By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
June 3, 2007
Read: John 16:12-15 and Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Last week we celebrated Pentecost and this week we celebrate another feast day, Trinity Sunday. The primary difference between Trinity Sunday and the rest of the year is that on this day we focus on God’s being rather than on God’s doing; on who God is rather than on what God has done. On this day, we turn from the “sacred story” to the sacred itself. Mystery.
The early Christians began to speak of the one God in three persons in order to describe more fully the wonder of salvation. God is above us, beside us, within us. God is our loving Father, our savior Jesus, our companion Spirit. To be baptized in this name is to enter into God’s community.
In the past century people assumed that science would explain everything and solve every mystery. In a postmodern era we are increasingly recognizing that, while science can give us insights and help us understand many things, mystery remains an integral and wonderful part of life and the world God has created.
Today we celebrate and focus on the mystery. But the mystery of God is not like a situation in a detective story, or a puzzle to be solved. In theology the word mystery is a synonym for sacrament – not something to be solved, but something to be experienced. A sacrament is something that draws us beyond the surface appearances of the image to something deeper or higher or broader – or all three. Sacraments open a door to another dimension and through it we have the opportunity to peek through and catch a glimpse of an otherwise invisible realm, and begin to participate in it.
There is always more than meets the eye in a sacrament: there is some inward reality to which the outward visible sign directs, draws, invites, guides and brings us. Every sacrament is an open door through which grace flows and through which we experience and anticipate in grace. The water of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist reveal truths that doctrine cannot express, truths not simply assented to, but experienced – living truths from the hand of the one who is living, loving Truth.
John’s gospel reading today speaks of truth. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. It is in Jesus’ absence that we can most fully experience his presence. Sound like a mystery? I’ll repeat it. It is in Jesus’ absence that we can more fully experience his presence. When Jesus tells the disciples that it is to our “advantage that I go away” he is telling us that absence does not mean nothingness and aloneness. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is a mysterious doctrine about Ultimate Reality called the Void or s(h)unyata. The interesting thing about this doctrine is that it does not mean nothingness. Instead, it means everything. It means totality so vast that any attempts to describe Ultimate Reality fail.
The concept of the Trinity is much like that. Jesus’ absence is his presence in a way that is even more powerful and enduring. There is something about the Advocate, the Spirit, despite it’s seeming nothingness—that is the continuing presence of Jesus as well as the presence of the Father, all three available, present to the disciples and to us. Absence becomes an experience of incredible fullness of presence. Celtic prayers often speak of this fullness:
God be with thee in every pass,
Jesus be with thee on every hill,
Spirit be with thee on every stream,
Headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest.
Absence is not so cut and dried as the world would have us believe. Through Jesus Christ, in the company of the Spirit, and in the power of our Father, we are invited into an experience of deep and direct knowing of the Divine among us, with us and in us. And it is this deep knowing that permits us to walk through all our holy weeks to the experiences of the resurrection in our lives.
And that is one of the profound mysteries. That God works in people. We were made in the beginning in the image of God. Each of us still carries a spark of that first creative fire in our hearts. And though that spark we carry in our hearts sometimes get obscured or dimmed when we forget our original blessing because of original sin, God can bring that flame back to brightness within us. The Spirit will guide us into all the truth.
In the ancient classics of Homer, we encounter the beautiful Helen of Troy. In Homer’s story, Helen is captured and carried away, and becomes a victim of amnesia. She can’t remember who she is. She can’t remember her homeland. She didn’t know her royal roots. Instead, Helen became a prostitute.
An old friend went looking for her, and never lost faith he would find her alive. One day, in his wanderings, he came across a wretched woman in tattered clothes, her face deeply wrinkled. Believing he recognized her, he approached her and asked, “What is your name?” She gave a name that meant nothing to him. “May I see your hands?” he asked next. She held her hands in front of his face. They were the hands he remembered from years before. “Helen!” he called out. “I’ve found you! You’re Helen!”
At the sound of that name, Helen’s memory began to return. She recognized the name, and she sensed something familiar in the hero’s face and manner. She believed him when he told her who she really was. She fell into her friends arms, weeping in thanksgiving. She was transformed, and once again became the queen she was meant to be.
Isn’t that a little bit like the mystery of God’s suffering love? God comes searching for us, relentlessly, sparing no cost—even the blood of God’s own son. God comes relentlessly searching and calls us by name. “You are my child!” God says. And we are transformed by that promise. It takes the Holy Trinity to make that happen. God is love. And that is the mystery that we celebrate today—A God who is willing to go to any length to claim us as God’s own. A God willing to create a world and put us in charge, a God willing to call us back when we wander; a God willing to suffer and die to claim us as God’s own for eternity; a God willing to keep pouring the divine life into us so that we can belong to God forever. God keeps the flame alive. God above us. God beside us. God within us. Amen.
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