Sunday, June 07, 2009

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Bridging the Distance

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20
Picture: cc coolm36

Sisters and brothers, I think many of us are familiar with the song From a Distance, which was popularized especially by Bette Midler in the 1990’s, around the time of the first Gulf War. Do you remember how the song goes?

From a distance the world looks blue and green,
And the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream,
And the eagle takes to flight.

From a distance, there is harmony,
And it echoes through the land.
It's the voice of hope. It's the voice of peace,
It's the voice of every man.

From a distance we all have enough,
And no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
No hungry mouths to feed.

Do you like the song? I did when I first heard it. And, judging from its no. 1 spot on the Billboard charts at the time, many others did too. Which isn’t surprising. It has an alluring tune. And, more than that, it’s words also touch a deep chord in all of us, something that is perhaps felt more strongly especially in times of war and conflict -- a heartfelt yearning for harmony and peace.

But the song is not without its flaws. It seems to move the listener in a particular direction, doesn’t it? It seems to invite us to step back from our immersion in the messiness of worldly affairs, so that we can see, from a distance, the harmony beyond the chaos. Which may be a wise thing to do from time to time. But what then? Are we to remain looking down on the world only from a distance? Is that even possible? Not only does the song appear to advocate an escape from the world, it also seems to say that this is what God does. You will remember how the song ends by repeatedly telling us that God is watching us. God is watching us… from a distance.

As attractive as this picture may be to some, the Christian image of God is very different. Whereas Bette Midler’s song may seem to advocate an escape from the messiness of the world, our Christian belief in the Holy Trinity presents us with a God who moves precisely in the opposite direction. In the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – we find a God who continually immerses God’s self into our chaos. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, for example, likens the Son and the Spirit to two hands that the Father reaches out to save us. And in our readings today, we find at least three ways in which the Hands of the Father do their work.

In the first reading Moses reminds the people of Israel about the mighty deeds of God in their behalf – of how, with strong hand and outstretched arm God freed them from slavery in Egypt. In doing this, it was as if God was pointing a finger at them, choosing them and setting them apart to be God’s very own people. I’m reminded of those old army recruitment posters where the old man with the goatee and the top hat points a finger at the reader: Uncle Sam wants you! What God has done for Israel, God has also done for us. Especially through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, God has chosen us. God has set us apart: I want you! And, as we prayed in the psalm response just now, how blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own!

Not only does God choose us, but also, through the twin Hands of the Son and the Spirit, the Father draws us to him and empowers us to respond. As Paul reminds us in the second reading: You received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry “Abba, Father!” Or in the words we addressed to the Father in our opening prayer: you reveal yourself in the depths of our being, drawing us to share in your life and your love.

To these two actions of pointing and drawing, we need to add another: that of sending or commissioning. Which is what we find Jesus doing in the gospel. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations… I am with you always, until the end of the age. Notice the direction in which God continues to move even as Jesus prepares to ascend into the heavens. Not content simply to watch from a distance, the Father continually reaches out his twin Hands to span the distance between us, promising to remain intimately present to us and in us, even until the end of the age. And because of this consoling divine presence, we too are moved in a very specific direction. Instead of stepping back and keeping our distance from the world, we are instead sent deeper into it to bridge the distance between God and God's people.

And this is a commission that does not go unheeded. I’m reminded, for example, of the recent article in the LA Times about the increase in volunteers joining the Peace Corps, including 25 year-old New Hampshire native, Alexandra Hodgkins, who is spending a couple of years helping the poor in a Panamanian jungle. But it’s not just the needy in faraway places who need a helping hand, is it? What about that 41 year-old man, for example, whose picture appeared on the front page of today’s Santa Barbara News-Press, threatening to set himself alight with gasoline because he hasn’t been able to find a job.

Sisters and brothers, with the world as messy as it is, it is indeed tempting to distance ourselves from it. But that is not what our God – Father, Son and Spirit – does. And, as Christians, that is not what we are called to do. That is not the song we are called to sing. Our song – the song of the Trinity – moves in the opposite direction. Its exact words will vary from person to person and from situation to situation. But perhaps it may sound a little like these lyrics popularized by Simon and Garfunkel in the 1970’s:

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.
I’m on your side, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

Sisters and brothers, as we celebrate this solemn feast of the Holy Trinity, which song are we singing, in which direction are we moving today?


  1. Thanks, Fr Chris. I also like both songs - "From a Distance" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters". But it has not occured to me that the second song could point to a very personal/immament God.

    I've been wondering too why in the first song, God is said to be... from a distance? Is He watching us lovingly like a Father, letting us make mistakes and learn from them? Or is He only transcendental and not with us? At some points, the song also seemed to be saying that things look very differently from a distance vs. close-up.

    The second song is certainly much more heart-warming. A god who would lay Himself down so as to bridge us over troubled waters! Many times it's difficult though to remember or notice that He is near. It's time again to revisit the special memories of my faith journey, I guess. And to spend more quiet time with the Lord.

  2. Thank you for bringing back to mind the beautiful old song
    "Bridge over Troubled Water". Really helped with a bout of recent struggles...

    Michael W Smith has a lovely musoc video on u-tube. Enjoy!

  3. Hi Fr Chris,

    The RCIA here at Iggy is alive and well. And from where you are - a distance apart, it's good to know that we continue to serve Him faithfully regardlessly.
    Both these songs bring back times gone and shared during the springtime of our youth. Troubled waters we are wading through with recent turmoil and the ongoing H1N1 and there are many more bridges to cross.
    You remain fondly etched in our hearts and imprinted in our memory. I speak for the others who remember you fondly.
    Look forward to the day to see you back with greater insights to pastor us.


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