Sunday, 7 June 2020

Justice and the end of
ethnic discrimination are
the work of the Holy Trinity

The Risen Christ and the mission of the Church … a stained-glass window in Peterborough Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 7 June 2020,

Trinity Sunday.


The Readings: Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Trinitarian truths expressed in in a stained-glass window in Michaelhouse, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

This is Trinity Sunday, and our readings reflect key Trinitarian teachings. In the Old Testament reading, we hear of God using the plural form to express God’s joy in creating the whole of creations: ‘Let us make Adam in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion ... So God created Adam in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1: 26-27).

The Orthodox theologian Thomas Hopko argues that if God were not Trinity, God could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow God’s love.

This love or communion of God as Trinity, which is extended to us in the communion of the Church, is the climax to Saint Paul’s message to the Church in Corinth in our Epistle reading (II Corinthians 13: 13). It is not just the Trinitarian faith into which we are baptised, but the love or fellowship of the Trinity (Matthew 28: 19-20).

Yet many clergy tell me they are afraid of preaching on Trinity Sunday, wondering how they can talk about the Trinity as a doctrine or dogmas, and yet relate it to the needs of today’s world, in its joys and its sufferings, in its beauty and with all its injustice.

A ‘Father-only’ image of God is in danger of reflecting power-lust and a need to dominate on the right, reducing God to an idol or mere totem; or, on the left, of reducing God to a mere metaphor for goodness, however one decides to define ‘goodness.’

Similarly, ‘Jesus-only’ images lead to moralistic action by Christians on the theological left or individualistic pietism on the theological right.

A ‘Spirit-only’ emphasis brings real dangers of either introspective escapism or charismatic excesses.

Yet these images are real throughout the Church, because the concept of the Trinity often appears irrelevant, due to poor teaching in our churches and a prevailing anti-intellectual climate.

Those who do preach on the Trinity on Trinity Sunday are often reduced to explaining away the Trinity as a ‘mystery’ that they expect ‘mere’ lay people not to grapple with.

Worship then becomes a transaction between an external deity and an autonomous worshipper. And it is not possible for a collection of separated and disconnected individuals to become the community of faith, to enter into the life of the Trinity.

We can only be human through our relationships. We can only have self-respect when we know what it is to respect others.

The Church is primarily communion, a set of relationships, exactly as we find in the Trinitarian God. Christianity is not a private religion for individuals; personal piety is only truly pious and personal when it relates to others and to creation.

In our first reading (Genesis 1: 1 to 2: 4a), we have a poetic description of God’s creation, reaching its climax or fulfilment in God’s creation of humanity and God’s relationship with us.

At first, there was chaos, ‘an empty, formless void’ (verse 2). However, the life-giving power of God, the ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ or Spirit ‘from God’ sweeps over this chaos. The creation story is then told in the form of a poem or hymn, with a refrain, ‘And God saw that it was good’ (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 20, 25).

As the story unfolds, light overcomes darkness, and at each stage God sees that this creation is good: from the sky and the waters, to the trees and plants, the fruit and vegetables, the Sun and the Moon, the creatures sea, air and land.

Then God says, ‘Let us’ (26), invoking a royal we. The creation of humanity is the climax of the creation story. We are made in God’s image – the Hebrew word used here implies an exact copy or reproduction. God gives his human creation dominion over the earth, acting as God’s regents, which means taking responsibility for a just rule in and care for the creation.

And we are told that not only that ‘God saw that it was good’ – as on the other days of creation – but, ‘indeed, it was very good’ (verse 31).

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that, set against the grandeur of the narrative, what stands out is the smallness yet uniqueness of us humans, vulnerable but also undeniably set apart from all other beings.

Rav Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, says any intelligent person should know that Genesis 1: 28, ‘does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfil his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart.’

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) says the mandate to exercise dominion is limited by the requirement to serve and guard, as seen out in the next chapter (Genesis 2). There are limits to how we interact with the earth. When we do not treat creation according to God’s will, disaster can follow.

We see this today, Rabbi Sacks says, as scientists predict more intense and destructive storms, floods, and droughts due to human-induced changes in the atmosphere. If we do not take action now, we risk the very survival of civilisation.

Our Psalm (Psalm 8) recalls that creation story, and is a psalm of praise of God as creator and of humanity as the head of creation.

The word for mortals, ben’adam (בן־אדם), means ‘son of man.’ It is a title Jesus uses for himself, and the Greek expression (ὅ ὑιὸς τοῦ ἀνθρόπου) appears 81 times in the New Testament. It describes a righteous person or someone who does the right thing.

So, responsibility for creation is intimately linked with doing the right thing, ensuring justice in this creation. A just creation demands justice for humanity, and vice versa.

In the Gospel reading (Matthew 28: 16-20), we are with Christ before the Ascension, when he sends out the disciples in mission, when he sends them out in the name of the Trinity, to baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But he sends them out to all nations – the words used here for all nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, panta ta ethne, verse 19) means all ethnic groups.

In the love of the Holy Trinity, there can be no ethnic distinctions or differences. All are called, without discrimination, to obey everything that Christ has commanded. And what he commanded was to love God to love one another.

When we are created in the image of God, it is not just individually in the image of one God, but we are created collectively and communally in the image and likeness of God, who is one God in community as God in Trinity.

When we accept the old barriers of ethnic distinctions and discrimination, we are not only going against Christ’s great commission and commandments, but we become least like God, we deny being in God’s image and likeness.

When we remain silent in the face of one man’s death, when his breath is squeezed out of his life in an act of violence and racism as he cries out, ‘I can’t breathe,’ we deny God as Trinity:

● We deny the Father who has entrusted us with responsibility for justice throughout all this good creation

● We deny the Son who has commanded us in equal measure to love God and to love one another

● We deny the Spirit, the breath of God, which is the life and breath of all this good creation, and the breath and life of each individual person

Any President, any Governor, any politician, any human who tries to wriggle out of this is abdicating authority, and needs to be reminded of Christ’s words in this morning’s Gospel reading that ultimately ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given’ to Christ.

The Trinity means that as humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, then it is not just as individuals that we reflect God’s image, but that when we are a community we are most human and most God-like,

In the true community, each is valued, each takes account of the other, each has an equal place, contribution and voice. True community cannot concentrate sole authority, privilege and infallibility in one ethnic group, one gender alone, let alone one member.

All have received the breath of God, and all must be free to breathe.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

Matthew 28: 16-20 (NRSVA):

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

The Risen Christ in front of the Cross above the High Altar in Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral, Orlando (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White (Trinity, Year A)

Penitential Kyries:

Father, you come to meet us when we return to you.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, you died on the cross for our sins.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, you give us life and peace.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace to you from God our heavenly Father.
Peace from his Son Jesus Christ who is our peace.
Peace from the Holy Spirit the Life-giver.
The peace of the Triune God be always with you.
And also with you.

Preface:

You have revealed your glory
as the glory of your Son and of the Holy Spirit:
three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour,
yet one Lord, one God,
ever to be worshipped and adored:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
may we who have received this holy communion,
worship you with lips and lives
proclaiming your majesty
and finally see you in your eternal glory:
Holy and Eternal Trinity,
one God, now and for ever.

Blessing:

God the Holy Trinity
make you strong in faith and love,
defend you on every side,
and guide you in truth and peace:

An image of the Trinity presiding over Creation in Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece

Hymns:

3, God is love: let heaven adore him
36, We thank you, God our Father
6, Immortal, invisible, God only wise
456, Lord, you give the great commission

The Visitation of Abraham in a mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna … an early depiction of the Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered into one place’ (Genesis 1: 9) … a water feature at Myli restaurant in Platanias near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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