Sunday, June 15, 2014

From Math Books to Hiking Boots (Rerun)

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (A)

Picture: cc blaircook

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment that you’re a student in a classroom, waiting for a lesson to begin. Or an adult at work, waiting for a meeting to start. You’re confident. You’re prepared. You’ve brought all the required books and notes. You’re eager to get started. But when the class or meeting begins, your heart sinks. You discover that you’ve prepared the wrong material. Frustrated, you struggle to keep up. But it’s difficult, because you were expecting something very different.

Sometimes I wonder whether we go through a similar struggle 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 we Christians believe in one God, who is also a Trinity of Persons, we face a problem. All this talk of God being one-in-three and three-in-one doesn’t make much sense, does it? Especially when our attention remains focused only on the numbers. It’s as though we come to the celebration prepared for a math lesson. We hope to understand how 1 = 3. And 3 = 1. And, let’s face it, even after many celebrations of this feast, which of us can honestly say that we’ve fully understood? Which of us can claim to have solved the puzzle? On the contrary, we can be forgiven if, at the end of our celebration, we may find our hearts continuing to sink with confusion and disappointment.

And yet, sisters and brothers, what if our celebration today is not really a lesson in arithmetic? What if it’s more like a hike into the woods? What if our concern today is not really to solve a math problem? But to locate and travel to a spiritual place? If this is true, then maybe we need to be ready to leave the classroom. To step out into the open air. We need to exchange our books and notes 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 special kind of map. It points us to a special kind of place. A spiritual place. We have probably noticed by now that our three readings have something in common. Each of them speaks to us of the presence and saving action of God among God’s people. They speak to us not only of what our God is like, but also of where our God is to be found. Together they sketch for us a reliable map to the place where we can meet 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. And it is important to notice what this encounter tells us about God. Remember that this is not the first meeting. Neither are the stone tablets in Moses’ hands the first pair. Today’s reading is from Exodus 34. Earlier, in Exodus 20, God had given Moses the Ten Commandments, inscribed on two earlier tablets. But Moses was so angry at the people’s idolatry–at their worship of the golden calf–that he had smashed those first two 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 remains willing to take them back. To guide and to care for them. Not to leave them to die of hunger and thirst in the wilderness.

Perhaps not many of us have been to Mount Sinai. I haven’t. Even so, haven’t we experienced the love and mercy of God? Don’t we know what it feels like to have our sins forgiven? To feel ourselves guided by the hand of God? Whether it was at a retreat. Or a penitential service. Or some other special occasion. Each of us can probably recall our own personal encounters with the God of tenderness and compassion. The One who simply refuses to abandon us. But insists on relentlessly pursuing and befriending us. Haven’t we each had our own mountaintop experiences? Times when we’ve met, and continue to meet, the loving God whom we celebrate today?

And yet, like the Israelites of the first reading, we cannot always remain encamped at the holy mountain forever. We have to move on. How and where then to find God? Like Moses, we long for God to accompany us on our way. Like him, we too may find ourselves praying: Let my Lord come with us, I beg. And, in the gospel, we have God’s answer to this prayer of ours. Here we learn that 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. The love of God for us is so great that God cannot bear to let us journey on alone. Instead, through and in his only begotten Son, the second Person of the Trinity, God descends the mountain and pitches tent among us. In Christ, it is now possible for everyone to have a close encounter with God. In Christ, our meeting place with God has now become a person. The second Person of the Holy Trinity.

So that we don’t always have to climb a high mountain to find God. For, in Christ, the mountain has come to the people. In the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, every truly human experience, even the most terrible suffering, even death itself, becomes a place where God can be found. Don’t we know of people who remain full of faith and hope, even in the midst of great suffering? Even in the face of death? In Christ, God remains accessible to us even in times of difficulty and distress.

But some of us might object. For Jesus is no longer present to us like he was to the first disciples in the gospels. Hasn’t he already ascended to the Father? How are we to find God now? Again, with great tenderness and compassion, God provides for our need. What we cannot see with the naked eye, God teaches us to recognise with tender hearts. Jesus remains present to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. The third Person of the Trinity. The same Spirit whom, in a few moments, we will invoke both on the gifts of bread and wine, as well as on ourselves. It is in the power of this same Spirit that we are able to recognise Christ. That we are able to meet God.

And isn’t this what we are doing at this Mass? Finding and celebrating the presence and saving power of God among us? And are we not called to remain in this place by continuing to live Eucharistic lives? Even after we leave this church? Even after we are told to go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life? We are able to do this, because, in the Holy Spirit, our meeting place with God has become a spiritual practice. The Eucharistic practice of breaking the Bread of Life and sharing the Wine of Compassion. A practice that we continue to engage in, even after leaving this church, by following the instructions given in the second reading today: try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace–the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit–will be with you. Will continue to grace you with his single three-fold presence.

Sisters and brothers, perhaps rather than a math puzzle for us to solve, the feast of the Holy Trinity is really a loving invitation to us to set out on a spiritual journey. A lifelong pilgrimage. Into God... 

Have you put on your hiking boots yet?

1 comment:

  1. O Holy Trinity,

    Thank You for Your Trinitarian Presence in my life.

    Help me to see You and to recognise and grow more AWARE of Your Threefold Presence in my life.

    Teach me, guide me and lead me to walk always in Your Love and in Your Ways.

    O God of the Holy Trinity, come and dwell within me so that I can bring You and Your Spirit of Love and Compassion to all I meet, each day.

    May I also have the honour to be Your Guest - to sit with You and to partake in Your Loving Presence.

    Come, O Holy Trinity, Come and Dwell in me, now and always.


    Seeing Is Believing
    Trinity Sunday 15 June 2014