A sermon for Trinity Sunday at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid
Trinity Sunday: that business of the three in one – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Mother, Son, and Spirit – it’s not about dogma so much as it is about relationship.
The interplay of God, the Incarnation of Christ as Everyman, the promiscuous ubiquity of the Holy Spirit – all point to the expansive and inclusive, progenitive love of God.
How are we, as humans, to recognize and render such a complex oneness? Perhaps the bees understand it better, or the poets. John Donne wrote,
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;”
It is the mutuality of the Trinity that we seek. We hear its echoes in our prayers: “though we are many, we are one body” (Romans 12:5). We come closest to it when we experience compassion. But that word means, literally, suffering with. I know that I am not the only person here who, upon hearing the news of yet another mass shooting this week – and then, yet another local murder by gunfire – found it hard to breathe. Our lives are connected and complicit in the lives of our neighbours. If that is not love, what is it?
However we try to parse and parcel ourselves out, the lesson of the Trinity is that we cannot separate our selves or our salvation, our wellbeing on this, God’s good earth, from the lives and thriving of our fellows.
We cannot separate ourselves from our siblings in Palestine when we are so entangled, nationally, in the politics that keep them wanting for freedom. We cannot separate ourselves from the antisemitism that taints our society, unless we work actively to undermine it. We cannot exempt ourselves from the legacy of the Tulsa race massacre, arguing the distance of history and geography, or that we were not taught about it at school. We cannot deny the racism that continues to inform our daily lives together, unless we recognize it. We cannot bewail the losses of war unless we are determined to wreak peace.
We are one body, created in one image, although with many faces.
Just as Moses, Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee – just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so that the people might look upon death and, upon their turning away, might live – so the Son of Man is lifted high on the cross. Like a lightning rod gathering rogue electricity and running it into the ground, the cross becomes a focal point for evil: for the oppression of empire, the pride of the powerful, the perverse inventiveness of those who design ways for us to kill one another.
In Arizona, in an effort to deal with the problems that they have experienced in the execution chamber, the authorities have refurbished a gas chamber, and purchased the ingredients to make cyanide gas, the same stuff that was used in Auschwitz, just so that we can continuing killing those whom we have designated criminals?
It is as though we have looked upon the cross, and the Son of Man lifted high in execution, and we have become fixed and fascinated. As though we have forgotten to make that turn from the instrument of death to new life.
But “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him”. (John 3:17)
Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”. (John 12:32)
We who are many are one body.
We are at a turning point, as we come back together in the church. We hope that we are turning away from the plague of Covid, aided by vaccines – we talked earlier this year about the lessons Moses’ bronze serpent has for us in encouraging us to get vaccinated.
A year after the murder of George Floyd, a hundred years after Tulsa, it feels as though we are at a crossroads, too, in our understanding of the racism that spoils our life together, that ends the lives of too many.
The heartbreaking number of mass shootings that has already taken place this year, as people begin to return to places of work, shopping, life, likewise confronts us with the choice to continue on the same path as we have followed so far, or to try something different in our life together: something that does not require us to rely on death as the ultimate defense within our life together.
We are at a turning point, and the gospel calls us to turn from death to life, to look upon the Cross and see the possibilities for Resurrection.
We have the words of eternal life; we have the Word of Eternal Life, Jesus, the Christ.
Oh, this morning we are just glad to be back together for a little while. It is good to rest in each other’s company, to find that solidarity, that unity, that interplay and dance, the harmony of a hymn. To find, in our celebration of the Holy Trinity, our Holy Communion, that we who are many are one body. It is a good and a joyful thing.
It is also an opportunity, to turn back, remembering how things have always been, or to grow in the gospel, turning toward the justice and mercy of God, the unity that Christ himself prayed for us, that we, who are made in one image with many faces, might become as close, as mutually caring, as though we were one body with our neighbours.
So may the love and the comfort and the salvation that we find here strengthen us, as we go into the world, to bring to life that complexity and singularity of compassion that God, in their Trinity, has shown us; to turn the “shadow of death [at last] into the morning”. (Amos 5:8)