Sunday 18 June - Trinity Sunday - Eucharist - Stephen Holmes

Trinity Sunday 2017 – 2 Cor 13:11-13, Mt 28:16-20

+ ‘Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’

On a recent trip to Aberdeen, I visited the last Episcopalian nun in the city. There used to be a flourishing convent there, serving the poor of the city. Now the last sister lives in a small flat, with a tiny oratory where I was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist. By the altar is the tabernacle, a metal box containing the Blessed Sacrament, the consecrated bread and wine - a focus of prayer in this Aberdeen backstreet. As with our own aumbry in the chapel, a perpetual white light burns before the sacrament to remind us of the Lord’s presence, but I also noticed a drawing. A pencil sketch of a man facing the tabernacle. You can see it on the front of your service booklets. It is of a Muslim man praying, intent on his prayers. I asked the sister about it and she said it was the most powerful image of prayer she had. Her father had been a government artist in Egypt and Palestine during World War 1 and she inherited it when he died. I now have a copy in my own flat.

There has been a lot going on in the last days and weeks. Our country has suffered a number of terrorist attacks, the election has not provided ‘strong and stable government’, and our Church has voted to allow same-sex marriage. Sex, religion and politics - the very things Aunt Ethel told you never to discuss in polite society. Sadness, desolation, joy and hope are floating all around us. And today we are celebrating the Holy Trinity and looking forward with hope to the future of this church and our new Cornerstone Centre.

After the terrorist attacks I noticed a new note in the usually predictable statements, this time coming from the some Muslim commentators and from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The usual comments are ‘this has nothing to do with Islam’ and ‘Christians or white racists do terrorism too’. But if people come at you with knives shouting ‘this is for Allah’, it is reasonable to conclude they are Muslims and their terrorism is inspired by Islam. What the former jihadis in the Muslim anti-extremist group Quilliam and the Archbishop said was that we must take seriously the religious roots of violence and terrorism. Christians obviously still need to do the same, as happened with slavery and apartheid, but the real problem is a secular mindset which refuses to take religion seriously: if only these Jihadis would get into Eurovision, or football or clubbing. No, the extremists take it upon themselves to say who is or is not a Muslim, and those who deny that the terrorists are Muslim are doing the same thing. The real task is to show that they are bad Muslims, heretics, perverters of God’s law. That is a task for Islamic scholars, but the challenge for Christians is also to discover authentic Christianity and show how it can transform the world. I believe that our marriage vote will help this, but it is also a challenge to us as we try and discern our new vision at St John’s as we move into our fantastic new buildings.

So what is Christianity all about? Jesus’ command makes that clear: love God, love your neighbour. We see this simple pattern in the Gospels – Jesus tells us how to live together and he talks about himself and God his Father. Why did Jesus die? ‘They sought to kill him because he called God his Father making himself equal to God’ (John 5:18). If you don’t get the divinity of Christ, you don’t get Christianity. This is a massively difficult thing, but it is found throughout the New Testament and comes directly from the disciples’ experience of Jesus – he did and said things that they realised belonged solely to God the Father of Israel. Their experience and their language was pushed to breaking point. There was one Lord God, and this rabbi Jesus shared the identity of that God, or as Paul put it, ‘there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist’ (1 Cor 8:6). The first Christians also experienced as God that mysterious Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised and who came among them at Pentecost. So we find the three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, mentioned as equals in the same breath in our two Bible readings. In the first we share communion, in the second we share baptism – so again the Trinity is not an abstract doctrine but the wellspring of our Christian experience: our experience of prayer, of the sacraments and worship together and our experience of love and community.

All our worship is Trinitarian: to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. These three are, however, one. They are perfectly united in love but in that love each person is totally unique. Ours is not a cold, solitary God. God is like a community where everyone is fully themselves in all their unique and unrepeatable glory. God is love but this is not an enclosed self-love. Each Person in the Trinity pours their whole being into the other in a divine dance so that all three are one. Then, without any compulsion, their love overflows into the act of creation and, allowing creation to be itself even unto sin, this love expends itself unto death on the cross. This is our God. Faced with the power of this love we bow down in adoration, as the sister and the Muslim man do before the tabernacle in Aberdeen.

But we are left with the question. How can we share this amazing love with the world? How can we use this beautiful church, your financial resources, your time and talents, and our fine new buildings, to share this love with the people around us? We are already doing it. Our Guardians and vergers welcome people with a smile; our clergy and lay ministers visit the sick and stand with those in trouble; our building and our worship bring people face to face with the mystery of God; Souper Saturday, Alcoholics Anonymous and our other groups help those in need. Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples, while at the same time ensuring that those who can’t accept this (including some of us here at St John’s) still have a valued place in the church, is a precious witness of this Trinitarian love in the world. The teenage Norwegian choristers here last week certainly thought so and jumped in the air in joy when I told them that was what we hoped to do. It was interesting at Synod that it was the most passionate supporters of gay marriage who argued most strongly that their opponents be protected – a reflection of the unity and diversity of the Trinity. But how can we better witness to this Trinitarian love? This is something we can talk about after we have tasted it in Holy Communion. Then we can really mean it when we say the words from our first reading, ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.’