Trinity Sunday, St Mary Magdalene, Parish Eucharist, 19th June 2011

 Readings Isaiah 40.12-17,27-31, Matthew 28.16-20

Preacher Canon Robert Titley

Today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the distinctively Christian picture of the one God as three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I begin by jumping back a month. At the Richmond May Fair we won a meal for two at what I understand is a very nice restaurant over the river in St Margaret’s, which I look forward to. Imagine we go there for lunch today. The waiter comes and asks what we would like, and we say,

We believe we would like ‘fanned galia melon, and Cumbrian air-dried ham, served with a mixed-leaf salad, followed by fillet steak, served with a crushed black peppercorn sauce, flamed in brandy and finished with cream.’

Questions arise: What is ‘galia’ melon? What other ways are there of drying ham? What’s so special about Cumbria? And who cares, as long it tastes good? (Which it did, according to Bill Bryson when he ate this meal in Bournemouth; it’s recounted in his round-Britain travelogue, Notes From a Small Island.)

The Creed, which we are about to say together, is the menu for the feast of God. If you pay attention to the words, again questions arise. What does it mean to say Jesus is ‘true God from true God’ or ‘begotten, not made’? And just how does the Holy Spirit ‘proceed’ from the Father and the Son? In Christianity as in cookery, it’s important to ask questions, to find out. You can appreciate food more if you know what it is and how it’s prepared, but in the end it’s still a mystery why you love the taste of a particular dish so much. Food is not there for you to analyse it, but to eat it. So how did today’s food for the soul come about? How did we get to this day, the feast of the Holy Trinity?

We begin with the characters we see in the gospel reading, from the very end of Matthew’s gospel, but we must imagine them at the very start of the story, when this rag-tag group of young men and women take up with Jesus, a wandering rabbi in the north country of Galilee. They go around with him, they listen to him, they watch him, they eat and drink with him; they don’t understand him, not really, but it’s good be with him – they like the taste of life around Jesus. Then he is killed. They taste the bitterness of loss and disillusion, but very soon afterwards, first one then another becomes convinced that God has raised him from death to new life. St Paul’s letters talk about Jesus appearing to his friends, and the gospels give us a jumble of stories about meeting a stranger who turns out to be him. Three of these stories revolve around food, and the friends of Jesus (now growing rapidly in number) sense that he is especially with them when they break bread and share wine in his name, just like he did at the Last Supper.

It all tastes good; and new: either they are deluding themselves, or Jesus is more than just a great guy; if all this is true of him, then what is in Jesus is of God, the same God Isaiah evokes so spine-tinglingly, who holds the seas in the hollow of his hand, before whom the nations are like a drop in the bucket. If ‘all the fullness’ of this God dwells in Jesus the wandering rabbi  then they must now picture God – the God they have always known – in new ways.

Pretty soon St Paul is talking about the Christian experience of God in three dimensions: ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 13.13).  He talks about how, when God seems far away and we can find no words to pray, the Spirit of God cries out in our hearts (Roans 8.26): God-in-us calling to God-beyond-us. Because of what he finds in Jesus Paul is convinced that even in the dark times, we share in God’s relationship with God. (I’m going to explore this a bit more at Evensong – why not come back for a second course? )

Once you and I begin to grasp all this, it’s as if the world starts again. Matthew’s gospel ends, as we hear today, in Galilee, where it all began. There the friends of Jesus hear that all authority has been given to Jesus and he will always be with them; which is to say that there is nowhere in the world, no corner of life, where he will not be found, no corner of the human heart that the God he shows us will cannot reach and touch and change. It will take centuries for the church to work out the recipe of all this – indeed we are still at it – but when we read the New Testament we are at we overhearing people not speculating about the nature of God but enjoying the food, people who say to us, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psalm 34.8).

So, in a moment, when we say together the words of the Creed, what are we being asked to do? To agree to it, but not in the way you might think. We are not being asked to vote in a referendum we don’t really understand (an experience not unknown to some). The big  question is not ‘Do I understand all this?’ but, ‘Do I recognise this taste? Is this how I’m beginning to experience God?’

  • Do I ever have a sense of the God ‘maker of heaven and earth’ who is the source and goal of my life?
  • When life brings suffering (as it may be doing now) can I  know God beside me in Jesus, who ‘suffered death and was buried’?
  • Might I even now have a sense of God in my heart, the holy Spirit, ‘the giver of life’, living my life as I live it myself?

The ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions matter very much, and we must never stop trying to understand, but the best way to live with them is not to hang back until we’ve solved them, but for each of us to take our place at this table of the feast of God; because the point of food is not to analyse it, but to eat it. 

The priest-poet George Herbert imagines an encounter with the God of love as an invitation to a great feast. He hangs back – he knows he has no place there, that he is not fit to be a guest – but he is overruled:

 ‘You must sit down,’ said Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

 Notes

‘All the fullness’

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Colossians 1.19

The Creed    On most Sundays and holy days we say the Nicene Creed, named after the Council of Nicaea, but actually deriving from a later church council, the Council of Constantinople.

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is,

seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,

who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

 ‘You must sit down’ These are the closing words of Herbert’s ‘Love bade me welcome’

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked anything.

‘A guest’, I answered, ‘worthy to be here.’

Love said, ‘You shall be he.’

‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.’

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame

go where it doth deserve.’

‘And know you not’, says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’

‘My dear, then I will serve.’

‘You must sit down’, says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’

So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (1593-1633)

 

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