Sermon, Trinity Sunday, 26 May 2024 – The Reverend Paul Nicholson

‘The whole earth is full of his glory’ the seraphims chorus to each other in that celestial vision we heard first today from the prophecy of Isaiah. We’re so familiar with the text of the Sanctus that passage inspired, and which features in every Eucharist service, that we easily overlook the sheer immanence of the divine that it asserts. People sometimes talk of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as an unnecessary conundrum – a kind of hole that the Church has dug itself into, which it could and should free itself from. But the understanding of God as Trinity – Three Persons in One God – was the result of centuries of the Church’s lived experience, and was found as the only way somehow to express the fullness of Christian revelation and life. It serves as an antidote to our human tendency to form God in our own image, rather than to humbly accept that we are made in God’s. It also expresses, I believe, the concept of a loving God who accompanies us and equips us for life in an ever-changing world.

Nicodemus may appear to us to make heavy weather of what Jesus has to say to him in today’s Gospel, but we need to remember that though he finds himself drawn to him, Nicodemus is struggling with the radical change that Jesus posed to all his settled beliefs as to the right order of things – to all he had so far held sacred. His perception is of a Divine Law almost literally (as in the Book of Exodus) carved in stone, yet here is Jesus outlining to him a dynamic relationship with God involving new birth in which, to enter his Kingdom, the believer is born of water and the Spirit; Jesus’ image for that spirit is far from ‘set in stone’, as he likens it to the wind  which ‘blows where it listeth, and thou… canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth’. Yes, Nicodemus, a ‘ruler of the Jews’, knew that the ancient prophet Ezekiel had spoken of God putting ‘a new heart and a new spirit’ – his own spirit – within his people, but that was prophecy. Jesus effectively, but unsettlingly, now announces its fulfilment.

Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus unsettles his disciples with change in a similar way, in the passage that formed the Gospel for last Sunday’s Feast of Pentecost – when he says to them ‘It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter [the Holy Spirit] will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.’ He continues ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now’. Writing about that passage, the priest and theologian Cally Hammond remarks, ‘earthly existence is nothing but change’, and she states ‘Christ’s work was truly finished on the cross, as he himself confirmed. But salvation is the Holy Trinity’s business, not Christ’s alone’. Accordingly Jesus goes on to promise that this Comforter ‘will lead them into all truth’ and ‘show [them] things to come’. Only a Godhead who is itself a loving community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, living in mutual, reciprocal attentiveness – as so beautifully depicted in the 15th century icon by Andrej Reblev which adorns the title page of this morning’s Order of Service – can meet our spiritual needs in these troubled times.

‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.’ Reciprocally, we sang in our first hymn, ‘All thy works shall praise thy name in earth, and sky, and sea’. In the vision of Isaiah, experiencing the eternal worship of this Holy God in heaven first of all causes the prophet to feel unclean and unworthy, and then – after he’s purged from his sin – to want to go out and to serve him: ‘I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.’ In the verses that follow in Isaiah, the prophet is commissioned by God to a grave responsibility: ‘Go, tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not’. Jesus was to quote this to his disciples to describe how his own teaching often met with deaf ears. When the prophet asks the Lord how long this would continue the bleak answer comes, ‘Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate’. There’s surely a close correspondence between that replacing of true reverence for God as creator with idolatry of various gods in our own image that I alluded to, and the damage we have collectively done to creation as, instead of caring for the earth we have abused and pillaged its goods. Humanity has been deaf and blind to its rightful place within God’s creation, rather than apart from it, and many world religious leaders are identifying the root of our global warming crisis, as well as the greed and hatred behind the current concentration of world conflicts, as primarily a spiritual one. If we as Christians recognize the God of Love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may we also know ourselves to be commissioned to walk gently upon his earth as custodians of its riches, and agents of his love and peace.

 

 

 

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