Monday, 17 June 2019

'You stand on holy ground' A sermon for Trinity Sunday


First preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on Trinity Sunday 2019

‘You stand on holy ground’ (Exodus 3.5)

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Tonight’s readings (Exodus 3.1-15; John 3.1-17) present us with the mystery of God: God in wind and flame, and yet also a God found in silence and indefinable.

God as mystery; God in history; God through love.

Wind and flame evokes our celebration of Pentecost last week.

Then we recalled the coming of the Holy Spirit, a Person of the Trinity, who is the fullness of God, without denying the divinity of the Father and the Son, who comes in mighty rushing wind and tongues of flame.

Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity, a celebration of the Unity and the fullness of God, a fullness and plenitude that spills into our lives and is made known in encounter-in-love with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The flames of our first reading speak of the mystery of God to be encountered and yet not touched. Moses encounters the fullness of God, the One who speaks and says ‘I am who I am’.

Moses is told to remove his sandals for he stands on holy ground. The sense of the holiness of God is palpable in this encounter. In it too is the full presence of God. The Father, the source of all, speaks: ‘I am’.

The flames point us to the Holy Spirit, the voice that speaks of the redemption and deliverance of Israel places the Son, the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ as the heart of this, before his incarnation. Herein is the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit.

The wind of our second reading, blowing where it will, speaks of God who is beyond our grasping, beyond holding on to, beyond categories that we understand.

Nicodemus encounters Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not concept, Jesus Christ is a person, a human being, yet the fullness of God is pleased to dwell in him.

A most beautiful icon captures this divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ. It shows the Blessed Virgin Mary bearing Jesus in the midst of the flames of the Burning Bush: neither his divinity nor humanity is compromised or consumed in who he is.

We see that describing God (who cannot be described), describing God as Trinity states the Unity of God, and the Diversity of God.

How can we describe mystery? How can we describe love? We can describe its impact, we can use the most beautiful and evocative of language, but that language quickly runs out.

That’s why there is a strand of theology known as apophatic, or negative, theology, which acknowledges that as soon as we start speaking of God we become tongue tied.

The language of Trinity guards how we speak of God, constantly checking and restraining our fantasises and projections onto God. The Book of Common Prayer contains the Creed of St Athanasius. It is a dense, but rich, account of the Trinity and guards any language we put on God at every turn.

When we speak of God we have intellectually to remove the sandals from our feet, not because our minds don’t matter, but because ultimately our quest to search out God, to measure, categorise, handle, label God is fruitless. We move from mind to heart: comprehension to apprehension.

This is how we journey into the Mystery of God.

As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: ‘You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words make the hearers beg that not another word be spoken… but you have come to the city of the Living God (Hebrews 12. 18, 19, 22)

The Trinity roots us in the life of the Divine, and that’s what we celebrate today: God as mystery; God in history; God in love.

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