Sermon for Evensong & Benediction Sunday 11 June 2017
TRINITY SUNDAY Evensong & Benediction
We all proclaim our faith in the Trinity when we say the creed, but we tend to regard it as the province of professional theologians. There is no such thing as a professional theologian: to be a theologian is the universal calling of all baptized Christians. And the currency of this theology is our common worship, which looks to and is informed by the Holy Trinity.
The first lesson this evening gives a clue to what I mean. This passage of Isaiah typifies our liturgical engagement with God in this feast. It is, in its way, a sermon about liturgical theology, which has much to do with the Trinity.
Isaiah sees the Lord in his GLORY, which is the aspiration of our worship, and of our Christian lives (‘changed from glory into glory, till in heav’n we take our place’). This is one of our oldest liturgical texts, now found at the heart of the Eucharist in the Sanctus:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
We use this in our worship because it is recorded as representative of the heavenly worship. And we use it because, in the triple invocation – ‘holy, holy, holy’ – is one of those Old Testament hints, through a glass darkly, at the triune majesty of God, who is nonetheless one Lord, as we celebrate today. As we also sing in Bishop Heber’s hymn:
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!
Here the whole doctrinal and biblical picture is woven together for us in a well-wrought hymn of praise.
That is the paramount importance of this feast: we celebrate, not a doctrinal formulation, but God in glory.
But this encounter between Isaiah and God also records an absolving and a missionary aspect of our worship:
And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’
The vision of the Lord in glory leads Isaiah to a confession of unworthiness. The seraph, who is a minister of the heavenly liturgy, takes a hallowed thing from the altar and symbolically cleanses him. From the altar of God comes, in this vision, a sacrament of forgiveness, a liturgical absolution. And once the forgiveness is declared and enacted there is a further stage in this making of relationship:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ v.8
(notice ‘whom shall I send, and who will go for us‘: taken to be another biblical hint at the oneness and more-than-singleness of God). A call to speak for God, and a response from the prophet that he will do so, be God’s prophet (being a prophet means speaking for God, not telling the future).
This reminds us that the most important declaration of forgiveness at the Eucharist is not the priestly absolution but the reception of what has been offered at the altar, our Holy Communion. Our communion does more, of course: it integrates us afresh with God and the church in relationship. But in our participation in the offering of the sacrifice and in our reception of Holy Communion we also receive a declaration and a pledge of God’s reconciling forgiveness, something beyond other blessings and sacramental acts.
It also recalls the missionary nature of God’s gift: for Isaiah, recognizing the Lord of glory, acknowledging that he is unworthy of the vision, and receiving an enacted absolution, leads to a prophetic calling. That is, it leads Isaiah to articulate God to the world. That need not mean preaching: it often didn’t in the lives of the prophets. In our Lord’s life there are many words, but supremely, as God’s Word made flesh, there are actions, and the greatest prophetic act is the cross: love acted out in suffering and death, yet issuing in new life. We are sent out from every encounter with the Lord, every act of worship, and especially our encounter with God in Holy Communion, to communicate God to the world. Our ‘Amen’ at communion is us making Isaiah’s response: ‘Here am I, send me’
Communion and communication are words not accidentally related: communion is something which reaches out from receiving to giving; communion and communication are aspects of one phenomenon; each requires the other. And all communication of God is theology.
Isaiah reminds us that this feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates soemthing which is both in our midst and which transcends us and our imagining: the glory of God, perfectly expressed in relationship, to which we draw near in faith when we receive, or adore, the Blessed Sacrament.
Isaiah, prophet-theologian, speaking of God, reminds us that here we acknowledge the glory of God and our falling-short of it, but that here also the gap is closed: here we receive God’s forgiveness and free gift of reconciliation, and are sent from here to communicate that which we receive and adore; each becoming, through our worship, a theologian to the world.
That is why, on Thursday, we celebrate Corpus Christi, not as the worship of a static gift, a thing which is a little bit of God, but in thanksgiving for the dynamic relational presence which is God-with-us.