A Homily given at the Parish of St. Mary in Palms, Los Angeles, May 26, 2002
2 Corinthians 13:(5-10)11-14
Creation ... Grace ... Love ... Fellowship ... Mission.
Father ... Son ... Spirit.
Where to begin?
Some word pictures. The first from a 7th to 10th Century poem known as "The Anglo Saxon Genesis":
"As yet was nought save shadows of darkness; the spacious earth lay hidden, deep and dim, alien to God, unpeopled and unused. Thereon the Steadfast King looked down and beheld it, a place empty of joy. He saw dim chaos hanging in eternal night, obscure beneath the heavens, desolate and dark, until this world was fashioned by the word of the King of glory. Here first with mighty power the Everlasting Lord, the Helm of all created things, Almighty King, made earth and heaven, raised up the sky and founded the spacious land. The earth was not yet green with grass; the dark waves of the sea flowed over it, and midnight darkness was upon it, far and wide.
"Then in radiant glory God's holy spirit moved upon the waters with wondrous might. The Lord of angels, Giver of life, bade light shine forth upon the spacious earth. Swiftly was God's word fulfilled; holy light gleamed forth across the waste at the Creator's bidding . . . And in the beginning of creation was God well pleased. The first day saw the dark and brooding shadows vanish throughout the spacious earth."
The Steadfast king, the King's Word, and the Lord of the Angels. In such terms, easily understood by their audience, the Anglo-Saxon poets described the work of the blessed Trinity in creation. One might wish that the Anglo-Saxons had been a little less enamored of warfare, a little less ready to ascribe to God their own propensities for domination and violence, but there it is, and it did the job.
Today we might want to picture the Trinity in other images, and there is no reason not to exercise the same poetic license as did the Anglo-Saxon poets. It has been over one thousand eight-hundred years, for instance, since St. Clement of Alexandria reminded us that God the Father may properly also be called God the Mother, and gave us the wonderfully gender-bending image of the Eternal Father eternally begetting the Son and bearing him forth out of his own womb. The New Zealand Prayer Book refers to the first person of the Holy Trinity as "the Divine Parent", a phrase I hope sounds less cold in the native languages than it strikes me in English.
And from an on-line friend at Oxford, Simon Hewitt, comes a version of the Athanasian Hymn that begins, "The God who sets us free", and imagines the Trinity as "The Lover, the Beloved, and the Spirit of Love."
But whatever images help us to pray, we are reminded today that all three persons of the Trinity are ever at work in Creation, and that, as the Anglo-Saxon poets knew, the Blessed Trinity created the world, and us, that there might be joy and "holy light" in the place of dim chaos and dark desolation.
The work of the Blessed Trinity in creation is not something that happened way in the past and is now over and done with. It is an ongoing work, happening at every instant of every day and in every place and in every thing. God is not a far-away spy-satellite, watching us, as the popular song had it, "from a distance."
The Blessed Trinity is ever present and at work, right here and now, just beneath the surface of things, creating, sustaining, bringing light and joy, no further away from us than our next breath.
So St. Athanasius taught. Listen to him:
"For by a nod and by the power of the Divine Word of the Father that governs and presides over all, the heaven revolves, the stars move, the sun shines, the moon goes her circuit, and the air receives the sun's light and the aether his heat, and the winds blow: the mountains are reared on high, the sea is rough with waves, and the living things in it grow, the earth abides, and bears fruit, and human is formed and lives and dies again, and all things whatever have their life and movement . . . and while some things are vanishing others are being engendered and are coming to light. But all these things, and more, which for their number we cannot mention, the worker of wonders and marvels, the Word of God, giving light and life, moves and orders by His own nod, making the universe one."
In a few minutes we will take out of this wonder-filled creation some bread and some wine, carry them to our family table, and give thanks over them. If we want to know something about the Holy Trinity, we can do no better than to listen closely to the Great Thanksgiving, taking it into our hearts, making it our own. Watch how our gifts, and with them we, move from the loving Father, through the gracious Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, back to the Father again, but now transformed and changed, the wheat from the fields and the grapes from the vine now the Bread of eternal life and the Cup of everlasting salvation.
"The Catholic Faith is this," the Athanasian Hymn reminds us, "that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity." At bottom, the Catholic Faith is not about figuring things out, or having all the pieces of the puzzle put neatly together and arranged in logical order. It's about worship. When we worship at the Eucharist we are entering into the very life of the Trinity, joining the dance rather than merely talking about it.
And what God does in the Eucharist is the pattern of what the Holy Trinity is accomplishing in history -- even in times when joy seems a remote memory, when the dark and brooding shadows threaten to return.
The first-begotten Word, Irenaeus says, entered creation so that creation, for its part, should ascend to him, being made over into the image and likeness of God. What does it mean to be made over into the image and likeness of a Triune God? We have only hints and suggestions.
But we know that we worship a God whose very being is mutual love and equality of persons. As the Athanasian Hymn proclaims, "In this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater or less than another." For many years a church in London had those words tacked to the front door, with the motto, "As in the Holy Trinity, so in this Parish."
We know that we worship a God who is, at the very heart, a God of variety in unity and unity in variety. A God who "brings together", inviting us to into fellowship, cherishing our distinctiveness as persons while building up our unity as creatures and children of one Father. An embracing, welcoming, and transforming God who commissions us to invite all nations, all sorts and conditions of human beings, without exception, to become -- not mere Episcopalians -- but disciples.
"Fellowship is heaven and lack of fellowship is hell", wrote William Morris, "fellowship is life and lack of fellowship is death."
Somewhere along the line, though, we have lost fellowship -- fellowship with each other, with creation, and with God. We have broken God's one creation into warring fragments, into those who have a surplus to sell and those who literally have nothing, into people who get their way about things and the people who don't count. We've twisted our marvelous human diversity into excuses for division and domination. We've so ravaged the planet in search of short-term gain for a few, that earth itself threatens once again to become a place empty of joy, alien to God, dim chaos hanging in eternal night.
It is here, around God's altar, that we begin to reclaim the fellowship for which we were made, begin to return God's broken creation to the Father. And we continue to reclaim it as we carry our liturgy into the world outside these doors. The mission to which the deacon sends us at the end of mass is a mission "out there". Its final goal is not thriving ecclesiastical institutions, but the transformation of all of human life, the restoration of God's whole Creation, into the image and likeness, into the fellowship, of a Triune God.
"There is a deed which the Blessedful Trinity shall do in the last day", blessed Julian tells us, "and what the deed shall be, and how it shall be done, it is unknown to all creatures, and shall be till when it shall be done. This is the great deed ordained of our Lord God, by which deed he shall make all things well; for right as the Blessed Trinity made all things of ought, right so shall the Blessed Trinity make well all that is not well."
The British biochemist Joseph Needham commented, "From the point of view of evolution, this deed is a process in the midst of which we are."
Every mass we offer, every prayer we make, every sandwich we serve to an AIDS patient, every drop of medicine we take to the third world, every work we undertake for an end to war, violence, and oppression, every time we walk a picket line for economic justice, every time we embrace the outcast and bind up the broken-hearted -- even if it's so small a thing as exchanging a friendly word with a homeless stranger --we are playing our God-commissioned parts in that process, in the great deed by which the Blessedful Trinity shall make all things well.
And in all and through all, the love of the Lover, the grace of the Beloved, and the fellowship of the Spirit of Love surrounds us and sustains us in all our striving, now and for ever.
-- Ted Mellor