S. Holy Trinity.18 “Holy Trinity!” John 3:1-17
We waited for it. Not always patiently, but eagerly, we waited. And finally, today, it’s here: the Athanasian Creed! Holy Trinity, Batman! I like it. I like it a lot. Like a cake between services Sunday (which this also is) I think we could say that Creed more than once a year and it would still be special. What do you think? Of the many things I love about the Athanasian Creed, I think at the top of the list is the way it reminds us, to quote the Bard, that: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And closely related to that first thing is the second thing: that we are catholics (with an ee cummings small “c”, always) for the simple reason that we hold the catholic faith.
We are catholic in the literal sense of the Greek and Latin words—universal; we hold the universal faith. Universal not only in the sense that we believe what all Christians of all times and all places have always believed; universal also in the sense that our faith is spoken of throughout the whole world and has been since the Garden of Eden and will be till Christ brings down the curtain on this age with His glorious return; but universal most of all in the most common sense of the word—our faith embraces the whole universe—God and all that He has made, all the things in heaven and earth, seen and unseen, known and unknown. Our faith is not local, circumscribed, subjective, limited, comprehensible to human science and reason, pragmatic, designed to help us get along better in our little world. It’s not a philosophy designed to manage things according to our purposes. No. Our faith is universal because it grants to us the very Life of the Holy Trinity to live as our own as children of God and so makes us lords and ladies of the universe, makes all things in heaven and earth works for us—and so our faith fulfills the good pleasure and purposes of the Holy Trinity.
And His good pleasure is Good, indeed. The universal minded Christians of the 16th century, Martin Luther and his fellow travelers, in calling the church back to the universal things of God, lifting their minds above the things of earth to the things hidden in Christ under His cross, made the point that what defines the catholic faith is not the decretals and the politics and machinations of the Bishops of Rome, but rather it is the Evangel—the Good News of Jesus Christ that makes all things in heaven and work for our good according to the will of our Lord. We are evangelical catholics (again, always with a lower case “e” and “c”!) because it is only the very particular Gospel of the Cross of Jesus Christ that opens to us the wonders and mysteries and power and glory of the universe God has put under His feet.
Holy Trinity Sunday is not about getting our heads around a bunch of propositions about the inner workings of the Godhead, as if there will be a quiz to see who gets into heaven. No! That would be to try to circumscribe God within the bounds of our heads and reason and logic. A hundred times “No!” to that! Holy Trinity Sunday is about lifting our minds from the dreary things of earth, the workaday world of commerce, competition, industry, money, and politics to the higher and holier and more sublime things of heaven and the Triune God who made it all for us to enjoy in Him. Holy Trinity Sunday is not about filling our heads with facts about God. No; it’s about blowing our minds, blowing them up by filling them full of Jesus in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in His Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Body.
What I hate and have hated about modern Christendom (hated it since about 8th grade) and hate (passionately!) still, what makes most official church meetings horrible to this day is the way Christendom accommodates itself to the dreary and pragmatic things of earth: puritan-style moralism, polite behavior, stewardship, institution building, the mindless conformity of the Company Man, which debases heavenly things (by trimming them to fit earthly molds) instead of teaching us the Songs of Heaven…
This is not the sort of worship into which Isaiah was initiated when he went to church one day and saw something that truly blew his mind. Isaiah shows us for what End we go to church, what we should be expecting every Sunday: not some earthly advice and pop ditties designed to help us get along incrementally better in our boring jobs. No… We go to church every Sunday to find what Isaiah found: the vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, with the train of His robe filling the temple, quite. And the cherubim and seraphim, the whole host of heaven, flying around and crying out: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Yahweh Sabaoth!” And the roof beams and lintel stones shaking and shimmying with the Sound; and all the house filled with billowing smoke, and we… quite undone by it all, unmasked, unmade, coming apart at the seams until the burning coal touches our lips, cleanses our sins, gets the universe inside our heads and hearts, blowing us up, making us ready to go anywhere, escape, sign up for any vocation that gets us out of there for a minute, until we get our stuff together enough, somehow, to be able to handle maybe 30 seconds more of the greatest thrill ride in the universe—that scares the beejeebers out of you and yet… and yet; makes you go, heedless of safety or sense, “Please, Sir: can I have some more?”
Yeah, that’s what Isaiah went to church to find. And Athanasius. And Augustine. And Luther. And me; and (maybe) you? This is the Universal Faith; and it is not for the faint-hearted, (though it will make the weak-kneed strong, the faint-hearted brave, and the faltering solid as the Rock on which we stand, here). This is the Thing for which you’d happily lose everything little and small and local and circumscribed—even your body and soul(!) in order to have this get inside your heart and head and blow it up and re-make you in such a way that you have a Place in this Universe, ever and always…
It’s what Nicodemus came to Jesus for that night, though not really understanding why or for what he came, most likely. “Rabbi, you’ve done some cool stuff…” “Yeah, no one gets in on the cool stuff, either, unless he is born ανωθεν from above…” by water and the Spirit, the Spirit who blows where He wishes—unseen, unknown, unmastered—yet having the keys to the universe and inviting you to take IT for a spin. Nicodemus cannot get his head around IT, anymore than the early church could get their heads around the doctrine of the Trinity except by a few simple, grammatical remarks keeping the Mystery, well… mysterious.
Like hot coffee, you can’t touch it, but you can drink it alright. You’ll never fathom the Faith, but by sharing the Cross of Jesus, by Holy Baptism, Holy Preaching, Holy Absolution, Holy Supper, the Holy Trinity gets inside your head and heart and blows you up just like Jesus. And that is a death that is Life, a loss that is universal gain. This is the Mystery which the Holy Liturgy delivers in those ancient words that come ultimately not from down here, but from above, from the Place where Christ always is, from the Holy Trinity, where none is greater or less than another, which cannot be grasped any way except through the One who became Incarnate—Who, by the Cross, draws us into His universe, now; so that Peace (surpassing understanding!) guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.