Saturday, May 17, 2008

Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity (A)
Boots On!

Readings: Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18
Picture: CC ilselieve

Sisters and brothers, have you ever had an experience like this? Let’s say you’re a student in a classroom or a lecture hall waiting for a lesson to begin. Or maybe you’re at work waiting for a meeting to start. You’ve brought all the required textbooks or reference materials. You’ve even done some reading beforehand. You’re confident. You’re eager to get started. But when the class or the meeting finally begins you realize that something is dreadfully wrong. Perhaps you’ve misread the timetable, or the agenda. You’ve prepared for the wrong class. You’ve brought the wrong materials. Frustrated, you sit quietly and struggle to follow what’s going on but it’s difficult because you were all geared up for something very different. Ever have an experience like that?

Sometimes I wonder whether we go through something similar each year on this solemn feast of the Holy Trinity. We know very well what this feast is about. We know we are celebrating God. But because ours is a God who is one in three Persons, we find ourselves facing a problem, don’t we? All this one-in-three and three-in-one business sounds very confusing. And, very often, our attention remains focused only on the numbers. It’s as though we come to the celebration prepared for some kind of mathematics lesson. We hope to understand how something or someone can be both one and three at the same time. We come expecting to learn how to solve a problem in arithmetic. And, let’s face it, after so many annual celebrations of this feast, which of us can really say that we’ve fully understood? Which of us can claim to have solved the puzzle? On the contrary, we can be forgiven if we sometimes feel a little frustrated or disappointed at the end of the feast.

But what if our celebration today is not really about numbers? What if it is not really a mathematics lesson? What if our celebration is more like an orienteering or map-reading exercise? What if our agenda today requires us not so much to solve a difficult problem in arithmetic, as to locate and travel to a particular place? If that’s the case, then maybe we need to be ready to leave the classroom or meeting room and to step out together into the open. We need to be willing to exchange our pens and textbooks for a sturdy pair of hiking boots and a good map.

And a good map is precisely what our readings provide for us today. This is a very special kind of map. It points us to a very privileged place, a spiritual place. We have probably noticed by now what all our three readings have in common today. Each of them speaks to us of the presence and action of God among God’s people. Today, our readings show us not only what our God is like, but also where God is to be found. Together they sketch for us a reliable map of the place where we encounter God.

In the first reading, this place is described as the mountain of Sinai. Only Moses is allowed to climb this mountain. Only he is privileged to have a close personal encounter with God. He is then asked to share his mountaintop experience with those who await him below. And it is important to notice what this encounter with God is like. Remember that this is not the first meeting. Neither are those the first pair of stone tablets. Today’s reading is from Exodus 34. Earlier, in Exodus 20, God had already given Moses the Ten Commandments or Ten Words, inscribed on two earlier tablets. But, as we know, Moses was so angry at the people’s idolatry – their worship of the golden calf – that he smashed the tablets. It is against this background of betrayal that God speaks those moving words we hear today: Lord, Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness. In spite of the people’s infidelity, God continues to remain faithful. God is willing to take them back, to guide them, to care for them, and to not let them die of hunger and thirst in the wilderness.

Probably not many of us will have been to Mount Sinai. I haven’t. Even so, have we not had similar experiences of the love and mercy of God? Experiences of having our sins forgiven, for example, or of being somehow guided by God’s hand when we were lost? Whether it was at a retreat, or a prayer or penitential service, or some other special occasion, each of us can recall our own personal encounters with the tender and compassionate God, the One who is slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness. Aren’t these, for us, the spiritual places, the holy mountains, on which we have met the loving God whom we celebrate today?

But, like the Israelites of the first reading, we cannot remain encamped at Mount Sinai forever. We cannot be on retreat, or at a penitential service, or in church, at every moment of our lives. We have to keep moving. How and where then to locate God? Like Moses, we may find ourselves asking God to accompany us on our way. Let my Lord come with us, I beg. And the answer to this prayer of ours is found in today’s gospel.

The love of God for us is so great that God cannot bear to let us journey on alone. Instead, God descends from the mountain and pitches tent among us. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, it is now possible for everyone, not just Moses, to have a close encounter with God. And we don’t necessarily have to climb a holy mountain. For in Christ Jesus the mountain has come to the people. In Him every truly human experience, even the most terrible suffering, even death itself, becomes a place in which God can be found. I’m reminded, for example, of the report on p. 8 of Saturday’s Straits Times. It tells of how, in the midst of the horrendous suffering caused by cyclone Nargis, and in spite of the government’s neglect, the people of Myanmar are heroically helping one another to recover and to rebuild. 49 year-old Mya Win, for example, has been cooking huge vats of porridge everyday to feed the homeless. In Christ Jesus, God remains with us even in the dark valleys of difficulty and despair. In Him, our meeting place with God has become a human person, the second person of the Trinity.

But some of us might object. Jesus is no longer with us as he was with the first disciples two thousand years ago. Hasn’t He already ascended to the right hand of the Father? How then are we to find and to recognize Him? Where and how are we to meet God, now that Jesus is gone?

Again, God’s tender and compassionate love provides for us. What we cannot see with the naked eye, we are taught to recognize with tender hearts. Jesus remains present among us in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit whom, in a few moments, we will invoke both on the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine as well as on ourselves. It is in the power of this Spirit that we are able to see Christ. For it is by this Spirit that we are able to do what Paul asks of the Corinthians in today’s second reading, the same thing Mr. Mya Win is doing in Myanmar. Try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you…

Sisters and brothers, isn’t this place of unity and peace where we are all gathered now at this Eucharist? Isn’t it also in this place that we are invited to remain, even after we leave this church, after we are told to go in peace to love and serve the Lord? Isn’t this, sisters and brothers, the agenda for us today? More than a mental struggle with a numerical problem, it is a spiritual challenge to embark on a journey. It is an invitation for us to set out, to find, and to remain in that privileged place where we experience the ongoing presence and saving action of our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Sisters and brothers, do you have your boots on yet?

1 comment:

  1. Good morning Fr. Chris,
    With your caption and your exhaustive tract; and as a weekend trekker, I shall figuratively leave my shoes on in future as one never really knows, do we? Since the mountain does not come to Mohammed, we keep ascending our own peaks. With my given Chinese name, Deng Shan (climbing mountain), what choice do I have in not disappointing my deceased Dad … and to keep to my Christian namesake.
    In a less serious vein, the risk of being given such a task as Moses, is to be remembered in history as the only person who broke all Ten Commandments at one time (in a fit of emotion), as he smashed the tablets. With empowerment comes responsibility but God is always there. Your scripture passage encourages us to know that He is a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.
    On the subject of MAP, we are trying to energize a small Neighborhood group which was disbanded several years ago, which is now renamed ... you guessed it, MAP. We used it as an acronym for Meditation and Praise. It reinforces what you said that God is found in His presence and action among His people. We are in some small way trying to be in community by initiating this MAP. The Holy Spirit helps in our effort, in sighs too deep for words, when we meditate. Please pray that we will persevere.


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