This morning I want to talk about the Holy Trinity from two different angles: first from a historical perspective and then with a personal story.
The idea of the Trinity is not, except in the selection from Matthew's Gospel, something that occurs often in the Gospels or the whole of the New Testament, but the concept gives a name to a particular three dimensional experience that happened early in the life of the first disciples.
The gathered friends of Jesus were mostly from a Jewish background: they knew the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they knew the God that Moses encountered in the desert who defined himself as, "I am what I am." Their Scripture begins with a God who was before all things, who created all things, from the stars and planets to the oceans and the seashores, to the cells of our bodies and our very souls. They believed in a God who was from before the beginning, the ruler of the universe, in whom all things found their end.
And to their surprise, in the life of Jesus they saw what seemed to be the fullness of God in human form. Maybe it was like the times when you see a photo of someone where you have to say, "That is such an excellent likeness!" "That picture captures the essence of you!” Jesus captured, looked like, walked like, loved like, what they knew God to be. In Jesus they saw God's righteousness, God's compassion, God's intimate love entering into the middle of human being; fleshing out their understanding of how God worked by walking along the road with them; in all the potential and pain, in all the complex love and limits that come from being human.
For Jesus just might be a moving picture of God-with-us that goes through the full journey of being flesh and blood, so that we can say there is no place where we might be separate from God in all the business of living and dying, which is where another surprise came in.
The friends of Jesus didn't see his death coming while they were on the way, and I don't know that Jesus did either, but for very different reasons. The disciples were expecting a worldly triumph, a happy ending before the end of the program, an expected victory: and they didn't want to see it could go another way, to an unexpected and unforeseen victory that was to be almost beyond belief. But, I believe, as Jesus walked through the human journey alongside everybody, he only saw God: God's righteousness, God's compassion, God’s intimate love; in every moment of life, in every person he met. So he was able to walk to his own death in faith that God would meet him in every instant on the way. In the end, I think that the resurrection would have been less of a surprise for Jesus then it is for us.
But what happened next was even a bigger surprise! For then the disciples felt closer to Jesus than ever, felt as though his righteousness and compassion and intimate love were closer than ever; in their midst as close as breath; renewing them and reminding them that we are created and redeemed and sanctified, made and met and mended by God -- making light and love and mercy -- breathing living love in the centre of it all.
Really that's less strange than it sounds, for every one of us – I would bet – remembers moments, irrespective of quantity, where we have felt something like the quality of that holy love breathing in the midst of our lives, by the gift of the Spirit, just like Jesus, with the grace of God. It just seems to be part of the package. So when the church committees were putting together their lists of necessary doctrines, what seemed good and necessary things to believe, to lean into, the holy Trinity made the final cut. And that's some of the historical background as I understand it.
Now from a more personal viewpoint. For the last few months I've been carrying around a prayer I first heard in 1986. It's a line from an Irish poet named Thomas Ashe, written in the first part of the 20th century, and he wrote:
"Christ look upon us in this city and keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard."
And I’m finding that is another way to live into the Trinity; aiming to keep our pity fresh and eyes heavenward, learning to lean into, live in sight of, Gods vision, breathing deep in the spirit, with the ultimate aim of living and giving our lives away in love like Jesus. It's a very beautiful prayer.
But I know enough about myself, my various neuroses, my need for comfort, my lack of discipline, my somewhat dreary and faded list of sins; to know that I won't get far on this road on my own. Yet I still carry the poem, still look at the hope of it, still want to begin again, and that’s one other thing that keeps me in the church.
There are people we encounter in church who are enabled to live like the Lord most days, to follow the way Jesus lived his days, breathed his life, gave himself over through the love of God to make the world anew. They seem to look on the world with delight and compassion and pity, with what seems like God's own love. And in this they're just like Jesus, keeping God's own light in their sight at every opportunity, keeping their eyes heavenward, letting their heart be renewed, their compassion and pity freshened in all the opportunities of life that God shares with us.
So lately I’ve begin to wonder again what it would be like to be living alongside him on that journey. And I believe, for the disciples and the others, that it must be a little like being part of a great dance, with rich rhythms of darkness and light and death and life and loss and love: you can almost hear that moving tempo between the times with the crowds and the moments of loneliness in the desert; the praying to the Father in heaven and the heartfelt work so that God’s will be done and God’s kingdom comes here on earth; living everyday with compassion, patience, pity ever freshened and a continually renewed hope that would never end.
"Christ look upon us… And keep our pity fresh and our eyes heavenward, lest we grow hard."
The truth is, I think, that each of us is called to walk this way, and the truth is that we are very fragile people; so the question might be: how can we get there from here, and do we want to try? Do we want try to walk this walk, to talk this talk, to live this life; try to live like Jesus; with the hope of the kingdom of heaven raining down on us, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit freshening our breath in every instant? It can be a very big ask; but God has mercy, the Lord loves us, the Spirit gives breath and hope: and we can, with fear and trembling and every newborn bit of belief that comes our way, take upon ourselves the task of asking the Holy Trinity to help us join in living this love and walking this way in the very middle of God’s graceful human journey.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.