Holy, holy, holy

Trinity Sunday

Vivian Lewin, Spiritual Director in the Diocese of Montreal


The pivots on the thresholds shook …. and the house filled with smoke and I said “Woe to me, I am lost.” (Isaiah 6:4)

On Wednesday evening just after dark, I was facing the glowing computer screen at my desk at home when the power went out.  [Readers, if you like, you can watch the service here, with the sermon starting about 28 minutes in.] The house was pitch black.  I stepped carefully down the hall, reaching out my hands to feel the walls … which weren’t exactly where I had remembered them to be…and go find matches and a candle. Up to that point I wasn’t able to see anything at all, except when a car drove by on the street. All the little electronic noises, the rumble of the fridge, water in the pipes, all  entirely hushed.  My familiar apartment had shifted into a completely different reality.

I had already been thinking about  Nicodemus coming by night to speak to Jesus. There were no street lights in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.  Perhaps he carried a little oil lamp with him, or a lantern. But the night stretched out around him, many more stars likely visible above Jerusalem than the inhabitants of any city in our planet can see today.

Actually, important chunks of John’s Gospel happen at night. My hopscotch mind bounced straight from Nicodemus to Saint John of the Cross, who famously wrote

In a dark night…

My house being now at rest…

In that happy night,

In secret, seen of none,

Seeing [nothing] myself,

Without other light or guide

Save that which in my heart was burning…

     (Note 1)

And so, his adventure begins. I think we can say that Nicodemus’ heart was burning, that this leader of the Pharisees has been attracted by Jesus’ teachings and by his works, and we see that he wants to know who Jesus is, and his relationship with God, and he is baffled by what Jesus tells him. But he keeps on listening as Jesus describes the interrelationship of the activity of God, of the Spirit, and of the Son.

And I believe that’s why we are reading this lesson today, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, because it deals with the members of the Trinity.

But I’m not a theologian. So for today, Trinity Sunday, as Saint Peter said in Acts 3, “what I do have, I will give to you.” What I have is conviction that our God is a self-revealing God. Who yearns passionately for us to know and understand as much as we can—and even more than we can—about who God is.

This is why the Gospels—which literally means Good News—are called evangelion… proclamations. Not just for a few special people.  Not just for Isaiah and Nicodemus. But for all of us.  For our friend, family, for our world.

But just as you can’t pour wonderful fresh hot coffee into a mug that’s already full of cold coffee, we humans simply can’t take in this Good News if we are already brimming over with a mishmash of worldly stuff–received ideas and preconceived notions. That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus, in this morning’s Gospel, that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven without being born “of water and the Spirit.”

On the subject of revelations, I think it would be wrong to limit our notion of how God reveals Godself to episodes in Holy Scripture, because our own lives are full of other examples of being in the presence of what is greater than ourselves. It might be when we are struggling with an illness, or a loss. It might be when we are falling in love for the first time (or the second time, or the third time). Who knows?  It might be when we’re listening to music or making music.  I have friends in the Twelve Step programs, and if you know those programs, there’s times we just need to be put in our little places, to know that there are indeed powers bigger than ourselves, and that some of those powers are very good, and want our good.

I invite you to just take a moment and let whatever your own experience had been of that power larger than you, to come back to you. You can think of it now, you can come back to it during this week, of Trinity.  It can be a touchstone and a comfort in your life.  At least that’s my thought.

The Good News of the Trinity is that the whole work of God is a unified activity. There is not one God who creates, a different God who comes in human form and reconciles and teaches, another God who sits on a throne and judges, and yet another completely different God who inspires and breathes life and was there before anything began. We express this unity by saying that are three Persons, yet one God.

Now the Trinity as an idea is a human idea, it’s how we humans dealt with all the different, sometimes almost contradictory ways that Holy Scripture, yes inspired, yes, and also using human language and thought, tries to talk about God and Jesus and the Spirit.

I’ve heard this explained using the example of a woman who is a mother, a grandmother, and a daughter. Each of those roles is different and in them she has different functions to perform, but she is not different people, she is the same woman even though she acts differently in those roles. This captures, too, the love that flows between the different Persons and among them. It’s all about relationships, isn’t it?

Paul in Romans also uses the image of parenting when he says that we become God’s children by adoption.  I want to point out to you that in Roman Law, a father was permitted to disown or disinherit his natural born child, but NOT an adopted child.  Adoption was a lasting commitment, a decision to form an unbreakable bond.

And that’s the bond that God establishes with us, through the Spirit.

For sure, the word Trinity isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. What we do find in the Bible are sayings like these:

(John 14:9)” Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

(John 1:1) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”

(Ephesians 1:17) “In [Jesus] you are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” And notice that this is not an individual holy experience, it’s an experience of the community.

(Acts 7:55-56) “Filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Stephen was being stoned to death when he had that vision. It might be as close as we come to an eyewitness account of the Trinity.  And nearly two thousand years later, we still speak of it.

One implication of this vision of the Trinity as it starts to come into focus for us—we who are still alive in this earthly world—is the overwhelming glory of God.

Just return to Psalm 29 for a moment: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. … May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!”

Isaiah starts off humbled and overawed by his vision.  “I am a man of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts” he says. He is expecting judgment.  “Woe is me, I am lost.”  And what he sees is almost impossible for us to understand.   He sees the temple, and the temple is all full of the hem of God’s garment…just the hem!  I’m not sure where there’s room for all those seraphs and angels.  It’s like the roof came off.  And they are singing: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.” And then what happens?  The seraph says “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” and then he is commissioned to prophesy. And he does.

Isaiah and Nicodemus are both transformed by meeting God. They are not the same people when the story ends.

After Jesus is crucified and the apostles have fled, it will be Nicodemus who walks up Golgotha with Joseph of Arimathea on Good Friday after Jesus has died, in full view of the Jewish and Roman authorities.

And he brings with him a hundredweight of embalming supplies for Jesus’ body. That would be the amount of perfumes that you would use for a royal burial.

I think it’s fitting to finish off here giving thanks for that witness… and the ready responses… of Isaiah and Nicodemus  and Stephen… and so many more, yes, a cloud of witnesses to God’s life with us.

Let us pray for the grace of knowing ever more about God’s life and power, and, by that same grace, to give our own witness, each in our own way, to what we discover.  Thanks be to God.

=========

The scriptures appointed for Sunday, May 26, 2024 are: Isaiah 6:1-8Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17 and John 3:1-17

 Illustration: The Holy Trinity, El Greco. Originally part of the altarpiece of the church of the monastery of Santo Domingo el Antiquo. Oil on canvas, painted between circa 1577 and 1579. Museo del Prado. Image in Wikimedia Commons.https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_Trinidad_(El_Greco,_1577-1579)FXD.jpg#file

Note 1: The Dark Night of the Soul, translated by David Lewis, 1908. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/157984/the-dark-night-of-the-soul

Post a comment