By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 30, 2010 (Trinity Sunday)
Read: Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Romans 5:1-5 and John 16:12-15
Today is Trinity Sunday. The Sunday in which we focus on the mystery that is the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three in one. Metaphors for the Trinity are often helpful in understanding the mystery of our three-in-one God. A Bach Trio Concerto blends three different streams of music together into a beautiful whole. So too a trio of singers can join three different voices harmoniously. The early Christians spoke of the perichoeresis, or dance of the Trinity: Three dancers holding hands, dancing together in perfect love, freedom, and harmony. They are deeply one, but at the same time they are three. They are what they are in relation to each other—in a shared purpose, and in a mutual love, for all eternity. For God, ultimate reality is found in relationship. It’s all in the family.
That’s the key to our relationship to the Trinity. Our Lord invites us to enter into relationship with the Trinity, to join the Lord’s never-ending dance, and to become part of God’s family. We are not asked to understand the triune God on Trinity Sunday, but instead to join the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their perichoresis, their dance. It is a difficult concept to explain and our minds may never fully grasp what it means but we can experience it. The Russian Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov reminds us that “one does not speculate about God but is transformed by God.”
On this Memorial Day weekend, I’d like to share a story about transformation. First a little history – The American tradition of Memorial Day began more than 100 years ago. It was at the end of a brutal war, a war in which brother fought brother and the best of friends became the worst of enemies. It was the Civil War, one of the worst wars ever fought by the people of this nation, and it was fought on our own soil. At the end of this war, family members of the many soldiers slain in battle would visit the grave sites of their fallen relatives or friends and decorate their graves with flowers.
The modern celebration of Memorial Day is similar to the original celebration, but today we have expanded on the original idea. Memorial Day is about celebrating all people, all of our ancestors and forefathers who have created the world we live in today, who have paved the long road we walk down into the future. It is a day to celebrate and thank all these people who died to create what we have today.
This day of memorial is something ingrained in our culture, and in — every culture of the world — a tribute, to honor the people who embodied the dreams and the passionate fire of an entire country.
Now the story about relationships and transformation. An ordinary man from Oklahoma became caught up in the great global tragedy of World War II. He was on ordinary boy who had led an ordinary life. He had been raised in a small town, and when the call to war came, he, like so many others his age, had entered into the service of his country with no real preparation or sense of what this service would ultimately entail.
He enlisted in the navy, and though he had never even so much as been on a rowboat, his capacity for leadership was noticed, and he was ultimately given command of a ship. He acquitted himself honorably and did what was asked of him while the long, cruel war in the Pacific raged. And when the final Japanese surrender was announced, he and his men were assigned the task of pacifying some of the small islands in the South Pacific and returning the Japanese forces to their homes. One of these was the island of Truk.
The Japanese soldiers who were garrisoned on Truk had been led to believe that their surrender meant inevitable torture and murder at the hands of the American victors. They each mustered such courage as they were able in the face of this anticipated savagery and watched stoically as the American troops steamed into the harbor.
The Japanese major, a man of personal dignity and honor, had in his possession a samurai sword that had been given to him by his grandfather when he had graduated from the military academy. It had been in the family for generations and was the symbol and very embodiment of his sense of honor as a soldier. As the Americans landed, they walked up and shook the Japanese soldiers’ hands. They offered them food and clothing and treated them with the utmost respect. All of this the Japanese major noted, and he attributed it to the integrity of the young commander in charge of the troops.
When it was time for the Japanese forces to be shipped back to Japan, the major approached the young American commander from Oklahoma who had treated his soldiers with such civility and handed over his samurai sword as a gesture of gratitude and honor.
The American took the sword and expressed his gratitude in response. As a child of the Oklahoma plains, the code of the Samurai meant little to him, and the sword was little more than one of those poignant mementos of warfare that victors tend to claim from the defeated. But he was unable to forget the look in the Japanese major’s eyes, and he made a vow that someday he would return the sword to that man.
Years passed, and the sailor from Oklahoma made several inquiries about the Japanese major. But he did not have enough information to find the man, and so he let the matter drop.
It was only decades later, when his son was studying in Japan, that the American commander thought again about the possibility of returning the sword to its owner. Through the efforts of several Japanese officials, the son located the address of the now elderly major. He passed this address on to this father in Oklahoma, and the process was set in motion by which the sword would be returned to the man and his family.
It took several months, but the connection was made. The sword was delivered to Japan, where the major received it, in his own words, as if a son who he had long thought was dead suddenly walked through the front door.
Over the next several years the two men who had been linked by that sword corresponded and opened the best of their hearts to each other. They shared their memories of the past and their hopes for the future. They exchanged stories of their families and stories of their lives. Over the common legacy of that sword, they became friends.
The man from Oklahoma dreamed of meeting his Japanese friend face-to-face, but he was ill and not able to travel. So his family arranged that, on the day of the annual family reunion, the Japanese major would arrive at the small Oklahoma restaurant where the reunion was being held and surprise his American friend.
At the reunion, the son announced that there was a special surprise awaiting his father. Major Tohata, the man to whom had returned the sword, was outside the door. Major Tohata came in, and the two men embraced. Tears flowed, and the lives of two ordinary men came full circle before the eyes of the ordinary Oklahoma citizens who were blessed to witness the event. In that moment, the struggles of half a century of the human spirit had their resolution in a single, tearful embrace.
The sailor from Oklahoma died not long after that meeting. But his life’s work on this earth had been realized in the return of that sword and the embrace of that enemy turned friend. No one who was present at the event or who was touched by it at a distance has ever again been quite as hard of heart or quite as doubting about the capacity of the human spirit for love and understanding.
What that ordinary man from Oklahoma did was to use the circumstances he had been given in life to create understanding. He could easily have retreated and used the experience of the was to isolate him from others who had not shared the experience. A great many soldiers do so, saying “You don’t understand. You just can’t understand.”
But the man from Oklahoma took a different path—he looked into the eyes of a man who had been sworn to kill him and did not see “enemy” but saw “brother”. And then he acted on what he had seen, entering into the mind and heart of that other man and try to understand what this simple blade of metal might have meant to him.
By the time he had followed out the thread of that first moment of trying to understand, he had created a meaning in the world that had stretched across an ocean and embraced two people on two continents. And in doing so, he had revealed himself in a way that made him forever understood by those whose lives he touched.
That is the miracle of seeking to understand and be in relationship. When we try to understand another, we reveal ourselves, and in revealing ourselves we are able to be understood. Our heart declares itself to another heart, and that which is common between us becomes the bridge over which understanding crosses.
It is so easy to look upon understanding as an uncovering of patterns and principles. We see it as some passive condition that will descend upon us through the application of our own intellect. But what passive application of his intellect would have provided the ordinary man from Oklahoma with an understanding of the reasons of war? What possible system of analysis would have begun to approach the understanding that he gained by actively seeking to create meaning out of the circumstances that he had been given?
We must remind ourselves that, though our lives are small and our acts seem insignificant, we are generative elements of this universe, and we create meaning with each act that we perform or fail to perform.
It is here, on this earth, in the day to day, on the street corners, at our evening table, in the homes of our friends, at the bedside of the sick, in the arms of our wife or husband, in the warmth or sadness of our child’s days, that the universe is being formed.
Far from being a great system and puzzle that we are asked to comprehend, it is a dynamic, ever-changing reality that we can influence by our every act and gesture.
In some small way, every day each of us is handed a sword by another. It may be an actual object; it may be a conversation. It may be given in anger; it may be given in gratitude. It may even seem like nothing in the giving. But it is a part of another person’s life, and something in who we are or in the circumstances we share makes the giving a significant part of our small role in shaping the universe.
If an ordinary man from Oklahoma can stand against the horrors of war with only a samurai sword and a quest for understanding, who are we to think that our actions are too insignificant to have an effect in this world? (Kent Nerburn from his book – Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace: Living in the Spirit of the Prayer of Saint Francis”)
We have a continual invitation to join in the ever-changing, dynamic dance of the Trinity. a An invitation to relationship. Thank God. Amen.
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