, so that our human nature may be transformed, into His Divine nature.

If we were to listen to the many voices around us which criticise Christianity, we would think that we were of all people the most pitiable, ours is either a weak death-cult of a failed Jewish magician and wonderworker, or a strange oppressive force which actively works against human flourishing and actualisation.

But nothing could be further from the truth, we celebrate love, and forgiveness, we are imbued with faith, hope, and love in and through God at our Baptism, and as our vocation as Christians is JOY. The one whom we worship, the Son of God made flesh liked nothing better than to hang around at parties with social undesirables, and was accused of being a drunkard by religious authorities. Most of us have outside our houses one or two wheelie bins, which are a similar size to the water jars in the Gospel. They hold about 30 gallons, or 150 litres, or 200 bottles of wine. Multiply that by 6 and you’re looking at 1,200 bottles of wine, a hundred cases, and this was after the wine ran out, what we’re dealing with in the wedding at Cana must have been some party, it must have gone of for a couple of days, and it is only a foreshadowing of the joy of the Kingdom, it points to something greater than itself: this is what is in store.

Our starting point as Christians is Mary’s advice to the servants: Do whatever He tells you. Our life as Christians is rooted in obedience: we listen to God and we obey, for our own good, and the good of the Kingdom, so that we are not conformed to the world and its ways, but rather to the will of God, so that we can truly enter into the joy of the Lord, in humble obedience, fed by Him, and fed with Him, who died for love of us in obedience to the will of the Father.

The world around us struggles somewhat with extravagance, we distrust it, and rightly so: when we see Arabian oil magnates riding around in gold-plated supercars we are right to be concerned, yet in the Gospel we see something strange. The steward had a point: you serve the best wine first, while people are sober and can appreciate it, but the Kingdom of God turns human values on their head – the joyous new wine of the Kingdom is finer than any human wine and is lavished upon undeserving humanity, so that it might transform us, so that we might come to share in the glory of God, and his very nature. Thus, at the Epiphany we celebrate three feasts: Our Lord’s manifestation to the Gentiles, the proclamation of the Messiah to the whole world, his baptism, to show us the way to the Father, a sign of love and obedience, and the Wedding Feast at Cana, as a sign of the superabundance of God’s love, shown to us here today in the Eucharist where we drink the wine of the Kingdom the Blood of Christ so that we may be transformed by the power and the grace of God, so that we may share his Divine life, and encourage others to enter into the joy of the Lord.

All this is brought about by Christ on the Cross, where the Lamb of God is sacrificed, a new passover for a new Israel, the people of God, to free us from our sins, and to give us new life in Christ. It’s crazy, it doesn’t make sense: how and why should God love us so much to go far beyond what Abraham did with Isaac on the mountain of Moriah. The ram caught in the thicket points to Christ, who is the Lamb of God, even then, at the beginning God shows us his love for us, he prepares the way, by giving us a sign, to point us to Christ, to his Son.

Such generosity is hard to comprehend, it leaves us speechless, and all that we can do is to stand like the Beloved Disciple S. John at the foot of the Cross and marvel at the majesty of God’s love. It affects S. Paul in his preaching, a man who began persecuting the Church, who was present at the martyrdom of S. Stephen, has his life transformed by Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ saving us does not make sense, it is an act of reckless generosity, like helping a wedding party drink to the point of excess, it is not supposed to make sense. In rational terms we are sinners, who do not deserve God’s mercy, and yet he shows us his love in giving us his Son, to be born for us, to work signs and wonders, to bring healing and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God’s love, his mercy, and forgiveness.

So let us come to him, clinging to His Cross, our ONLY HOPE, let us be fed with him, and by him, to be strengthened, healed, and restored, and to share this is with the world, so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

cana

Trinity Sunday


Today’s apparently the day which clergy dread, apparently we are petrified of the fact that today the Church celebrates the Triune nature of God, and that being required to preach about it, we might need to know some theology, and explain it to you. Apparently you don’t want this, though I cannot understand why – how could a Christian not want to deepen their faith and their understanding? At one level the Trinity could be seen as baffling: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God, not three Gods, but a trinity of persons, co-equal, co-eternal, consubstantial. Yet what the Church celebrates today is not something abstract but something concrete and personal.
       The Church is a community, the Body of Christ, a fellowship of the baptised, who are loved, redeemed, and sanctified, by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We like to think of ourselves as loveable, as fairly good, decent, well-meaning people, but by divine standards we fail to come up to the mark, we’re not good enough, and all our efforts cannot make us get to heaven, such us the power of sin, of the human condition, and yet by the will of the Father, and through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became incarnate for our sake, and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he showed us that God was not an angry, vengeful deity, but a loving Father who longs to welcome his prodigal children. God loves us not because we are loveable, that’s sin for you, but rather so that in being loved we might become loveable, so that God’s grace might transform our human nature, and prepare us for eternity with God. Along the way we will fail, again and again, we will get on each other’s nerves, but if we seek, give and receive forgiveness, then we can allow God’s redeeming love and forgiveness to be at work in us: ‘love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be, oh who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die’.
       Jesus Christ proclaimed the Good News of God’s love, which some accepted, many rejected, he was crucified to show us just how much God loves us, wretched sinful humanity, he sends his Spirit on the Church at Pentecost to strengthen it, to give it life, to live for God, and in God. We do not deserve it, I certainly don’t, the fact that I have been ordained does not make me a better Christian, I don’t have a hotline to the Divine, I can’t ‘have a word with the Man upstairs about the weather’, it just doesn’t work like that: all I know is that I am a wretched sinner who needs God’s love and mercy, every moment of every day. Thankfully, through the comfort of prayer, Holy Scripture, and the Sacraments of the Church, we can be built up in love – that’s how God works – we are not left comfortless, or without help or guidance, but like any loving relationship it cannot be one-sided, we have a part to play, which begins with our recognising our need for God, and for his love to be at work in us, to seek his forgiveness, and to be loving and forgiving to others, where we stay close to the channels of Divine Grace, so that our lives may be filled with them, so that they can transform our nature. It is an ongoing project, the work of a lifetime and beyond, which starts with humility, develops through obedience, and flourishes in charity.
       For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ John 3:16-17 (ESV) These few words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel encapsulate what we believe as Christians, and why we believe it, may we live them, strengthened through prayer, our study of the Bible, nourished by Our Lord’s Body and Blood, forgiven and forgiving, preparing to be caught up forever in the love of the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, to who be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day from St Isaac the Syrian

Love is the kingdom which the Lord mystically promised to the disciples, when he said that they would eat in his kingdom; ‘You shall eat and drink at my table in my kingdom’ (Lk 22:30). What should they eat and drink if not love?

When we have reached love, we have reached God and our journey is complete. We have crossed over to the island which lies beyond the world, where are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; to whom be glory and dominion. May God make us worthy to fear and love him. Amen

Trinity Sunday

“One in essence, distinction of persons, such is the mystery of the Trinity, such is the inner life of God. The three angles of a triangle do not make three triangles but one; as the heat, power, and light of the sun do not make three suns but one; as water, air, and steam are all manifestations of the one substance; as the form, color, and perfume of the rose do not make three roses, but one; as our soul, our intellect, and our will do not make three substances, but one; as one times one times one times one does not equal three, but one, so too in some much more mysterious way, there are three Persons in God and yet only one God.”
Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Divine Romance)

Anglican Clergy can be strange. Amongst their peculiarities possibly the most galling has to be the habit of finding someone other than themselves: a curate, a visiting preacher, a lay reader, to preach this Sunday. On the First Sunday after Pentecost, since at least 1334 when it was granted an official place in the Calendar of the Western Church, and in some form since the Arian Controversy of the 4th Century, the Church has celebrated the mystery of God’s very self: a Trinity of Persons, consubstantial, co-equal and co-eternal.

I suspect that the problem lies with fact that the clergy themselves are frightened of the thought of preaching about a theological concept which they do not really understand, and which they fear their congregations will not either. I cannot claim to understand the mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, but I’m certainly not going to patronise you by assuming that you cannot or do not wish to understand it. At the start of this morning’s Eucharist our worship began by invoking the Name of the Trinity and making the sign of the Cross, just as Christians have done for two thousand years. As Christians we are baptised in the name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. We will soon say the Nicene Creed to profess our faith in the Triune God – it’s what makes us Christians and we express that faith in our worship of Almighty God. In the Offices of the Church, Psalms conclude with the Doxology: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. This is because we SAY what our worship DOES – we give Glory to God, who created us, who redeemed us, and who sanctifies and strengthens us. Thus we celebrate not a theological concept or philosophical proposition, but rather a relationship. When we say ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost’ we are expressing what we as orthodox Christians believe. You cannot truly worship God and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, or the procession of the Holy Spirit, for what we say and believe affects our lives and our relationship with God.

At the end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul says to them ‘The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all’. They are words which we continue to use, to this day because they encapsulate our faith. We celebrate the fact that God the Father loves us, and spared not His Only Son for love of us, that His Son saves us by grace, through faith, so that we are built up in love, by the Spirit.

Our relationship with the Divine is intimate: the name Father speaks of a relationship, His Son taught us to pray to Him as Our Father, and dies for us, to heal us, restore us and save us from our sins, and sends His Spirit to strengthen us. This is the faith of our baptism, by which we enter the Church, in which we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, and which gives us the Hope of eternal life in the embrace of a loving God.

The words we use to worship God matter in that they express the faith which we believe, they form us into a community of belief where what we believe affects who we are and what we do. The gift of faith, and the life of love, and the hope of eternal life are something which we do not jealously guard but rather share with the world – we are called to make disciples, to share what we have received, so that others may experience the love of God.

And like all relationships, this goes beyond words, it is something which needs to be experienced, and which we can share. It is only in our experience of this relationship that we can begin to come to understand, and we will only do so fully when we experience this in heaven, in our contemplation of the beatific vision, when we see and experience the fullness of God’s love. So then let us prepare for this by sharing in God’s self giving love at this Eucharist – where God gives himself for us, to feed us, to strengthen us, to bind us together in love for one another and him, our bread for the journey which finds its end in the contemplation of God’s love in all its fullness, and which calls us to share with the world so that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.