Can you think of a time when you had a profoundly moving experience of God, of the holy? It could have been when you were alone, or when you were in a sea of people, or when you were with only one other. Your experience of God may have come through your senses: listening to music, seeing the tremendous beauty of Creation, touching the face or holding the hand of someone beloved to you, singing with a whole group of people. Or it may have come from deep within you: a feeling or conviction of God’s presence in a powerful and incontrovertible way.
One such experience for me was when, as a 16-year old, I worshipped for the first time at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York, a high church, Anglo-Catholic parish, whose tradition knows so well how to open the windows of the soul to the transcendence of God. The service was Solemn Evensong and Benediction, meaning that the prayers and canticles and Creed were chanted, the clergy vested in beautiful embroidered copes and other vestments, the consecrated host of the Reserved Sacrament was venerated with prayers and hymns, and there was incense – clouds of it. I had never seen, heard, or smelled worship like that, and it just blew me away. The sense of God’s presence and grandeur and holiness was palpable, and drew me in. And ultimately sent me out. Like Isaiah, with his vision of God while he was on duty in the Temple, I sensed what Isaiah did, hearing “the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ It was a piece of the beginning of my call to ordained ministry.
This experience of God’s majesty and holiness and power need not – in fact should not – be limited to worshipping in church, because the whole earth is the realm of God, and all human beings have been made in God’s image and likeness – that is, with the capacity for love and life-giving relationship.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and over the years more dry and dusty sermons have been preached in an attempt to explain the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity than you would care to imagine. Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is important; using the best of our intellect, and precise and careful language to describe matters of faith and theology is very valuable. But all the language and theological commentary in the world is secondary, an unpacking of the experience of the holy mystery that is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the holy and undivided Trinity, One God.
At the heart of God is a community of love, of relationships – Father and Son, Son and Spirit, Spirit and Father – each aspect or face of God sharing love within God’s self. If you need a visual image, think maybe of a model of an atom with the electrons whirling around the nucleus, the locus of incredible power and potential, always in motion, yet held together by its own internal force.
At the heart of God is a community of love and relationship; and if that is true of God, then it is true for us. We who are made in God’s image, we who have been baptized into the life of Christ, we who are guided and empowered by the Spirit, are to embody this powerful community of God’s love. Our vocation, our calling as followers of Jesus is to reflect the truth and goodness of God into the world around us, and it starts with being drawn into the circle of love among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It starts with being caught up into the dance between the Persons of the Trinity. It starts with being grounded in the atom-like movement that is the heart of God. This is what energizes us, this is what empowers us – being loved to our depths from the very source of love.
But that love is not for our benefit alone. The love of God and the life of God is always given for the other; that is the deepest meaning of the Cross. That is why Jesus says to Nicodemus in the Gospel: “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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved (rescued, made whole, be put right again) through him.”
So God’s love for you will always send you out, into the world, into human community, to build amongst those around you the same kind of network of mutual loving relationship that is within God. As God’s agents and representatives in the world we are to do on a small scale what God does on a large scale. If that seems like a daunting prospect – and it should – we only can do it in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we cannot shrink back. We cannot draw near to God only for our own comfort or peace or safety or wisdom. If we are truly drawing near to God, if we are really entering that community of love and dance of relationship, then we will be sent out to do God’s work, to be God’s people, to serve as the presence of the Triune God wherever we live and move and have our being.
Call to mind again your experience of the power and presence of God. Did you see, or, hear, or feel in it a sense of being sent out, of needing to do or be differently in the world? Was there joy or blessing that you could not keep to yourself? Or an urgency of truth you felt you had to share? The closer you come to God, the greater your sense of mission will be, because the Triune God has a mission for the world God loves so dearly – to heal, restore, set right all that does not reflect the love and goodness of God.
And this experience of the power and presence of God is not a single-use item, not a “one and done.” While not every day or week or even month will be filled with an over-whelming sense of God’s presence (because, really, we can’t always live in a rarified state of awe and wonder), we can lay the ground work; we can draw near to God through prayer, meditation, and worship; we can know every day that the community of love which is the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – surrounds and enfolds us, and sends us out into the world as bearers of love.
Let us pray.
Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see Thee more clearly, to love Thee more dearly, to follow Thee more nearly; day by day. Amen. ~ Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018