Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Trinity – Twelfth Sunday in ZOOM Church
June 7, 2020
A Psalm of David.
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
The Sunday after Pentecost is always celebrated as Trinity Sunday, and no-one ever knows what to make of it. A few great hymns of course. And we use the very formulation from this reading – in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in baptisms and benedictions. We fill our churches with beautiful iconography to capture triangles and circles. But after all the reams of paper and centuries of thought that have been spent on defining and describing God as One in three and three in one, we are left wondering first, why Christian theologians have been so absorbed by it, and second, whether it matters at all.
Perhaps especially in the midst of this long painful season of pandemic, and the lament and agony of the last couple of weeks, the holy trinity seems far from reality. At a time like this, we need the church to speak plainly about real life, and about values, and to give some clear guidance about actions that Christians can take. We need to get right to the point. To join our voices to the protests against systemic racism, and to educate ourselves about the insidious ways in which racism retains its power even when all the right language is in place. There is long term work for white people to do, to recognize the relentlessness of inequality and to look for the points of leverage that can move us beyond a hopeful conversation. The church, as a whole, needs to find ways of living out its commitment to anti-racism.
And we also need to dig down into our faith. This season of pandemic, and brutality, and unrest is a very tough time for faith. It is hard to see how a loving God fits in to all that is happening. Certainly the old-fashioned picture of a great overlord managing all the details doesn’t seem either real or helpful. You almost wish you did believe in a God who spoke in thunderclaps, as we heard in the Psalm that Lorna and Tom read, a God whose tongues of fire would strike at oppressors and oppressive systems, and bring them to heel. You wish that when Matthew reports that Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’, this meant that Jesus’ goodness and compassion would henceforth be at the very centre of all human life. You might even wish that the end of the age he talked about was here now, a new era of peace and fairness and abundance that would include every last one of us.
But in these days of covid-19 and street protests and environmental tragedy, that kind of faith is just wishful thinking. True faith has to find some other way through to hope. It has to acknowledge that the nature of our human problems is as mysterious to us as the holy mystery that we call God. Our intuition of the goodness underlying all existence, and our confidence that that goodness will encompass our daily lives, transform our world, leads us to a faith that is more complex, more subtle than wishful thinking. It’s a faith that refuses a simplistic picture of God’s power, or of Christ’s authority, or of the Spirit’s ubiquity.
The kind of faith we need in order to live with integrity and compassion today makes the Holy Trinity look like child’s play. But to find that faith deep inside us, to articulate the hope that is essential for today, we need to draw upon every image and insight and memory in all of Christian history. We need to be nourished by the reservoir of conviction and self-sacrifice that fought for liberation, and abolished slavery, and opened borders, and discovered gravity and evolution. We need the music and the stories and the paintings. We need the meditation, and the pilgrimages and the prayer practices. We may even find the Trinity helpful! To sustain faith in a difficult world is not the work of an individual, but of a community that is two thousand years old. And that heritage is ours.
Jesus tells the disciples that he will be with them always, and we might say, we need that holy presence all ways. I will be with you, he says. As breath, as abundance, as forgiveness, as parent, as community. May each of us encounter God as creative power, as reconciling healer and as sustaining companion. And may we know that we are not alone. Amen.
Image: The Jesuit Review