Sunday, 30 May 2021

‘In our struggle for human rights, we
are acting in the name of the Trinity’

A modern copy of Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Hospitality of Abraham or the ‘Old Testament Trinity’, by Eileen McGuckin

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 30 May 2021, Trinity Sunday:

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

11 am: The Festal Eucharist

The Readings: Isaiah 6: 1-8; Psalm 29; John 3: 1-17

There is a link to the readings HERE.

The Visitation of Abraham or the ‘Old Testament Trinity’ … a fresco in the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, interprets a Trinitarian and Eucharistic theme (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

This is the third Sunday since the pandemic lockdown eased that we have been able to roll-out the opening of our parish churches. And it is a particular pleasure, a delight for me, that on the third Sunday we are here in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, to celebrate what is the Festal Eucharist for this church on Trinity Sunday.

When I started training for ministry in the 1990s, I had all the required degrees, but very little practical or hands-on experience. The rector of a neighbouring parish in south Dublin took me under his wings as a sort of tutor for practical training in preaching.

He moved practically and quickly to asking me to preach.

‘About what?’ I asked.

‘About God … and about ten minutes,’ he told me.

On that first meeting, he also told me about the traditional, three-point sermon approach to preaching.

‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit?’ I quipped.

But he put that aside quickly too, and he pointed out how many of my future colleagues found it difficult to preach about the Trinity on Trinity Sunday.

They either got to such heights of theological erudition, that they left everybody else in church feeling dizzy and that the whole thing was irrelevant. Or, they tried to speak down to everyone, and ended up being banal.

So, this morning I would like to say three things about the Holy Trinity.

1, We are made in God’s image and likeness.

That means that it is not just as an individual but as humanity we are made in God’s image and likeness. We are not made as individual replicas or mannequins that look like God. We are also like God because God as Trinity is community, and we as people are made to live in community.

That creation is the work of God as Trinity, and one of the first comments God makes about our human condition is that it is not good for us to be alone (see Genesis 2: 18). We are created in God’s image and likeness, and we are created to live, like the Trinity, with one another.

2, Our human condition reflects God as Trinity.

When we are made, God compliments us by making us in God’s image and likeness.

Then, at the Incarnation, God compliments us again when Christ takes on our image and likeness.

But in Christ, God not only looks like us, God becomes truly one of us, in flesh. He suffers, dies and is buried.

Then, in Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension, God invites us once again to take on God’s image and likeness.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out not on individuals, but on all; it is a communal experience, and a promise, a pledge that we can return to being like God, what the Greeks call theosis (θέωσις).

3, Our celebration of the Eucharist invites us into a living experience with God as Trinity, and invites us into a living experience with one another, as like the Trinity.

First, we lift up our hearts to God, giving thanks and praise to God the Father, as the creator and sustainer of all things. We then recall how we are saved through God the Son. And then we pray that through ‘the power of the life-giving Spirit’ we may be made one.

Heaven and earth are truly joined in the Liturgy. The Church of heaven, the Church triumphant, and the Church here on earth, join in this grand celebration to glorify God and to be in union with God.

When we are receiving Holy Communion, our Amen is to the presence of Christ both in the Sacrament and in us, one another, the Church, as the Body of Christ.

So, in conclusion, let’s give all this some practical and social force, without descending to the banal.

Too often, preaching about the Trinity has been oppressive at the best, and unfathomable at the worst. Compared with the great social and political challenges facing the Church, discussing the Trinity may seem to many to be as relevant as debating the number of angels on the head of a pin.

But during the Nazi era, the German theologian Erik Peterson (1890-1960) argued that true Trinitarian theologies challenge absolutist and totalitarian political and social orders.

Without proper teaching on the Trinity, the Church will continue to provide answers to social and political questions that make God more like an idol than like our model for a loving community.

This is beautifully summarised by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the pre-eminent English-speaking Orthodox theologian, who describes ‘the human person as [the] icon of the Trinity.’ He writes: ‘Our belief in a Trinitarian God, in a God of social inter-relationship and shared love, commits us to opposing all forms of exploitation, injustice and discrimination. In our struggle for human rights, we are acting in the name of the Trinity.’

And that, I hope, has been all about God, and in less that ten minutes.

So, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Three in One and One in Three, Amen.

An icon of Heavenly Divine Liturgy by Michael Damaskinos in a museum in Iraklion, Crete … our celebrations of the Eucharist invite us into a living experience with God as Trinity

John 3: 1-17 (NRSVA):

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10 Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

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

Liturgical colour: White.

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:

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:

A modern icon of the Trinity in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Anglican Diocese of Europe) in Gibraltar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty (CD 19)
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done! (CD 22)

Three royal crowns in one circle … a Trinitarian symbol in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.



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