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Jesus said, “Remember. I am with you always. To the end of the age.”
These are Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel. In fact these are THE last words in Matthew’s Gospel.
There is no Ascension in Matthew – rather, Jesus’ offers his disciples – and us – three assurances, also known as the “Great Commission”: First, Jesus reveals himself as one with God, claiming for himself, “All power and authority in heaven and on earth.” Second, he makes the disciples one with him, empowering them to teach and baptize in his name. Third, he promises that this oneness is eternal. He will be with them – and by extension, with us , “to the end of the age.”
Now – This is heady stuff. Powerful stuff. How comforting to know that we are never alone. Never desolate. Walking side-by-side with the incarnate God – always.
Yet Matthew also tells us that even some of the disciples who were with the risen Christ in Galilee that day, doubted. They might have wondered, “How will I see you? Where will you be?” And most importantly, “How will I know that you are with me?” At some point we all wonder, “How do I know you are with me?”
On this Trinity Sunday, I want to suggest that we can know – we can experience – Jesus’ eternal presence with us in and through the Trinity.
AND I know. For most of us the idea of the Triune God can be a bit dry. Confusing. Perhaps even somewhat Heretical.
In fact, when Richard invited me to preach on this particular Sunday my first thought was, “Thanks! The most incomprehensible Sunday in the Church Calendar! Yeah – give the Postulant that one!”
But as I prayed with the readings for today, I remembered a time in my own walk with God when the Trinity – when the understanding of God-as-relationship – became powerfully real, and indeed, life-saving, for me.
It was in 2002 – a dark year for me. My husband had died after a long illness, and my best friend died four months later after a sudden and unexpected one. Both of them were young and vibrant and gone too soon. In the aftermath of their deaths, I was cut adrift.
Some of you knew me then – my husband’s funeral was here at All Saints and my best friend gave the Eulogy. And in the midst of those losses, I found I could not pray. I could not hear God. I couldn’t even yell at God. God seemed impossibly distant to me– inaccessible.
And this sense of “spiritual dryness” is not an uncommon experience for us. We do not have to go through a tragedy to find ourselves in the desert.
Our desert might come in hearing today’s reading from Genesis, when God the Creator looked upon the earth its inhabitants and “Saw that it was Good.” And we might disagree. We might look at creation and at humanity and say to God, “But it’s not Good! It’s not good at all! What about those School Shootings? Or what about global climate change?” Sometimes our Dominion over the earth doesn’t seem to be going very well. That sadness might be our desert.
And God the son? Some days he is absolutely incarnate in the bread and the wine that we will share in a few moments. And his message is as fresh to us as if he had just walked in this door, offered one of his inspiring, confusing and challenging teachings, and now strolls down Beacon street looking for someone else to heal.
Other days? On desert days, Jesus might seem like a really amazing guy who lived too, too long ago, and could he please be incarnate today? Because we really need him.
And what about the Holy Spirit? Last week, when we reenacted the scene from Acts – in so many languages –did not the Holy Spirit, like a great wind, rush about this very room.
Members of the healing ministry often speak of feeling the “whoosh” of the holy spirit through our bodies when laying hands on a parishioner and praying with them. But what if there is no “Whoosh”? Does that mean that the Holy Spirit is absent? Frankly, I don’t think that the Holy Spirit gives command performances, but – well what about those moments when our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears?
Each of us, if we’re honest, walks through some desert days. Not because we are unfaithful, or bad Christians, but because we are human. Because walking through the desert is a normal part of the human walk with God. If the eleven disciples, looking directly at the resurrected Christ, had their doubts about His promise to be with them forever, why wouldn’t we? We are after all only human.
So how might the experience of the Trinity offer us a way through the desert?
Well. Let me take you back to 2002, that year of God’s silence in my own heart – a good friend – one of the monks of the Society of the St. John the Evangelist gave me this icon to sit with. He told me not to try to pray with the icon, or even to understand anything in particular about it, but rather, he suggested I just sit with it, eyes open, and gaze upon it if I could.
We made a copy of this icon for you – and put it in your service leaflet. I invite you to look at it now.
Many of you will recognize it – a copy of Andrei Rublev’s famous Icon of the Trinity, written around 1410. In those days, icons were written for believers who could not read, as a way of bringing them into the gospel. Literally.
Icons are not like other pieces of art. They are sacramental objects. Which means that they make present that which they represent. Just as the sacrament of communion is simultaneously bread and wine – AND a manifestation of the God’s grace in the person of Jesus Christ. Icons are prayer made visible.
I invite you to gaze upon Rublev’s Icon for a moment. What do you see?
You might see, from left to right, of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit. Or you might see the angels who visited Abraham at Mamre. And in fact this icon refers to that holy visitation in the Hebrew Bible. It is both the trinity AND Abraham’s mysterious visitors – Both AND. Because like all holy objects, Icons represent multiple realities. They bring us backward in time to Abraham’s humble tent, forward in time to the eternal trinity, and deeper into this moment.
Your eye might be drawn to the table – and how the chalice-bowl at the center is a symbol of Abraham’s hospitality to the Angels. AND it is a symbol of the Eucharist – of God’s hospitality to us, and of our holy food.
Your gaze might fall upon the open space at the table – the space of God’s invitation to you. To come – To stand – to sit– or to kneel – but to ENTER that circle of relationship.
Your eye might return to the figures – not clearly male or female, but both, AND – You might notice how they sit BOTH in stillness, AND also seem to be in constant motion – with gazes and hands gesturing toward one another in an endless circle of love. You might also notice that this circle reaches out towards you.
Finally, notice that this circle – is complete. That God is complete. God is whole and God is a relationship. That relationship of Creator, Redeemer, Holy Spirit –of Lover, Beloved, Love – existed before today, before we were born, and will exist forever regardless of what we humans do.
God’s independent wholeness is important to remember when we are walking through the desert. God is not Tinker Belle. God doesn’t disappear when we feel disconnected or we turn away. This relationship – Father-Son-Holy Spirit- does not require our continuous applause to keep it going. It is eternal.
And yet, BECAUSE we are made in the image of God, we are also always already in this relationship, whether we know it or not. We may feel disconnected, and still be always already inside the circle of God’s love.
So if, in your walk with God, you experience the desert – perhaps not today, but at some future point – remember the Trinity. Remember its wholeness. Remember its eternity. And remember its constant invitation to you.
Nothing. Nothing on heaven or on earth – or in our hearts or in our minds – can separate us from the Love of the Triune God, who is always already present – and always already with us. Now and to the end of the age.