After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev. iv. 1)
Today is Trinity Sunday. And so, following as we do the traditional understanding of the Western lectionary of readings, we enter the season not of Pentecost but of Trinity Tide, intending no disrespect to the Holy Spirit, but acknowledging that our life in the Holy Spirit must never be severed or divorced from the Father and the Son. Trinity means three, and Trinity Tide is an invitation into the trifold life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Should we make the mistake that many post-modern churches do in abandoning the Trinity in favor a seemingly independent season of the Spirit, we should end up finding ourselves being moved far more by spirits than God’s Holy Spirit, and by our own imaginings than by the life of the Father, the truth of the Son, and the spiritual transformation that the Holy Spirit brings from both.
The Trinity Season is then all about the Revelation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Christianity is a religion founded on the facts of Divine Revelation. Its God is a God who wishes to be known. The Old Testament is a record of His Revelation of Himself in history. [In the New Testament] Christ is the Revelation of God in our Manhood. (The Christian Year, p. 142) Christians believe that all of creation reveals and discloses the wisdom, power, and love of God the Father. Christians believe that man’s redemption comes about through the revelation and disclosure of God’s will in the life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. Christians believe that man’s sanctification through the Holy Spirit ensures his permanent participation in the life of God. So when God opens a door to the experience of any man, some deeper truth and understanding forever alter his consciousness and place in the world. He begins to realize that behind and beneath the appearance of created reality lies God’s being and life, His spiritual wisdom and truth, and His mystical love and passion for all men’s salvation.
And we find the first intimations of this alteration in human consciousness in the Old Testament. This morning we read the words of the Psalmist and we cannot help but be struck by his awe and wonder at the revelation of God’s voice or Word that evidences power, strength, and majesty. It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice…. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness: yea, the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades.... The Lord sitteth above the water-flood : and the Lord remaineth a King forever. The Lord shall give strength unto his people: the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace. (Psalm xxix. 4,7,9,10) The Psalmist is overawed and humbled at the presence of the Lord, whose voice and Word ensure His rule and governance of all nature and creation. The experience of the Prophet Isaiah is even more startling. He tells us this morning that he saw the Lord upon the throne, high and lifted up, [whose] train filled the temple…that above it stood the seraphims…. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. vi. 1-3) The vision completely humbles and floors the visionary: Woe is me! he cries, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Ibid.5) The Lord sends to him one of the seraphin who touches his lips, purges his sin, and equips him to travel and spread the Word of the Lord. Behold a door is opened; man is humbled, forever changed, equipped and strengthened to share the vision of the Lord.
But for Christians another door has been opened that reveals that the image in which we have been made is the Trinity. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great 4th century North African Doctor of the Church, compares the Trinity to the human soul. The human soul is – it exists; it knows – it understands; and it wills – it loves. So also God is, He knows, and He wills. God exists; God eternally begets or generates His knowing – His Word or Son; and out of his knowing proceeds His love or his Spirit. God is one substance or activity who expresses His spiritual life through three Persons.(De Trinitate. Aug. RC summary) We believe that God is three Persons and one God. We believe that each Person is fully God and yet distinct in his respective relation to us.
We believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and we believe that Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, desires to reconcile the whole of the created human person to God the Father. But what is it that will make the truth of the Trinity applicable to our lives? Behold [another] door is opened to us in this morning’s Gospel lesson. We read that a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night. Men who come to others in the night arrive with the hope that the darkness will shield and shelter them from other men’s observation, detection, and, perhaps, criticism. John Calvin tells us that Nicodemus’ eyes were dazzled, as it were, by the splendor of his own greatness and reputation… and yet there appears in him some seed of piety…and so he is moved to obtain what [Christ] has. (J. Calvin. Comm’s. Vol. xvii). But though the day is far spent and the evening is at hand, Christ will bring Nicodemus into the light of God’s spiritual day. Nicodemus says, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (St. John iii. 2) Nicodemus knows that God is with Jesus in some way. Perhaps Jesus has discovered some additional facet of the Law that will prove useful to the life of the Jews. Nicodemus is moved by the doctrine of Christ, but has not yet perceived the Person that He is. And so he is still blind. He is spiritual, but not religious, as so many confess in this dark age of ours. Jesus ignores his obsequious patronizing and cuts to the quick: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) Nicodemus is worldly and fleshly. He wonders aloud how a man can be born again after his mother has birthed him once. Jesus responds: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.(St. John iii. 5-7)
The new birth that Jesus Christ comes to bring is birth from above, heavenly birth, birth through God’s Grace which overcomes sin and opens up to man the gates of everlasting life. First a man must be Baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, as Original Sin is washed away, and man is incorporated into the death of Jesus Christ. This Nicodemus must also learn. Death to sin is not enough. Every man who would enter the kingdom of God must become dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God [the Father] through Jesus Christ. (Romans vi. 11) There will be the ongoing habit of dying and rising, as the Spirit progressively grounds a man in the life of this Person who stands before Nicodemus, this man whose Death and Resurrection will become the pattern and form of new birth and new life that the Spirit will carry into the realm of eternal salvation.
And still there is more; the door continues to open. Jesus says, Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 8) The wind is invisible and untraceable, and so is the Spirit. The Spirit is present that we may be born; the Spirit is invisibly present whereof thou art born, for thou too must be invisibly born, (Tractate xii, St. John iii) Augustine remarks. Nicodemus, still, does not understand. Jesus responds, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) Nicodemus has forgotten that God’s mysterious rule belongs to the working of the Spirit which also orders nature and is beyond the understanding of man. Consider the wind. Can it be caught, captured, imprisoned, and examined to find its source and origin? The minute you think you’ve caught the wind, it escapes you. And besides, how can you be sure that you have caught it all? Jesus reminds Nicodemus that if the mysteries of nature will not lead his mind back to their spiritual cause, neither will his heart be open to the mystery of spiritual rebirth.
The way back to God is from the flesh to the Spirit, from the earth to heaven, from man back to God. Jesus closes His dialogue with Nicodemus with these words: And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (Ibid, 13-15) For man to return back to God the Father, the Son must lift him into His life through the passionate prodding and longing of His Holy Spirit. Man, for his part, must believe and follow into the mystery that God unfolds. Behold a door is opened. Our response to that mystery is worship. Worship is the highest and truest act of faith, and the worship [we] offer is the homage of [our] whole being, in body, mind, and spirit, in joyous response to that vision of God which has been granted to [us]. (The Christian Year, p. 144) Worship belongs to the divine order which governs nature and man. In worship each believer reaches the highest action of his manhood, and finds himself in the company of those pure spirits who stand before the throne of God ( Ibid)– [the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit] - and praise Him for ever and ever in words vital with the energies of grateful devotion: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory. (Ibid) When we worship, we discover ourselves in the presence of the angels who believe and obey, who so sing and praise God forever and ever. When we worship, we realize with John Donne, that:
All the world is but speculum, a glasse in which we see God: and the Church itself, and that which the Church begets itself in us, faith itself is but an enigma, a dark representation of God to us, till we come to that state, ‘To see God face to face, and to know, as we are known. (Sermon xxi).
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons