Trinity Sunday at All Saints, Ashmont
by Fr. Blake
I was honored to be invited to preach Trinity Sunday this year at the Parish of All Saints in the Ashmont neighborhood of Dorchester, just outside of Boston. This sermon was preached at the Solemn High Mass, at 10am. Music for the day included Stanford’s Communion Service in B-flat and F, and his Te Deum in B-flat Major. Thank you to Fr. Michael Godderz and to the whole parish for your warm hospitality!
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of thy Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see thee in thy one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen:
“Why don’t you quit waffling, and take a stand already?” How many of us have said this before, or have heard it said to us? Take a stand: be for us, or be against us, but at least take a stand! As a culture we don’t have much patience for people who can’t make up their minds. And nothing is more frustrating than having to work with people who lack the courage to back up their convictions with deed as well as word. Take a stand!
The Church makes its share of stands too, and today we make what is perhaps the chief of all Christian stands: Trinity Sunday, when we affirm unequivocally that the God we worship is one God in three Persons, whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All Christian prayer, all Christian doctrine, and all Christian hope depend in many ways on this stand most of all: God is one, and God is three, perfect Trinity in perfect Unity.
What is it like to make a stand for the Trinity? What is it like to stand, and to build, on this great, monumental Doctrine? The moment we try, a strange thing happens: we lose our balance, and end up facing a different direction than when we started! What do I mean by that? The moment we try to think of the Father, we are forced to consider his Son, his only Son, whom he loves above all else. And the moment we turn to the Son, our eye is immediately turned to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit whom Jesus promised will lead us into all truth. And the moment we consider the Holy Spirit, we are turned back to the Father, the one whose truth the Spirit reveals: which sends us right back to the Son. To try and stand on the Trinity is like trying to step on a ride at the fair which is already moving: we get turned around from the moment we take our first step. We can easily lose our balance, and if we’re not careful, or if we focus too long on any one point, we can catch a nasty case of vertigo and get thrown clean off. If the Trinity is the firm ground where the Church makes its stand, then what are we to do when we discover it is continually moving around?
Take another example. There comes a point in every person’s life when we hit “rock bottom.” Maybe it has happened to you or to someone you know, or if it hasn’t yet, don’t worry, it will. Maybe a cancer diagnosis. Maybe you’ve failed an important test. Maybe it’s getting fired, or getting caught, or declaring bankruptcy. Maybe it’s a divorce, or maybe you’ve finally admitted to yourself that you’re an alcoholic. One man in recovery once told me that, the moment he realized he had a problem was a moment in which suddenly found himself with an overpowering fear, fear that he was slowly killing himself, and that he was powerless to stop it.
Rock bottom. Whatever it is for you, you know it when you’re there. There is no lower that you can go. “Rock bottom” sounds an awful lot like bedrock, like solid ground. But the experience is always more like freefall, down an endless abyss into the void. What do you do when you find yourself there? How do you regain your balance? How do you reorient yourself back towards life, and light? It’s a very different scenario, but the question is the same as with the Trinity: how can you make a stand from a moving reference point?
Take another case. Recently I met a woman who was totally in love. The man in question was also totally in love with her. He had proposed, but she was nervous about saying Yes. She said, “Whenever I think about him, I think about how happy he makes me. And whenever I think about my life, I think how glad I am that he’s in it. I can’t imagine myself without him.” “That doesn’t sound so bad,” I said. She replied, “Yeah, but aren’t I supposed to be able to get along without him, if this is going to work? As it is, I feel like I’m in a whole new world, and nothing is really recognizable anymore. All my old hopes and goals suddenly look different with him, and I’m considering all sorts of new things that I never would have dreamed of before.”
I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I arranged to meet with the man too. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was surprised in any case, since he said almost the same thing that she did. He said, “I want to be with her for the rest of my life, she’s always teaching me something new about myself. And when she’s around, it’s like I am somebody I never knew I could be. I don’t know why, but she loves me, and I like myself better because of it. Life is richer somehow, there’s less pressure to be someone I’m not, and I feel like I’m discovering new things all the time.”
Of course they were both saying the same things. Not that they had surrendered their identities to each other, but that, in love as they were, they found that something new and unknown was growing among them, leading them further into unknown territory, and they needed each other to figure out what that was and what it meant. “All you need is love,” the Beatles sang. But these two love birds prove that, like being at rock bottom, love is a difficult foundation too. It’s hard to stand on love, because it’s constantly leading further on, opening onto new vistas, new possibilities, new depths of understanding and devotion.
So: It’s impossible to make a stand on love. It’s impossible to make a stand at rock bottom. And it’s impossible to nail down the Holy Trinity. All of them move constantly out of focus, all of them are just beyond reach, all of them require some help from outside of ourselves to engage. And yet, the Trinity is still where the Church takes its stand. Our whole religion is bound up in this mystery. What is this about?
The person at rock bottom, in freefall, has nowhere to stand, cannot climb out, cannot stop falling, cannot grab hold of anything. And so, the Trinity does not present itself as merely some crutch to help us cope, some toehold for us to cling to. Rather the Trinity reaches down to grab hold of us, never letting go, even in our darkest hour offering another vision, another possibility for life, cleansed from sin and free from death.
The couple in love find that love is not something they possess, but rather something that makes a new world for them, constantly unfolding with more delight, more challenge, more opportunity. Likewise the Trinity is not something we can possess, but rather the very life of God himself, who claims us for his own, drawing us ever onward into his grace, feeding us with his own body and blood and infusing every day with more wonder, more joy, more gratitude.
Tracing a line from Father, to Son, to Holy Spirit, and back around again, can be dizzying, just like that ride at the fair. If we try to master the contours of the doctrine, we will get thrown off. Rather the point is, that the Holy Trinity is the constant invitation of God to be near him in all his saving and redeeming work.
Yes, the Church makes its stand on the Trinity, but not because it is the final and irreducible “this-far-and-no-further” of Christian doctrine or the culture wars or whatever. The Church makes its stand on the Trinity because it is the starting point, and the source of all hope. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, takes hold of us wherever we are, lifts us out of our ruts, washes us from our sin, and places us in a new country, bright and green, filled with his own eternal life.
Take a stand on the Holy Trinity: come and worship, and let God sweep you away to who knows where. You may not recognize where you end up, but you will have taken the surest route to the Kingdom of God.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.