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Choral Evensong      27th May 2018
Trinity Sunday - climax or anti-climax?
Handley Stevens

Psalm 104.1-9
OT Reading: Ezekiel 1.4-10, 22-28a
NT Reading: Revelation 4.1-11

On this Trinity Sunday, may I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When I was thinking about this evening’s readings, Ezekiel’s ‘wheels within wheels’ took me all over the place, as I suppose they should.  No contraption designed by Mr Heath Robinson was ever so strange!  Wondering what it all meant, and finding only limited enlightenment in the commentaries, my mind turned to Humpty Dumpty’s conversation with Alice, in Through The Looking Glass, in which he assures her that ‘when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean’.  Interestingly, the particular words they then discuss could all apply to the Trinity – starting with ‘glory’, then a ‘nice knock-down argument’ and finally ‘impenetrability.’  Humpty-Dumpty concludes: ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra’.  On that basis the word ‘Trinity’ should be collecting a fortune in royalties to-day.

I’m never quite sure whether to regard Trinity Sunday as climax or anti-climax.  On the one hand, having celebrated at Pentecost the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have at last arrived at that point in our annual retelling of the story of our salvation where we can explore the revelation of God in the full majesty of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, after celebrating the great events of Jesus’ life and death, through the first half of the liturgical year, concluding at Pentecost with the release into the world of the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, Trinity Sunday itself celebrates a doctrine – a theological concept.  As such it lacks the direct appeal of the other great festivals. Moreover, despite to-day’s celebration, we have moved since last Monday into what the liturgists call ordinary time.  It’s difficult to get excited about all those Sundays after Trinity.  How do we escape the sense that living in ordinary time is actually rather ordinary, even boring?

Reading the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, I sense that this was something of a challenge even for the apostles.  Listening to the reading on Ascension Day, I was struck by the question which Luke records the apostles putting to Jesus in the Upper Room some weeks after the resurrection.  By then they had got used to his intermittent appearances.  Jesus had begun to prepare them for his definitive return to the right hand of God in heaven, to be replaced on earth by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who would lead them into all the truth.  Puzzled by what this might mean, they asked: Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?   After all they had been through with him, after all he had tried to teach them about the nature of the kingdom of God, the disciples were still on a different page.  They really hadn’t got it.  They were still hankering after a literal fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, as I suppose some in the state of Israel hope to this day.  They were imagining that Jesus was going to lead a movement which would make Israel great again, greater even than it had been in the heyday of Jewish power under David and Solomon.

Jesus knew it wasn’t going to be like that.  In his life and death he had learned to follow a different script, which now they would have to learn under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. They would have to leave all their preconceptions behind, and allow the Spirit to show them a different path.  There would be moments of high excitement, moments of profound insight, moments when they would be conscious of the power of the Holy Spirit coursing through them to change the world.  The first such moment would hit them at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit giving them the courage to proclaim the message of the gospel and to see it run through the crowds like a river of fire.  Luke’s story is full of excitement.  But there would be other moments of sheer hard work, exhaustion, disappointment, even martyrdom.  At its faithful best, the life of the church, not just in its heady beginnings but down the centuries would have much in common with the life of Jesus himself.  To-day as ever we need to be inspired by our devotion to God the Father, as well as being enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, if as the church in this place, following the example of Jesus, we are to live a life of witness to the truth about God, and humble loving service to one another and our community, with a special emphasis on those in the greatest need.

Which brings us back to our readings.  We can’t spend all our time immersed in the visions of God’s majesty which inspired Ezekiel and John.  But they are a resource on which we can draw.  We know that Jesus spent much time communing with his Father in prayer.  There were flashes of profound insight, as for example at his baptism when he heard a voice confirming his identity and vocation.  There were other high moments - the Transfiguration might be a case in point – moments not unlike the exalted visions which Ezekiel and Isaiah experienced at their commissioning, or like John’s vision of the throne room of heaven, which inspired his book of Revelations.  But I do not believe that Jesus’ prayers were always conducted and answered at such a high level of spiritual exaltation.  Rather I suppose he spent time opening his heart to his Father’s heart, exploring the conjunction of almighty power and unflinching love which he found there, wrestling with the tensions which that understanding will have taught him, so that his own words and deeds would spring from his absorption of and obedience to His Father’s loving purposes, both for him and for the world which He had made. 

That must surely be the model for our own prayers, seeking to align ourselves with God’s will for our lives, whether as individuals or as a Christian community.  If we are to be his witnesses and to do his work in the messy circumstances of this world, we need to begin by spending time in his overwhelming presence, opening our hearts to His love.  Only then shall we be inspired by our vision of God the Father, and empowered by the gift of his Holy Spirit to follow the example of Jesus, Son of God, in lives of faithful witness and obedient service.

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